Don't Let Your Best Ideas Die on the Plant Floor

Oct. 19, 2018
Turning a communication barricade into a bridge at Cimpress

It’s common for production team members to have the best understanding of how essential processes work. Yet the distance between this group and upper management can sometimes act as a barrier that prevents the exchange of good ideas.

By bridging this gap, manufacturers can tap into the knowledge and experience of employees across the entire organization, increasing the opportunities to discover money- and time-saving improvements. 

Cimpress, a global company that invests in and operates a variety of mass customization businesses and has a number of manufacturing operations, takes pride in its culture of innovation, one where ideas are exchanged regularly in all directions. That approach enables the company’s 21 businesses, including on-demand manufacturer of printed goods, Vistaprint, to make dramatic increases in efficiency that drive customer satisfaction and result in significant operational savings.

Because many of its businesses operate in highly competitive markets, Cimpress is constantly looking for ways to help its products and services stand out. Early on, the company began holding workshops that brought together diverse groups of employees—from production leaders and engineers to lean coaches—to explore challenges, exchange ideas and address new opportunities. It’s a practice that has been refined over time and continues today.

BYOI (Bring Your Own Idea)

In our manufacturing facilities, workshops are held on site several times a year and focus on uncovering high-potential ideas that can improve processes to make the business more efficient and/or better serve their customers.

The workshops are organized by their value stream organization (VSO) or plant area (i.e. digital, offset, binning, shipping, etc.). The groups, which range from 6-10 employees, review KPIs and explore areas where improvement might have a substantial impact.

The group then identifies the best potential idea for their respective VSO and arranges a 2-day workshop to make kick-off plans. Common elements of each plan include identifying team roles, setting goals and outlining a step-by-step implementation plan.

Once a project is underway, the team meets weekly for about 30 minutes to discuss progress, chat through challenges and collect other key feedback. This enables the group to fine-tune the plan for optimal results. Successful projects can run anywhere from 3 to 6 months before they are ready for a formal rollout.

Throughout the year, though, small improvements, such as adding or removing an overhead light, are implemented much more quickly (even daily). These changes are communicated at their respective VSO meetings held at the beginning of each shift.

Always Be Innovating

Because Cimpress supports many similar businesses, successful projects are often shared between managing directors and/or manufacturing leaders through a variety of intergroup meetings. After the teams share their expertise, the successful projects are adopted by the other operating units. Many require no or minimal investment, such as rearranging machines or altering where materials are stored. Project teams also regularly provide updates on their experiences over time and best practices. This is critical for both ensuring the success of similar projects in adjacent businesses and encouraging ongoing critical thinking across teams. 

Given the scale at which Cimpress operates, no idea is considered too insignificant. Small tweaks to existing processes, when applied to a facility that sends out upwards of 100K orders a day, can have a profound financial or service impact.

For example, one project that quickly moved from pilot to implementation included a bin redesign (the step right before shipment). Noticing excess travel time and material handling, the Binning VSO gathered data at each point of the process to gain a better understanding of what was causing the bottlenecks. The team believed that adding gravity roller conveyors between each station would eliminate the need for carts, allowing for a more structured work flow between processes.

The change enabled the company to prepare and ship more orders in the same amount of time, increasing efficiency by 9%. Ready-to-ship time was reduced by half. Because shipments are prepared faster, customers get their orders faster—a necessity to compete in today’s on-demand e-commerce space.

Another employee-provided idea—to implement a new packaging concept with redesigned pack tables—made it easier for employees to separate each order and transfer orders to the pack tables. Eliminating the need to presort orders and double-handle product reduced the risk of order mix-ups during post processing and increased output on pack tables by 45 percent. This change has also impacted revenues, since sending incorrect product or quantities can lead to lost customers and unnecessary replacement costs.

A recent example of a quick improvement that benefits our customers came from one of our own employees’ experience. Having received their order in a package that opened too easily and could result in damaged product, they brought the issue forward. Cimpress assembled a small team and performed and go-and-see exercise with the actual order. The team was able to adopt a new packaging method and performed internal testing to validate that the customer concern would be addressed. The concept was implemented in 48 hours. This type of go-and-see behavior engages a cross functional group focused on improving the customer experience.

For Cimpress, employees’ ideas are instrumental in providing memorable customer experiences, staying competitive and keeping up with customer demand. The company’s workshops keep employees of all levels involved and contributing to the business. Cimpress has become a $2.5 billion revenue company in no small part by giving employees a voice in the way the business is run.

Gianni D'Angela is assistant plant director at Cimpress' largest manufacturing facility.

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