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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.

Now that's a fantastic idea! I'm testing the toothbrush idea tomorrow! The handle takes the longest to attach, if we don't have to score the clay and work up a layer of slip then we might be able to cut attachment time in half.

 

I spray the glaze and it doesn't run much unless I overspray the foundation layer. But, I add an extra shot around the handle joins to achieve the same result. 

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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

John... The original design as an 18 oz beer mug, it was thrown to 6.5" tall and used less than 2 lbs of clay. We took this form into the market and conducted focus group testing and our target audience wanted a heavier and larger mug that held 24 oz and still had room for a head on their brew. So we modified the design to a 28 oz tankard. Then we discovered that keeping the beverage cold for a prolonged period of time was very important to our customers (card, football, and baseball games). This meant they don't have to get up and go to the fridge that often. Our customer's toast by clanking the tankards together, often in groups of 2, 3 or 4 dozen celebrants. So, we intentionally left the foot thicker than the rim. Because the tankard slopes o the rim, the clanking occurs at the foot not the rim, so we left clay low on the form to support the stress that occurred during these toasts and "slamming' the tankard down on the table top. The design is more about how our customer use the pot. Thanks for Salmon Falls... I was thinking the same thing...

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

 

You're right, I apologize.  It seems you've gotten the help you're looking for.  Good luck.

 

No biggie... For the record, I wasn't casting aspersions... I was casting frustration with my circumstance of achieving success beyond my expertise as a production potter. I also find it frustrating when I ask a specific question about business process and get a design critique. Not something you did, so that's not directed at you either. No offense taken here... My apologies for my unprofessional tone.

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I’m glad that’ we’ve worked it out.  No harm, no foul.  :)

 

I’ll confess I came into reading your post with a bias and I immediately chalked it up to a situation similar to one I worked in while in University.  I worked in a failing restaurant owned by a very skilled businessman, but a culinarily clueless restaurant manager.  The guy had everything priced out to the last millilitre of wine in the carbonara.  Careful research on the menu—everything was on trend and his profit margins were large.  On paper, it was a great restaurant. In practice, the kitchen staff couldn’t make it work by a mile.  We had to pit and slice each individual olive for a pizza, but all the pasta was pre made and microwaved.  We needed the knife skills of a sushi chef to make the fruit garnish (his own design), but the cake was store bought (even though the menu said otherwise).  There’s a reason why food garnishes look the way they do, btw, they take very little skill and time.   We got blamed for it not working and suggestions of change were insubordination.  Everything made sense in his head, but his vision was an impossible paradigm.

 

So that’s where my bias come from.  I had in my mind the conversations where I was saying “I literally can’t do this any faster.† It was the stuff of panic attacks before work.I feel really bad that I let that poor experience colour my judgment of your situation.  I can see now your question is a strictly neutral, business related problem--no condemnation of your labour force at all.  I do suspect the solution may lie in design, as Diesel Clay and others have noted.

 

I think Mia, John, and Mark C. will serve you well.  The only piece of production pottery wisdom I can offer is that thin-walled pieces of even thickness are often just as strong, if not stronger than thickly footed pieces.

 

Good luck. :)

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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

As a side to John's comment, a well thrown 1lb mug will not be overly heavy and yet at the same time should not be overly thin. All too often those throwing a mug forget the purpose of a mug as to provide a vessel for hot liquid, a comfortable lip, a comfortable handle, and thermal insulation to keep the liquid hot on the inside and not burn the hand on the outside. All of this comes from good design of the form and good throwing. I personally like to hold a mug in my hand for the warmth as my hands are always cold! :rolleyes:

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To give you an idea of labor cost, a contract potter in Seagrove, NC, who turns for several potters during the week, works at about $1.25 to $!.50/lb of clay. The clay is weighted and ready for him to turn, no handles,no trimming, just turning.

As suggested above rolling the bottoms save time

Since these contract potters work  by the pound, they must produce enough to prosper, a hundred lbs a day is common.

At 3lb of clay labor and clay equal to $6/piece +/-.

Clay can be thrown and covered so your production can exceed your daily demands as well, store in damp box..

If your hand builders are making just the tile badges that are applied, these too can be stored by wrapping and storing in a damp box.

If you don't have an extruder, get one for handles, you can make the die out of 1/4 in lexan and cut the handle pattern out with a drill press and a jig saw. Extrude the handles and form them on a board to firm up. There again keep in a damp box till ready to apply.

You can make 200 handles in an hr if needed.

Next get a larger kiln to add to what you have. If you have the power to handle the amps and the margin to handle the expense.

Just a few thoughts, hope some help, no idea if these fit your situation.

