In Praise of Assembly Lines

assembly-line-1The words “assembly line” aren’t very sexy.

An assembly line is not exciting or exotic.

But assembly lines make over 60 million cars around the world every year. That’s a lot of cars.

And those cars make for a lot of profitable companies.

(Assembly lines also bring about millions and millions of computers, TV’s, planes, guitars, etc.)

Maybe it’s time for assembly lines to benefit the roofing business. Specifically your roofing business.

The thing about assembly lines is they create a lot of a product with a consistent level of quality. Isn’t that what a successful roofing company does, too?

Set up your assembly line.assembly-two

An assembly line only works when there is a process — a system — and everybody on the factory floor has been trained and knows what is supposed to happen.

The process of putting a roof on a house has many, many steps: make first contact with the customer, measure, estimate, bid, get an agreement from the customer, invoice for the first installment, etc.

Oh, and I wasn’t even including the actual roofing work. That’s a process, too: tarp sensitive areas, tear off the existing roof, install flashings and drip edge, put on felt underlayments, etc.

Make sure everybody knows the steps and then work your process. And don’t stop!

Assembly lines don’t stop because somebody gets a creative bee in their bonnet or somebody messes up. That screws up the process.

When it comes to assembly lines, you absolutely do not want to stop the line. That goes against the whole idea: it’s unproductive. It wastes time and money. It’s a problem.

assembly-line3Look at a car manufacturer’s assembly line. They don’t forget to install axles on a car. If they didn’t install axles, then down the line, what are the guys in charge of putting on the wheels going to do?

Assembly lines are all about efficiency. As business owners in the roofing industry, we’re always looking for improved efficiencies, too.

A good, efficient process means more roofs sold, more roofs produced, and — if you’re doing it right — more happier customers and more profits.

Let’s look at one more example in roofing. What if your estimator skips an important step? What if he neglects to count the flashings? What happens to your assembly line?

Well, the flashings — and the labor involved for them — won’t get included in your bid. Oops. Looks like you get to eat those costs. Or go back to your customer and ask for more money.

And what happens to those missed flashings in production? That skipped step means you don’t have the materials on hand. Looks like you got to stop your assembly line. You have to stop work, figure out what’s needed, go out and get that material. Your crew gets a nice break on the clock and in the shade.

Figure out your assembly line. Identify all the things you have to do for each job. Write those down! Systems don’t work when they’re only in your head!

Make sure everyone knows the process — and then get to work doing it.

Assembly lines aren’t sexy. But put them to work for your business, and they will make you happy and profitable.

Thanks to That Hartford Guy for all the Cadillac photos in this article. The John Deere factory photo is courtesy Charles & Hudson.

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