An absolutely true phrase – “Time is money” – was the title of the article published in the July edition of StitchWorld. A fundamental technique of measuring time in the garment industry is ‘cycle timing’. However many companies do not use this facility or do not know how to use the information it can generate. Paul Collyer, a garment industry expert with over 37 years of international exposure in production management, look at the practical applications of cycle timing.
The key use of cycle time is to establish the current ability of the individual operator on any given operation and therefore their potential output
Industrial Engineers particularly in the garment industry define ‘cycle’ as the time taken by an operator(s) to finish all the activities necessary for a particular operation or task. The start point of the cycle is often called the break point in IE terms; this represents a deliberate action the operator performs to start the operation. As the cycle is a complete operation, then it follows that the start point of the cycle is also the finish point of the previous cycle.
As previously stated cycle timing is a fundamental technique for managing a garment manufacturing unit whatever its size or the method of production. It is a relatively simple skill that does not need any great degree of training and can and should be conducted by supervisors and trainers. Additionally expensive specialist stopwatches are not required; whereas centi-minute watches with memories are ideal even though a simple low-priced stopwatch calibrated in seconds will achieve the same results.
The key use of cycle time is to establish the current ability of the individual operator on any given operation and therefore their potential output. This information can be used for method analysis, capacity planning, production balancing, targeting, improving low operator performance including those under retrain or style change and in the training of new recruits. If the objective is to explore improvement potential and set target then time and motion study should be followed, however if the objective is to only assess the company’s status then ‘capacity study’ technique is enough (where improvement potential is not identified). Capacity study will give current status for use in planning and it gives us a “snap shot” in time that we can use. Capacity study technique assesses the company status but it should also indicate the need for improvement if capacity/performance is low. At this point either a further cycle timing and/or time and method study will come into play.
How to time?
Before starting to time, the break point should be selected. In almost all garment operations the operator needs to pick up the first component. This is the optimum action for cycle timing; the moment the hand touches the component the watch is started. Timing continues until the operator has completed all necessary tasks and disposed of the finished piece and touches the next component to start the next cycle at which point the watch is activated to measure the complete cycle and start the next one. If the observer has a specialist watch with a memory, then a number of consecutive cycles can be measured by activating the watch at the break point. With a simpler watch the observer has two alternatives; if they have the expertise then note the time shown on the watch at the break point and allow the watch to continue.
At the end of the timing it is then a simple task to calculate the individual cycle times. Alternatively the watch can be stopped at the break point, the time noted, the watch cleared back to zero and the operator must then wait for the completion of that cycle before starting to time again, i.e. every alternate cycle is timed. Do not attempt to stop the watch, read it, zero it, and time the consecutive cycles as time will have been lost and accurate results won’t be obtained.
It is also important that only “standard” cycles are timed. If the operator does something unusual such as rethread needle, refill bobbin, unpick, etc. then the cycle should be ignored and further cycles timed. It is also essential to time individual cycles and then find an average; do not time five cycles without splitting them and average the total as this will potentially deny the acquisition of useful information. In any calculation it is necessary to add machine/contingency and fatigue allowances to the observed cycle time. Additionally depending upon the method of production the operator may need to perform bundling operations. These should be considered as a separate cycle activity and added during capacity calculations. Also in many operations the operator leaves components in a chain and then pulls back and de-chains and disposes. Again this should be a separate cycle for timing.
Any operator working to their natural pace, no matter what it is will be relatively consistent in their cycle times. Unless individual times are taken any inconsistencies may be missed. An operator giving varying cycle times is either deliberately attempting to mislead the observer or is not competent in the operation or has problems with the work. Whatever the cause is, such times cannot be ignored as they should be valuable “triggers” for further improvement actions and are in the case of the latter two indicators of the operator’s current capabilities.
There is a belief that cycle timing will antagonize the workforce which is not true, if used correctly. A stopwatch can potentially frighten or annoy any operator whether it is used for time studies by Industrial Engineers or for cycle timing by supervisors or trainers. The key is openness and education. If the reasons for timing are explained and trust established, there should not be problems. Additionally if systematic operator training techniques are used then operators will have been cycle timed from the beginning of their employment and will see it as part of the routine.
There are two key uses of Cycle Times. First, as the major component of capacity studies in which the current ability of the individual operator is gauged on any given operation and therefore their potential output is established; and second, as an essential training and improvement tool.
Cycle timing is a key part of any instructional process and a major part of both the training of established low performing and newly recruited operators. Operator training without cycle timing is not effective training. Cycle timing is not a preserve of the sophisticated factory but can be deployed at any small organization with limited timing training and levels of management skills.