Time is Money – Part One

In the wonderful world of embroidery time is money. I guess that can be said for any number of occupations but in commercial embroidery it is especially true. To maximize your profit you must figure out ways to improve your productivity. This blog will be the first in a four part series about how to squeeze a few extra bucks from your shop.

Over the course of a 25+ year career I have found that roughly 85% of embroidery designs use about 30 thread colors. The remaining 15% of thread colors are “flyers” and used with relative infrequency but enough they cannot be completely ignored. I have been fortunate enough to consult in many shop over the years. I have never taken a scientific sample but I would guess most small to medium embroidery shops inventory around 75 colors and use 30 of them most all of the time. Larger, more established shops have even larger inventories but my contention is they still use a palette of around 30 colors 85% of the time.

Many modern embroidery machines have at least 12 needles and some as many as 15 or 16. As far as I am concerned, the more the merrier. If I could be king for a day I would develop a machine with 50 needles. But I digress.

The real trick is develop a system in your shop that allows you to look in to the future so you know what thread colors will be needed for you next job. Nothing steals time (money) from your shop more than the downtime your machines experience changing colors between jobs. The more heads you have the more dramatic the impact but even small shops will feel this impact. While your machine is running the current job you should be putting up and tying off the colors for the next job. When the current job is complete simply pull the threads through the needles and load the next job. Your machine should never wait for an operator to change colors after a job is complete.

Also, there is a special knot you can tie that is small enough to pull directly though the eye of a needle. If you do not know how to tie this knot I would suggest you seek out a veteran embroiderer and ask them to show you. The time saved, back muscles spared , and bleary late night eyes saved by not having to search for the eye of a needle will change your life! I have big clumsy hands and at first I “poo-pooed” this silly little knot because I am pretty fast at threading a machine and not so good at manipulating, tiny little thread knots. Then one day I raced an experienced operator. We both threaded a 12 needle, 6 head machine. She finished her machine while I was still on head three. Enough said, I learned the knot.

But probably the most important thing you can do is pay careful attention to the thread colors you use on a daily basis. I bet all of you leave white and black thread on your machine almost all of the time. But I bet you would be surprised to find there are at least 6 more colors you can leave on your machine for all but the most extreme jobs. You should and you should put these 8 colors in the most difficult to reach locations on your machine and only change them when you absolutely have to.

There are many ways to “look in to the future” but for this exercise your best weapon is a production schedule where your colors are planned. This might seem like overkill but how does a free month or two of rent sound? I know that seems like an exaggeration but you can save hundreds of hours a year with effective color change management. Larger shops can save thousands of hours. When I managed a shop floor with 600 heads this was our number one focus. We saved thousands and thousands of dollars through effective thread management. You can too.

Feel free to contact me “off blog” if you would like to discuss specific strategies unique to your shop for monitoring thread usage and how to develop the tools an metrics required to be as productive as possible with your thread usage.

Next month we will talk about how equipment maintenance can affect your profitability.

Steve Freeman
Managing Partner