Wyndham

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I believe what some of us are trying to say is that your design IS contributing to your production woes. There's a reason production ware has a certain look to it. Efficiency, particularly in labour.

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To give you an idea of labor cost, a contract potter in Seagrove, NC, who turns for several potters during the week, works at about $1.25 to $!.50/lb of clay. The clay is weighted and ready for him to turn, no handles,no trimming, just turning.

As suggested above rolling the bottoms save time

Since these contract potters work  by the pound, they must produce enough to prosper, a hundred lbs a day is common.

At 3lb of clay labor and clay equal to $6/piece +/-.

Clay can be thrown and covered so your production can exceed your daily demands as well, store in damp box..

If your hand builders are making just the tile badges that are applied, these too can be stored by wrapping and storing in a damp box.

If you don't have an extruder, get one for handles, you can make the die out of 1/4 in lexan and cut the handle pattern out with a drill press and a jig saw. Extrude the handles and form them on a board to firm up. There again keep in a damp box till ready to apply.

You can make 200 handles in an hr if needed.

Next get a larger kiln to add to what you have. If you have the power to handle the amps and the margin to handle the expense.

Just a few thoughts, hope some help, no idea if these fit your situation.

Wyndham

Most of this I've already done or am doing, the extrusion rate is interesting. We're way behind that level of production on the extruder. I'm making a jig board to shape the handles consistently as they are extruded and cut to length. The jig board will be loaded on baker's racks to set up before attachment. I'll have to check the extruder step. Right now we fire 11.5 cubic foot kilns which fire 61 mugs in a single glaze fire. I looked at 14 and 16 cubic foot front loaders, but the overall capacity was not all that much in comparison to the incremental cost. The next larger electric kiln is 3 phase (19 cubic feet), we could run 3 phase electric from the commercial transformer behind the studio. But, adding a 3 phase panel will cost considerably. And, if I'm going to do all that, then I'm thinking we move into a larger space with 3 phase electric already in place. Good thoughts...

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no need for 3 phase, just get another 11 cu ft, better return on investment. When you mentioned hand building, are you slabbing the clay , cutting out a template, and wrapping it around a form, then attaching a bottom then handle? If so, where is your bottleneck. 

Wyndham

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I am also the type that constantly runs the numbers and beats up processes. I spent many years constantly tweaking the process flow for a group of a couple of dozen very dedicated employees for a non-pottery related business in order to maximize our output and I would caution to make the process a group effort, use a relaxed non-threatening approach and above all be inclusive.

 

If your frustration with your production schedule is too much of a frontal assault to the group you are either going to lose some good people and/or demoralize many of the ones that stay and really change the dynamics of the effort. The feeling that no matter how hard you work it's not going to be good enough will burn through people so fast. I've seen it happen often and even if they don't quit they grow to dislike their jobs and the overall atmosphere takes a hit for everyone.  

 

I heard a very good business speaker once advise an executive who is structuring the work day for employees to constantly ask themselves if they would work there and then modify their approach until they can honestly say yes. That advice has served me well and I think the folks that worked for me both produced the upper level of our capabilities AND enjoyed doing it.  

 

It's very easy to extrapolate numbers such as John's example of some of his good student throwers throwing a form every minute and then ramp that out as 60 an hour but hey first off those are throwing challenges and I assume not to be processed as product. Secondly he did not have them doing that 2-3 hours at a time day in and day out.

 

Mike I wish you the best of luck. I am sorry that you stopped posting here a year ago. I always only try to post on a topic that I think I can actually contribute something useful to the discussion. I only have the best of intentions with my post and like to try and contribute to the few forums I follow because I know its important to have an active membership for a forum to continue and thrive.

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no need for 3 phase, just get another 11 cu ft, better return on investment. When you mentioned hand building, are you slabbing the clay , cutting out a template, and wrapping it around a form, then attaching a bottom then handle? If so, where is your bottleneck. 

Wyndham

I don't have the square footage for a third Skutt 1231, but I could switch to a 36" L&L, that would give me a fourth shelf, and another 21 mugs per fire, or about a 33% increase in throughput. That's worth about $1,500 to $1,750 per firing... The pay back on the big L&L would be less than 30 days as all of our work is prepaid / made-to-order.

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Guest JBaymore

Steven makes some excellent management skills comments above.  (I can't copy/paste OR use the quote function with Internet Explorer 11 on here!!!!!)

 

The point of the ability to build such throwing skills first is so that you can reach a point of not worrying about HOW to make something, of if you CAN make something, but to be able to focus on WHAT you want to make.  And the skills are then right there to accomplish it.

 

And yes, some of our BFA grads go on to work as production throwers for some of the production type places around here (there are a couple)  Salmon Falls... Healing Touch....etc. ....... and then they REALLY learn to work quickly and directly.  If you CAN throw 60 mugs an hour... when you add in moving around and taking care of your body a bit..... a sustained production rate of 25-30 an hour is not too bad a pace. 

