“OMG, what did I just do…” I’ve always been risk averse. So how in 1995 did I end up packing literally everything we owned into a rented 24’ box truck and moving my young family from Cleveland, OH to Charlotte, NC with no guaranteed job and no plan-B? For starters, I was working a low-level job in a terrible economy and no prospects for improvement anywhere in sight. Add to that, 200 cloudy days per year, *deep* snow until May, and a startling rash of cops busting down doors making drug busts in our neighborhood, and you begin to get the picture. It was time to go and possibly make a career change as well. I had been working in the commercial print industry and was hoping I could parlay that into something better and more hopeful in the beautiful sunbelt. Fingers crossed…
After an emotional farewell and a long drive in two vehicles, we arrived in Monroe, NC which is just southeast of Charlotte. I had a verbal commitment for a job in a textile printing plant that I had firmed up while we were packing about a week before we left. Feeling optimistic, we unloaded our truck into a storage facility near the hotel we had reserved for two weeks. As we were nearly finished, I excused myself to find a payphone (that was the tech at the time) and call the textile printing company to let them know I was here and ready to go. While I don’t recall all of the details of our conversation, the first part after I introduced myself and said I was here and ready to start ASAP is forever burned in my memory: “Oh, right… Hans. Oh man, I’m really sorry, but after we spoke, the perfect candidate came in and we hired him. But hey, good luck with your search.” Oh man indeed.
Opportunity Answers My Knock
So, after printing out my resume, knocking on doors, and losing a lot of shoe leather (no internet yet), I landed in a family-owned packaging company as a trainee to take over the warehouse and production & logistics scheduling for what would eventually become two plants and one auxiliary warehouse. Scheduling was new to me then, but I’ve always loved puzzles. I learned quickly that it was difficult, but I was motivated and liked it.
I had an office in the plant, facing out over the main production area. We printed on plastic film and converted the rolls into an endless variety of bags, mostly for the textile industry. I had to schedule three printing presses and 30-40 converting machines, which was tricky considering that my scheduling tool amounted to three walls of whiteboard, way too many magnets, and a Sharpie variety pack. Old tools that are still in use today – seriously – we see it often.
This was a time of lessons for me. I learned about sequencing jobs on printing presses by print type, color, substrate material, material availability, and operator availability by skill. I learned how to make bags that were made on flatbed machines capable of producing different items from multiple jobs at once across the same web. I learned about wicketted bags and how certain operators could work two machines and deliver bags at four times the rate of a flatbed, while other operators couldn’t operate even one wicketer at time and could only be assigned to flatbed work. I learned about working with temp agencies to fill the planned and unplanned gaps in labor. I learned the nuances of different types of plastic films, as well as accessories like tape, handles, and string. I learned that I could spend hours and hours working out the world’s most beautiful schedule: so elegantly sequenced and efficient as to cause the operators and mangers to cheer as I walked through the plant (OK, just in my mind.) And I learned what it’s like to have that schedule blown to shreds in one gut wrenching 60-second phone call (not just in my mind). I learned about the politics that put pressures on the scheduler from all sides: company owners, operations management, customer service, and the group that I learned the most from: the machine operators. I learned about transitioning that schedule to Excel spreadsheets when I had never used Excel. I learned what it was like to juggle all the above and play a key role in implementing a shiny new ERP system that, incidentally, had the world’s worst scheduling tool.
I learned a lot and I’d like to share more with you. Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts derived from some of these lessons I learned as a scheduler. I welcome your feedback.