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Top 10 Concepts for Maximizing Productivity in Garment Decoration

As a contract printer, maximizing productivity is not just a goal, it's a necessity.

By Tom Davenport, Founder and CEO, Motion Company

Valuable resources - time, money, and manpower - and endless thought are dedicated to defining, refining and executing workflow.

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  • Whether you deal with contract printing, custom printing or otherwise, the following simple concepts will make for building a lean, mean production machine.

    1. Specialization
    Just as specialization of labor revolutionizes a primitive economy on a macro scale, it also revolutionizes a shop on a smaller scale. Employees become ultimately proficient at performing a single job function, day-in and day-out. Multiple employees participating in simultaneous and coordinated batch tasking is essential to maximizing productivity. Specialization of this kind can be easily achieved in a high volume environment, but may be more difficult in a smaller operation, as certain functions do not require the full time dedication of an employee. In this case too much specialization could prove impractical. Regardless of the environment, an appropriate level of specialization should be sought.

    2. Documentation
    In my business, a large percentage of our print runs are repeated. Pre-production sampling is common so repeatability is a necessity. Though our art department provides detailed print specifications for every graphic, modifications with respect to screen mesh, inks, press settings, etc. may be required to produce desired results. Such modifications, if not properly documented, will present challenges when the time comes to reprint a graphic. Valuable press time will be lost as employees engage in recollection and guesswork. This is just one example of the importance of documentation, but the concept applies throughout the operation.

    3. Organization
    Organization breeds productivity through efficiency. Productivity gurus have made fortunes espousing this simple concept. Most of us already know the value of organization; the difficult part is creating and maintaining organization. Though we understand the value, we are not naturally inclined to organization. It seems daunting. Well, yes, creating organization is daunting but maintaining organization is not and while most people may not be willing or capable of creating an organized environment, they are certainly capable of maintaining one. In the pursuit of maximizing productivity through efficiency, it is absolutely essential to create top-down organization within your operation and hold all accountable for its maintenance.

    4. Simplification
    Simplification is often thought of as a lack of sophistication, however in a production environment this couldn't be further from the truth. Simplification is about reducing variables and creating control in a sophisticated process. Simplification should be considered when establishing procedure and protocol, purchasing equipment and supplies, creating schedules, etc. Basically, less is more.

    5. Communication
    We are in the business of handling enormous amounts of information, as much as we are in the business of printing T-shirts. Obtaining the vital information needed from our customers can be a challenge in itself. Moreover, properly conveying the key elements of this information throughout the organization is essential for smooth production. We must control this aspect of our business effectively and put a great emphasis on the most effective methods of delivering information. We should first ask: Does the information coming through customer service get broken down effectively, giving each department the information it needs to perform their function correctly, through means of a work order? If communication is unclear between customer service and the production crew, valuable time is usurped while the staff attempts to discern what expectations are.

    Once we acknowledge the importance of communication from the front of the house to the back, it is imperative to look at how communication is occurring in your shop. Does management properly communicate the production schedule, expectations and special order requirements to the production staff? Are areas of the shop, including products and supplies, properly labeled to avoid confusion or wasted time? During a shift change, does the former print crew relay pertinent information regarding jobs on press to the incoming print crew?

    Lack of communication or miscommunication can hinder, if not cripple, your organization. But consistent effective communication helps to build a foundation for maximum productivity.

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    6. Standardization
    Like the simplification concept, standardization is another way of reducing variables. Standardization relieves the individual performing the task from subjective thought and allows them to follow objective guidelines instead. Not only does this save a considerable amount of time, it creates consistency throughout the operation.

    • In the art department: Proofing and separation templates
    • In the screen department: Standardized screen-prepping procedure
    • On press: Standardized press settings, standardized print placements and standardized print approval criteria
    • In packaging: Standardized box sizes, labels and packaging protocol

    7. Automation
    Machines augment labor. The concept of automation in a screen printing shop is quite simple: Automate wherever and whenever possible. However, for us early adopters, new technology must be evaluated for reliability and efficacy and overall value.

    8. Preparation
    Much like the workings of a busy restaurant, where prep work begins in the early morning hours, long before the dinner rush, so too must prep work be done in advance of a busy day of printing. This includes staging inks, screens and garments in advance.

    The press should never be held up because the garments are still being unpacked or because inks are still being mixed. In addition, prior to the start of the morning shift, an opening team preps the production floor for the incoming crew, by firing up all equipment, changing and tacking pallet paper, replenishing press supplies, performing a quick clean up, etc.

    9. Anticipation
    What do you anticipate for the near future workload? An unanticipated increase in production volume can be taxing on any operation. If order entry and pre-press get backed up, it creates a domino effect, and a pile-up in production. When this occurs, panic sets in, production gets thrown into reaction mode, preparation goes by the wayside and all efficiencies are lost. Having foresight for what is coming down the pipeline can help you prepare for the increased workload.

    10. Participation
    All of the above mentioned concepts are wasted if only one member of the team adopts them. Implementing these concepts requires at least some level of participation and commitment to maximizing productivity by all of the members of an organization.

    I can say from first-hand experience that the pursuit of maximizing productivity is perennial in nature. You can never quite arrive at an end, thus the pursuit. By implementing the concepts listed above you are sure to see a marked improvement in productivity and profit.

    Tom Davenport is founder and president of The Motion Company, a California-based contract textile printer. With more than 15 years of experience, Davenport has developed an extensive knowledge of the textile screen printing process and production. He also offers training and consulting, and promotes the open sharing of knowledge and information throughout the industry. Davenport serves on the Board of Directors for SGIA.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, September/October 2011 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2011 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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