By Suzy Strutner, managing editor
⏰ 5-minute read
DuraMark, a printer of safety labels and branding decals, is making processes more efficient to prepare for getting back to full production capacity.
At DuraMark, which prints stick-on decals for heavy machinery, business slowed down due to the coronavirus.
The business systems team is taking advantage of the downturn to introduce new processes to DuraMark’s production team while they’re not as busy.
The new systems can allow DuraMark to emerge from the coronavirus as a stronger company, says its business systems analyst.
There’s no doubt that the majority of leaders at growing companies saw business suffer as a result of the coronavirus.
However, we’ve seen some especially forward-thinking teams position themselves to emerge from the downturn stronger than before, regardless of their company’s bottom line.
Such is the case for the business systems team at DuraMark Technologies. The company prints safety labels and branding decals — like the warning stickers you see on heavy machinery — at its production facility in Westfield, Ind.
As they wait for DuraMark’s production to ramp back up to full capacity post-virus, business system analyst Eric Douglass and his team are tackling two projects that he believes will allow the company to perform better in its next chapter.
Making a mark
Douglass’s role at DuraMark includes customizing the software his company uses in order to make processes flow more efficiently.
He pinpointed two issues that the production team encounters too often for his liking:
- The design of a given decal isn’t what the customer wanted.
- DuraMark ships the wrong product to a given customer.
The past couple and next couple of months are a perfect time to tackle these issues, Douglass said. DuraMark’s production is down 30-70%, depending on the day, due to the coronavirus’s effect on its customer businesses. (DuraMark customer Hustler Turf, for example, “is not making as many lawn mowers” right now, he noted.)
With DuraMark’s production staff less hurried and thus more apt to, say, get acquainted with a new order-picking process, Douglass’s team starts to dream.
“What we look at right now is, ‘Okay, our production is down for most part, and we have time: What processes could we put in place now that we wouldn’t be able to put in place when we’re busy?'” he said. “... Now is a good time to make those types of changes that we’ve either been putting off or things that we haven’t thought about.”
“Okay, our production is down for most part, and we have time: What processes could we put in place now that we wouldn’t be able to put in place when we’re busy?”
The “luxury” of time
Douglass’s team was working on solutions to those two issues — of incorrect designs and incorrect shipments — before the coronavirus slowed production. However, the team might not have been able to introduce its solutions to the production line if it weren’t for the holdup.
One of their solutions, for example, involves adding redundancy to the picking process.
In other words, the team seeks to add a double-checking mechanism so DuraMark can be sure it’s sending the correct decals to the correct customer.
In the new picking process, a DuraMark warehouse worker receives a customer’s order on a small, rectangular label. The worker picks the correct product from warehouse shelves, cross-referencing a printed order sheet to ensure he or she picked correctly. Finally, the warehouse’s fulfillment team checks both the label and order sheet before shipping the decals to the customer.
It would’ve likely been impossible to train staff to follow this new process at DuraMark’s full production capacity, Douglass said.
But because of the slowdown, he is hopeful it will happen sooner rather than later.
“Trying to institute a new picking process in the middle of craziness — our production manager would’ve put the kibosh on it pretty quickly,” he added. “So having at least the time to be able to talk about and possibly train [staff] on stuff like this is a luxury for what we do and how quickly we [usually] operate.”
"Having at least the time to be able to talk about and possibly train [staff] on [new processes] is a luxury for what we do."
Since production staff aren't as busy right now, DuraMark is making its label-printing processes more efficient.
The company hasn’t furloughed or laid off any employees, Douglass said. The production staff who print, laminate, quality-check and ship DuraMark’s decals are working six feet apart and required to wear masks, he added. Workstations are sanitized hourly.
Demand for DuraMark decals is certainly lower from customers like Genie, which makes and rents out construction equipment. On the other hand, customers Toyota and GM started making ventilators — and needed warning labels to stick onto them.
On the finance side of DuraMark’s business, “We’ve had to institute some PO [purchase order] checks and balances that we normally don’t do,” Douglass said.
His team devised a way to funnel POs above a given amount to the finance team, which evaluates the order to ensure DuraMark’s customers will be able to pay on time. In some cases, the finance team may negotiate new terms with customers, allowing them to delay payment for the time being, he added.
If a mutually-agreeable payment due date isn’t established or the customer pays late, “we have to count it as a [financial] loss for the time being,” Douglass continued.
DuraMark is also storing less inventory in its warehouse in another effort to improve cash flow.
The company makes many of its decals in-house on its own printing, laminating and cutting machines. Some specialty decals or parts of them, however, come from third-party suppliers. (Think of an extra-textured, stick-on speedometer for a lawn mower’s dashboard.)
DuraMark usually buys these specialty items in bulk, then ships them out to the customer (i.e. a lawn-mower manufacturer) in small batches whenever the customer runs out. Currently, though, DuraMark might stock fewer of these items than usual.
“Say we outsource products for a customer and they generally order 200 units [from us] at a time,” Douglass said. “It’s cheaper for us, based on price breaks, shipping and all that, to order 5,000 units and ship them [to the customer] in quantities of 200. We may not want to stock up on 5,000 right now ... because we probably won’t recoup that money anytime soon.”
DuraMark is currently stocking fewer units of some items that it usually special-orders in bulk.
Getting back to business as usual
Douglass is hopeful that DuraMark’s customers will start manufacturing their lawn mowers, construction equipment and the like by the middle or end of May. That would put DuraMark’s return to “normal” somewhere in mid-summer.
“We’re always two to three weeks behind our customers: They produce, then three weeks later they run out of decals and call us,” he said. “[The return to normal production levels] is not going to be immediate for us. When states and businesses open back up, we won’t see an effect until three weeks down the line.”
“We’re always two to three weeks behind our customers: They produce, then three weeks later they run out of decals and call us. ... When states and businesses open back up, we won’t see an effect until three weeks down the line.”
Until then, his team is hard at work, aiming to implement its new processes while it has the attention of production staff.
Douglass acknowledged that DuraMark’s C-suite likely doesn’t share his perspective on the slowdown: They’re inherently more concerned with the company’s finances than he is. Still, he sees an opportunity to improve the business overall as the coronavirus runs its course.
“From the operational side of things, we’re doing things now that we probably wouldn’t have been able to do so quickly,” he said. “Obviously, it comes at a price. But [the situation] is uncontrollable for all of us, so we just try and do what we can to make the best of it. … I think that ultimately, that will be helpful and we’ll come out of this stronger than before.”