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I'm working on performance plans for 2015, and was trying to figure out what level of productivity I can expect from my employees. I'll provide some background and if anyone has any insight I would appreciate your comments / input. We can fire 61 mugs in a single bisque / glaze firing. And, I want to fire a glaze every other day. So, I need 61 mugs made, dried, and ready for bisque every other day. When the bisque is complete, I glaze those mugs, and fire glaze the same day. We typically run 3 bisque and 3 glaze, but can run 4 of each during a rush, like now. So I need to move 61 pieces into the kilns every other day, which means I need to have the pieces assembled and drying about 48 hours in advance of bisque.

 

To keep that pace I need to assemble 61 pieces a day (hand builders). Right now I'm at 32 to 40 pieces per day assembled. My wheel potters out pace my hand builders and then switch over to hand building to clear the backlog.

 

Wheel Potter:

 

1. How many cylinders should a potter with about 7 to 10 years in clay be able to throw in an hour?

        Each cylinder uses approximately 2.75 lbs of clay

        No handle attachment

        Throws cylinder on small square bat, moves the bat and form to a shelf

        Fills 12 forms per shelf

        Cart hold 7 shelves

2. Each potter trims his / her own cylinders

        Bottom of cylinder is flat, no foot cut into floor of cylinder

        Lower sidewalls need to trimmed on about 1 out of 5 forms

        Curved foot ring cut into sidewall at foot using rib template

        Trimming generally occurs on day after throwing

        Trimmed forms placed into damp box and transferred to hand building

 

Hand Builder:

 

1.  How many mugs can a hand builder assemble in a hour / day?

        Pulls empty shelf from drying rack and places on bench

        Removes trimmed cylinders from damp box and places on bench

        Extrudes handles

        Shapes extrusions to form using jig / template

        Rolls slabs for tiles in slab roller

        Strikes slabs with die, and cuts tiles used as surface design

        Attaches tile using slip / score technique

        Attaches handle to cylinder using slip / score at upper / lower join

        Cuts triangular thumb rest and attaches to top of handle using slip & score technique

        Inspects work, cleans up crumbs, scratches, dents, canvass marks, etc.

        Places assembled mug on shelf, completes 12, and returns shelf to drying rack

 

This is the process we use today. I understand there are lots of things we can do to improve the process, those suggestions would also be helpful. Yes, we could use a ram press, and we do plan to test one in the first quarter of next year, but right now I have to measure this process and need to know what is reasonable productivity?

 

The potters currently throw between 5 and 15 cylinders per hour when throwing and trim at about twice that rate. My feeling is this is low, but I don't know if that's a reasonable belief, and what is a reasonable expectation of performance?

 

The hand builders assemble from 3 to 5 mugs per hour. My feeling is this is very low, but again... Typically 2 or 3 mugs per hour is achieved when multiple tiles have to be attached to the mug. A rate of 4 or 5 mugs per hour is achieved when only a single tile is attached to the mug. Again, I lack experience in a multi-potter production environment and so I don't know if my thinking is accurate or in line with industry norms. 

 

Hand builders perform extrusion tasks, slab rolling, and tile making tasks separate from assembly tasks. 

 

Each position has studio maintenance responsibilities which affect daily production, but not hourly. Maintenance is generally conducted at end of shift and involves cleaning assigned work areas and common areas as part of ongoing dust abatement efforts. All up surfaces are wiped down, filters changed, floors mopped, HEPA vac, etc.

 

 

Your insights would be most helpful...

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If production's the name of the game, and your crew is slammed as is, why not just slip cast the cylinders and handles?  You could cut your casting crew down to a minimum (one guy can pour a lot of moulds) and everyone else could be on hand building/assembly.  Your mugs are VERY slip-castable

 

If hand thrown pottery is an essential selling point to your product, you're at the mercy of the skill and number of your potters.  In which case, it's better to adjust your price point rather than cut corners.

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If production's the name of the game, and your crew is slammed as is, why not just slip cast the cylinders and handles? You could cut your casting crew down to a minimum (one guy can pour a lot of moulds) and everyone else could be on hand building/assembly. Your mugs are VERY slip-castable

 

If hand thrown pottery is an essential selling point to your product, you're at the mercy of the skill and number of your potters. In which case, it's better to adjust your price point rather than cut corners.

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John,

 

The weight is by design. I agree on the production rate, but what us a good rate?

 

Mike... no time to do more at the moment, but the throwing rate seems very low. And are those large mugs 2.75 pounds!!!!!!!!! That seems like WAY too much clay.

 

best,

 

...................john

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- Offer piecework, and/or hire a knowledgeable production potter to assess your set up and employees.

 

- As previously mentioned, you're burning through a lot of clay. The mugs depicted next to the ruler could be made with 1 lb of clay or less. Even adding weight for a hefty feel wouldn't put them in your range.

