Adding a Second Shift… Opportunities & Challenges You Should Know Before You Start

By Linda Little
Let’s add a second shift. Sounds easy enough. Just hire a few more people, avoid overtime pay, and increase production to meet customer needs, right? Sure… everybody wants to work odd hours; be isolated from the rest of the company (and the world, for that matter); and sleep all day. Unless they are 15-year-old boys, this schedule may not appeal to many people, let alone qualified, dependable, and well-trained managers. So why have laboratories gone to multiple shift operations and what has made the transition successful?

The strength of a multiple shift operation is the utilization of equipment. The more hours equipment is run, the greater the production capacity of that equipment. Production capacity allows a manufacturing facility to consider job flow efficiencies; i.e. prioritize those jobs that can be processed and shipped the same day to be completed first to meet a shipping window. Jobs with additional processing such as AR coating could be scheduled and completed over three shifts with in-house coating as another example. Jobs waiting for a part or frame-to-come can be started later in the day. Adding more equipment used to be the solution to increasing production needs.

Considering the options of the best way to meet increasing production needs often justifies upgrading equipment versus adding to an existing line .For those considering high cost, high quality technology and automation, there is no doubt multiple shifts will reduce the return on the investment time, thereby justifying the investment.

“When we purchased Satisloh surfacing equipment, twelve or thirteen years ago, we purchased half as many cylinder machines and generators as we had been using,” explained Ted Mabry, vice president of production for Interstate Optical Co., Inc., in Mansfield, Ohio. “We ran a second shift beginning with just a few people so the equipment would be utilized and production would increase.”

Mabry continued to explain that after four to five years, the first and second shifts were fully staffed due to business growth. When they invested in new finishing equipment, again they added a second shift in finishing. “We felt that we didn’t have a choice. We had to move to new technology. Working together with the supplier, we knew we could increase the number of jobs per man hour as well as have the capacity to be flexible,” he added.

Utilizing assets, both equipment and employees, was the reason Pech Optical implemented a multiple shift operation.

“Multiple shifts have allowed us to service all of our accounts nationwide,” said Doug Pech, president of Pech Optical, Sioux City, Iowa. “We can get work in up until 8:00 PM our time (central time) and the third shift will process it.” Pech concurs that the payback on most equipment is faster and justified with multiple shifts. His manufacturing capacity includes automated surfacing, an automated digital surfacing line, Crizal EXT in-house, Zeiss Coating in-house, and Teflon coating in-house, MEI edgers, ES edgers, and automated inspection equipment.

“The ability to manufacture our jobs on multiple shifts, allows us to staff appropriately depending on capacity needs.”

Interstate Optical also has a robotic system, in-house coating systems and advanced technology. “When you have this kind of technology,” Mabry commented, “it would be like hiring someone to sleep if you didn’t run it around the clock.”

Both Mabry and Pech agreed that there were additional benefits that multiple shifts offered. “You can get time consuming things done on the second or third shift instead of being down during the day,” explained Mabry. “We close down for maintenance during the second shift lunch break.” Both commented on expanded customer service capabilities and the ability to prioritize jobs for efficiency.

Clearly the equipment doesn’t have a problem working around the clock, but what about employees? Ah… here in lies the biggest challenge according to any manufacturer who has multiple shifts or who has tried. According to Jim Dillingham, with Shiftwork Solutions LLC, a private consulting group that specializes in the personnel side of multiple shift operations, “Most companies don’t think about their personnel policies, staffing levels and schedules, and workload fluctuations until problems arise with employees.” Dillingham sited multiple examples of companies that felt the shift scheduling was causing the problems instead of considering that there were employee needs that weren’t being met.

“The real struggle with multiple shifts,” explained Mabry, “is having a manager willing to work in the middle of the night.” Interstate’s shifts are scheduled from 7:00am—4:00 PM; 4:00 PM—Midnight; and Midnight—7:00 AM. “We have promoted 99 percent of our managers internally,” he added. “We try to create an opportunity for advancement so no one feels as though they are at a dead end on one shift or another or within the organization.”

“Communication is our challenge,” commented Pech. “Communication in general among all employees and between shifts.” Additional challenges discussed were: the inability to go out to get parts for maintenance during second and third shifts; and having to leave problems and maintenance issues to the next shift. Getting information out, training, education, new procedures, and maintaining a consistent culture can be very difficult.

“I worked outside the optical industry prior to Interstate,” Mabry explained. “Shifts anywhere can create animosity toward one another if you don’t find opportunities to keep communication open and information available.” Interstate holds company-wide meetings on the same day for each shift, ensuring that the same information is shared face-to-face with all employees.

Pech Optical implemented weekly operational meetings with shift leaders to keep lines of communication open. Voice mail, e-mail, notes, and face-to-face discussions are all critical from shift to shift. “We encourage employees to leave notes and examples of anything—problems, solutions, questions—for the next shift. Each crew is tired at the end of their ‘day’ and may not want to stick around to debrief the next crew, so these communication methods are necessary,” added Pech.

Both companies agree with Dillingham, employees are the challenge of shifts. Creative problem solving is critical to keeping employees involved and aware of what is going on, and motivated. “We started each new shift with skilled people from another. We try to match employees up with the shifts they want and are willing to change when they need to,” added Mabry. “Many like having the multiple shift option which allows them to manage child care or school.”

Shiftwork Solutions follow a simple model with their clients to create a successful shiftwork plan. “Three critical factors: business requirements, employee needs, and health and safety standards are all taken into consideration,” explained Dillingham. Following three simple steps—identifying business requirements, developing schedule concepts and soliciting employee input, and customizing and implementing solutions—Shiftwork continues to work with management to measure the effectiveness of the solutions.

When asked if a multiple shift operation has met their expectations, both Mabry and Pech indicate that they continue to be committed to their operations and to the need for continuous improvement in order to meet their customers’ needs. The multiple shifts have allowed each lab the flexibility to add capacity when and where it is needed, have reduced the payback period for investments allowing significant technology upgrades, and offer employees flexibility and career options where and when they may need it. Advice from the front lines… Don’t expect to accomplish everything immediately—both labs have been working at this for 12-13 years!

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Lab Talk-February/March 2018