 

That is sustainable.......... for a couple of years....... until you get smarter ;).  Few folks can do production throwing for a lifetime.

 

Hopefully Mike is not having people doing a single thing like throwing cylinders all day in the shop 8 hours a day...... because as we all know repetitive stress injuries are a hazard of the biz.  And in his case, ....with employees... that is on the Worker's Comp policy... not their own insurance.

 

Mike... looking at this solely as a business person who is running a ceramics production business, I'd be looking at what are often called "alternative technologies".  Slip casting, jiggering, jollying, hydraulic pressing, and so on.  I'd also be looking at offshore manufacturing (yeah... China, Vietnam, Thailand, etc.).  This also might decrease the potential of Worker's Comp claims.

 

Unless HAND MADE is a huge criteria here for you....... of the "made in the USA" part.  (The military connection I see the might preclude offshore.)  For me... jiggering / jollying, production slip casting, and hydraulic  pressing take the work out of the realm of the "hand made".  Not out of the realm of good well made objects...... but into more industrial production.  Designer work. 

 

There is a BIG reason that the potters wheel revolutionized the production of forms over coiling and such. And why industry later quickly went to jigger and jolly wheels... and then slip casting... and then hydraulic pressing  and pressure casting... and now likely is headed toward 3-D printing.  As you say... labor is expensive.  Skilled hand labor is VERY expensive.  To throw well and to handbuild well is a skilled position.

 

If what you are doing is more "commodity" oriented as opposed to art oriented, speed of production is one of your friends.  Machine assisted is typically faster than hand work.

 

You may find in a cost analysis that hiring throwers that have better skills at a higher rate per hour would make more sense and have a bigger payback.  You also might find that training lower skilled operators to operate something like a jigger wheel would pay off well also.  Yes there is capital investment...... but "run the numbers".

 

The production facility I frequently work at in Japan utilizes all of the potential forming methods available.  Forms are designed to be produced using the method that work best for that form.  Then they focus the "inefficient" part of the aesthetic deal on the long yakishime wood firing process at the end.  FYI...... one of my good friends there typically throws about 300-400 large yunomi in a day (off the hump).  Trims them all the next.  She does that pretty regularly.  She's not the best thrower there.

 

Having done large production for the early part of my career, I soon realized that I could make 100 pots at $10 each.... OR....... I could make 1 pot at $1000 each.   Same gross income.  Which has typically lower expenses and materials costs?  Which takes less out of the depreciation on equipment?  Which requires less equipment and raw materials inventory?  Which takes less wear and tear out of the body (MY body)?  So then it became a question of the quality of the work itself, and market research, price positioning, and marketing.  Lots of ways to "skin the cat" (sorry to cat lovers for that turn of phrase ;)).

 

best,

 

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

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I think there's a limit to the skill level that you will be able to get from your workers. If I were a fast thrower, with good skills, why would I put in that type of effort into make someone else's pots? like John said, maybe for a year or two to pay the bills right out of school, but I would much rather be putting the effort into making and selling my own work. So you're either going to have a lower production rate than you want, or have to be training new people quite often.

 

To keep labor costs down, I would look into forming methods that require less skilled labor, like jiggering, casting, etc. New people can be easily trained on how to run the machines. Get away from the idea that things need to be made the way you made them when you were producing alone. You can't expect others to produce at the same rate you did, nor can you expect them to have the same passion about what they're making that you do. The vast majority of very skilled potters I know are not necessarily the fastest throwers. But they demand good prices for their work, so it all works out for them.

 

Seriously look at getting bigger kilns. Loading and unloading kilns takes a lot of time. 

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I have several employees.   One full time and a couple part time.   My expectation in clay is that a clay maker puts out at least $100/hour, so  $800/day, working only in clay.    My overall labor cost (making, glazing, selling) runs 30% of sales.   I price items accordingly.  COGS runs 25%.    I was coming out a little on the short end when I used to have labor at 40% so I've increased prices to hit this 30%/labor.    I'm very pleased with my profit this year.   More than last year.   And notes from the forum prompted me to tweak my ratios.

 

I run this business strictly on production quotas, space in kiln quotas, firing schedules.  The numbers have to add up.

 

Consider a payroll/weekly production ratio? 

 

I also consult for a couple retail businesses.    And my recommendations are always supported with NUMBERS.    Quantification.    And I don't like pottery enough to do it for minimum wage or welfare living standards.   I've always run my businesses with sales ratios.   Really consider organizing around dollar output/cost ratios.  If an item can't make the cut I don't keep it in the line.   This time of year I'm only making pieces that yield the highest kiln output  dollars.   I never look at units .... dollar output is what I guage. 