 

- These forms shouldn't be trimmed.

 

- Be specific about the form (the wavy profiles are strange).

 

- Look into task management, especially for clay prep and hand building work (transition time kills productivity).

 

- Don't judge a potter by the duration of their experience with clay!

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No expert in production but to throw 61 mugs, think our MarkC would do that before breakfast.

No need to weigh if you measure a length straight out of the pugmill. get the weight then cut the lengths accordingly.

Prob obvious.

MarkC is your man , he has EVERYTHING streamlined

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Well, so far I just learned why I decided not to post here and haven't for more than a year... I'm thinking this was a bad idea...

 

Dude, we're trying to help.  Casting aspersions isn't going to win you any friends.

 

I don't think anyone's going to give you the exact answer you want which appears to be something like "your throwers should be throwing 15-20 pieces an hour and your hand builders should be a 10-15."  That's more or less meaningless data.  You already have the data you want--you want 61 pieces every day to make your model work.    

 

I'll be honest, I detect a bit of contempt for your employees.  That seems to be the crux of the issue--the contemptuous question: "how hard should they be working?"  If they're working as hard as they can, and I have no reason to doubt they're not, you have only a few options.  Hire faster workers, incentivize speed (Colby's suggestion of piece work), streamline production, retool, or charge more.

 

I apologize for the harshness, but you know the answer you want to hear and I think we all know you know it.  We've been trying to help in addition to that.

Biglou13, Natania and Dale pots like this

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Mike, I don't think there are many potters here who are producing at this rate, which is why no one has the exact answer you're looking for. I do think you have gotten some useful responses anyways.

 

Throwing 5 cylinders per hour is not worth paying for. 15 per hour is good. I am guessing an experienced production potter would be throwing 30.

 

The hand building rate is painfully slow. I don't know how to make it go faster, except to hire folks with faster skills. I'm guessing some of your employees are belaboring over the details too much. Try to figure out if this is happening, and address it. Extruded handles ought to be really fast. Maybe the tiles can be made in bulk in advance and kept moist.

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Well, if you want times:

For a batch of 30 mugs, I can have the bodies thrown in about 2 hours without thinking about it too hard. So 15/hour. 1/2 hour to pull handles for same said batch, and everything left overnight to set up. No trimming of such a simple form!!! Roll the bottoms. There shouldn't be that much weight left in the bottom relative to the rest of the mug, and that line can be made with a stick.

 

Next day, slip printed letter strips are made, and handles are applied at the same time, at a rate of about 12-15/ hour.

 

I am not a production potter, I'd say I'm an intermediate maker, and I am not yet supporting myself solely by my pottery. Yes, the range you're quoting sounds slow, and some over-fussing could be happening. That said, economy of motion is extremely important, and the way something is made contributes to any efficiency, or lack thereof. You're asking the hand builders to apply four separate tiles, a handle and a thumb rest. 6 "bits" added to one thrown piece is more than you'd put on a teapot. Also, how are those tiles lined up? By eyeball or by template? Slight changes in technique can make huge differences in speed.

 

Mark likely has something very valuable to say here.

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Mike, I don't think there are many potters here who are producing at this rate, which is why no one has the exact answer you're looking for. I do think you have gotten some useful responses anyways.

 

Throwing 5 cylinders per hour is not worth paying for. 15 per hour is good. I am guessing an experienced production potter would be throwing 30.

 

The hand building rate is painfully slow. I don't know how to make it go faster, except to hire folks with faster skills. I'm guessing some of your employees are belaboring over the details too much. Try to figure out if this is happening, and address it. Extruded handles ought to be really fast. Maybe the tiles can be made in bulk in advance and kept moist.

 

Mea... Thanks, this was helpful and on point. The idea that most potters don't produce at this rate has been a problem for about 6 months. The most frustrating aspect of this business is not knowing what we don't know. 

 

We've crossed a bridge it would seam from an individual business providing an individual income to a more substantial operation, and we are now trying to scale practices that work at the individual level while discovering that not all of them apply in a larger more substantial operation. 

 

The issue isn't weather I have great people, it's weather I'm operating in the most efficient manner possible. And, how can I raise the bar so that my team produces a higher quality product with maximum throughput. It simply doesn't matter whether I like them, or if they are good people, if we don't make a profit we're all out of work.

 

I agree that 5 cylinders an hour is unacceptable, and 15 would be fantastic in our studio. At 15 per hour, a potter could produce 45 in 3 hours. With two potters on the team, we would be producing a kiln load every day, which would be ready to trim the following day, and bisque on day 3. Those same potters could trim the previous day's work after lunch and then support glazing operations later in the day or switch to the hand building tasks.

 

Even if they only threw for two hours I could still throw a kiln load in a day.

