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July 24 2006 04:12 PM

OK, so business is picking up, or maybe your business is coming into its busy time of the year. Either way, you realize you dont have enough man power to handle the increased volume. So what to do? Hire the first few people to answer your ad in the paper? Then there is the training, the supervising and making sure they understand their duties. Maybe you should be looking at what you were doing for the last three months of slow time. Lets face it from a managers point of view, we just dont like high turnaround in workers, whether it is a seasonal job or they quit because the pay is not enough. It is much easier and more profitable to invest in machinery and technology while it is slow. This may mean asking the boss for a budget increase, but show him the logistics of what you are trying to do.


A few upsides of machinery and technology are neither require sick leave, nor do they complain about not getting a raise, bonus or benefits. No need to worry about vacation time or sick leave, and the only health insurance to speak of would be preventative maintenance.


There are, of course, a few downsides to machinery and technology, the biggest one being cost. You also have to consider who to get to do an upgrade or perform maintenance, and your employees will need to be trained on the equipment. But for the most part, the downsides can be beaten, especially if you already have qualified people in your organization. And if you can install technology to take the place of employee positions that are in the high turnaround area, the price tag will be far less than their salaries and benefits.


Now, dont get me wrong. I am a firm believer that a machine and technology will never totally take the place of a human, but they can make things a lot easier if they are put to use in the right way. Repetitive jobs are the easiest to start with; this is where machinery and technology really are put to the best use because the logics or movements are the same every single time.


Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) use an input (i.e., sensor, timer or relay) to give you an output (i.e., belt control, pneumatic operations and safety controls). They can repeat the task every time the parameters tell them to do so. By replacing people with handheld scanners and setting up your system to utilize automatic overhead scanners, you can save time, money and employee problems. All these upgrades let your operation run more efficiently and require fewer people. When the peak time comes around again next year, you can rest assured that the upgrades you have made will be ready to handle the task at hand.


Shane Coots is owner of Inland Northwest Plastics. For more information, e-mail