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If I were in your position I would pay someone with experience to come into your facility for a real time consult. It would be money well spent, and deductible. You are at a distinct disadvantage since you are not a pro yourself.

When I did production it took a while to refine the process to the least amount of steps, the fewest touches of the clay to get the highest percentage of successful work. You lose every time someone has to touch the clay.

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Check your PMs

 

I suggest a larger front loading kiln and advancer shelves to start.I think your small kiln is a bottleneck for sure.

I know a handmade ceramic tile place that fires every day 10 large skutt kilns(they only use then as they can redo one in mere hours as they now know them so well. I suggested L&L to them and they may switch out over time-they redo elemnts on one at least every month . They use tile setters. The larger kiln will help as will advanvers as they take up a lot less space.

Mark

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If I were in your position I would pay someone with experience to come into your facility for a real time consult. It would be money well spent, and deductible. You are at a distinct disadvantage since you are not a pro yourself.

When I did production it took a while to refine the process to the least amount of steps, the fewest touches of the clay to get the highest percentage of successful work. You lose every time someone has to touch the clay.

 

I thought about this, and would be willing to fly the right person in for a few days, but I haven't got a clue who to approach... And, nearly every suggestion we've received has already been implemented. And, those we didn't were discarded for good reason. Like slip casting... Originally we were going to cast, but gave it up because of our foot print, the number of molds we would need, and slip mixing and reclamation equipment issues. Now, throwing is an integral part of selling the pots. 

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I think I would sit down with my crew and have a open discussion about the issue .. Ask them what would make it better , what do they think it will take to hit the goal.. Sometimes the people doing the job might have ideas but wont bring them up to management because they think they wont be heard... I would also bring up piece work with a pay scale already figured out...

 

I can throw a mug form fairly fast but putting the handles on etc. goes really slow for me...

 

It would be nice to see some pictures of your procedure...

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If I were in your position I would pay someone with experience to come into your facility for a real time consult. It would be money well spent, and deductible. You are at a distinct disadvantage since you are not a pro yourself.

When I did production it took a while to refine the process to the least amount of steps, the fewest touches of the clay to get the highest percentage of successful work. You lose every time someone has to touch the clay.

 

I thought about this, and would be willing to fly the right person in for a few days, but I haven't got a clue who to approach... And, nearly every suggestion we've received has already been implemented. And, those we didn't were discarded for good reason. Like slip casting... Originally we were going to cast, but gave it up because of our foot print, the number of molds we would need, and slip mixing and reclamation equipment issues. Now, throwing is an integral part of selling the pots.

 

I think it would be good to go after someone ... not only to consult on process but refine the throwing procedure. Fifteen an hour is not an unreasonable 'production speed' on a simple cylinder.

 

...just thinking as I walked that the throwers could be placing the logos on the cylinders thereby eliminating the whole score and place routine later.

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Guest JBaymore

Mike ... see your PMs for a recommendation for a person to help you out.

 

best,

 

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

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Well I got some fantastic ideas and some good counsel. The point of this was not to bash my employees as some seem to think. I happen to believe I have an extremely talented team, with big hearts, and high levels of motivation. These are not our problems, our biggest problem is experience. Without experience we operate in world where we don't know what we don't know. The result is we are always trying to figure things out. This was NEVER intended to blame anyone. It was, as my original post mentioned, intended to set performance goals for 2015. 

 

To those who offered constructive and positive support I say thank you! 

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If I were in your position I would pay someone with experience to come into your facility for a real time consult. It would be money well spent, and deductible. You are at a distinct disadvantage since you are not a pro yourself.

When I did production it took a while to refine the process to the least amount of steps, the fewest touches of the clay to get the highest percentage of successful work. You lose every time someone has to touch the clay.

I thought about this, and would be willing to fly the right person in for a few days, but I haven't got a clue who to approach... And, nearly every suggestion we've received has already been implemented. And, those we didn't were discarded for good reason. Like slip casting... Originally we were going to cast, but gave it up because of our foot print, the number of molds we would need, and slip mixing and reclamation equipment issues. Now, throwing is an integral part of selling the pots.

I think it would be good to go after someone ... not only to consult on process but refine the throwing procedure. Fifteen an hour is not an unreasonable 'production speed' on a simple cylinder.

 

...just thinking as I walked that the throwers could be placing the logos on the cylinders thereby eliminating the whole score and place routine later.

 

The idea of attaching the logos earlier has come up from time to time. Many have vey fine detail than can be lost if the clay is too wet. But, we haven't tested this enough. I'll tee up some tests at different stages of dryness after the Christmas rush... 

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