 

The hand building is what's killing me. At 4 mugs per hour I'm adding $4 to $5 to the cost of every mug. Let's say my clay weight is off by 100% and I could throw each mug with only 1.5 lbs of clay, saving 1.25 pounds of clay. That reduces my cost per mug by a ginormous $0.45! If I can get 8 mugs per hour assembled, then my cost per mug is $2, which returns $2 to my gross margin. That may not seem like all that much, but my gross margin on a base price mug is $10, so a $2 boost raises my gross margin 20%. That 20% is at the same fixed cost basis, so it flows directly to the bottom line.

 

Clay is cheap, labor is expensive... Which is why we don't pug or recycle clay.

 

We make the tiles in advance now, although they are made by hand. I just bought a small tile press which should allow us to make 120 tiles per hour. However, this only speeds up the prep work, not the assembly rate.  

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Well, so far I just learned why I decided not to post here and haven't for more than a year... I'm thinking this was a bad idea...

 

Dude, we're trying to help.  Casting aspersions isn't going to win you any friends.

   

I'll be honest, I detect a bit of contempt for your employees.  That seems to be the crux of the issue--the contemptuous question: "how hard should they be working?"  If they're working as hard as they can, and I have no reason to doubt they're not, you have only a few options.  Hire faster workers, incentivize speed (Colby's suggestion of piece work), streamline production, retool, or charge more.

 

I apologize for the harshness, but you know the answer you want to hear and I think we all know you know it.  We've been trying to help in addition to that.

 

 

Dude... What was that you were saying about casting aspersions?

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FYI........ one of my standard throwing exercise challenges for STUDENTS is to throw 1 pound cylinders in 1 minute.  This is from a pre-weighed 1 lb. clay ball put on the wheel head to cut off and set on the ware board.  Many of them can do it.  That's 60 per hour. 

 

And a 1 pound ball well thrown makes a BIG mug.  And the forms you are looking at in those pictures are basically slightly truncated cylinders.

 

I think maybe you need to look for more skilled labor... or to invest in training of the existing labor force.

 

best,

 

......................john

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Perhaps then a tweak of your tile design, so only one ever has to be applied. Taking the application of three pieces out of the equation will speed you up dramatically.

 

The design is market driven. It's been tested by extensive focus group testing. It sells and I don't want to mess with what works, only find a way to make it more effectively. Attaching multiple tiles only occurs in about 5% of the orders, it's the exception, not the rule, and when it does occur it's at the request of the customer. In these cases the mug functions more like a celebration of an individual's service than a functional piece. It means something very special to that customer.

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FYI........ one of my standard throwing exercise challenges for STUDENTS is to throw 1 pound cylinders in 1 minute.  This is from a pre-weighed 1 lb. clay ball put on the wheel head to cut off and set on the ware board.  Many of them can do it.  That's 60 per hour. 

 

And a 1 pound ball well thrown makes a BIG mug.  And the forms you are looking at in those pictures are basically slightly truncated cylinders.

 

best,

 

......................john

 

We'll you do make a good point with your exercise, and that could be an excellent way to improve the throwing rate. I'm still not sold anyone could throw a cylinder 5" wide at the base, 4" wide at the rim, and 7.5" tall in 1 pound of clay. And, as I posted earlier reducing the clay will save pennies compared to improving the labor contribution to he cost of the form. The exercise, if performed on a regular basis could achieve the latter fairly quickly.

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Scoring and slipping can be reduced to one step, by scrubbing the attachment points with a wet toothbrush instead. It roughs up the surface, and creates just the right amount of slip.

 

Don't blend in the seams where the handles attach. That is a total time suck. Just press the handles on firmly, with lots of pressure and a tiny bit of wiggling. Then clean up any slip that oozed out with a wet paint brush. Takes a little practice. Hopefully your glaze will pool in the visible seams and make them look nicer.

Frank Hott and Pres like this

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The reason I focus on the amount of clay here at times is that it is an indicator of low throwing skills for making that size form.  A certain sense of appropriate "mass" can be understandable...... but if these are considered functional pieces.... personally I'd find 2.75 pounds totally objectionable for a form like that.  I'd think that better balanced forms would likely increase sales too.

 

 Additionally those size forms should require NO leatherhard trimming to reduce anything of the wall thickness.  Trimming should be mainly for aesthetic reasons.... finishing the foot area of the piece  ... not to compensate for leaving unused clay in the lower walls......and this also reduces labor on the per piece basis... increasing the end point productivity.

 

Maybe a management visit to another production facility somewhere is in order?   Here's a very successful long term hand production pottery:  CRAP... cut and past does not work for me since I upgraded to IE 11 .... have to type this in.... look up on Google ....... Salmon Falls Stoneware.

 

best,

 

........................john

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