Despite the push toward environmental awareness, we are still too much of a throw-away society. Yet consumers want the lowest possible price. Disposing of useful items and keeping prices low really do not go together. Presented below is advice that can see your business being more friendly to the environment and still save money -- either for yourself, your employer or a client.
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The Nickel & Dime Approach
To be competitive, continually discarding equipment and buying new replacements is not always cost effective. Employing the money-saving suggestions here will result in cost reductions for the stage lighting shop, but one may adapt them for general business, too. Some tips will be obvious to the experienced, but for the newbie, this article will be a shortcut to being more financially efficient.
Some will say: "It's not worth saving only $10.00 or 10 minutes." These persons have not considered that if these techniques are applied to 10 items and tasks, $100.00 and one hour and forty minutes will be saved. Doing this 100 times in a year would yield savings of $10,000 and more than 20 eight-hour days. Perhaps for a large company this could be ignored, but for a small one or an individual working at home, the extra money is very welcomed. Your path to lower operating costs starts with small savings.
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Equipment that is too far gone gets stripped for parts, and those parts are then restored as required by other gear. Equipment should be considered on an individual basis though, because other factors may result in some things being redone despite the cost. A favoured or sentimental item might be one example. Another is if you want a museum piece for a showroom and wish to have it look and operate as new -- perhaps to be rented as a period-piece for motion picture purposes. (Peruse Equipment Maintenance in Shop Tips for equipment restoration procedures.)
- Rental Recovery If the item can be rented out to recover
some of the cost before selling it, then the refurbishment
is carried out. The main reason for this is I dislike waste
and don't want to throw out old, but usable, equipment, so
it gets repaired/refurbished and is put into rental stock.
Eventually, rentals will pay for the repair and then the
equipment can be kept for additional rental income or it
can be sold to needy groups or individuals that cannot
afford to buy new.
- Customer Satisfaction The above leads to another
exception: The Satisfaction of Customers. Sometimes
equipment is refurbished for no other reason than to sell
a usable item to a customer for a low price because he,
she, or they do not have the budget to buy new, or even to
purchase good quality used. Monetarily, it may not be a big
pay-off, but it satisfies a niche of customers that hopefully
will continue to deal with us as opposed to going elsewhere.
It's good too, because it is yet another item that doesn't
get thrown out. It continues to be useful through providing
service, and thus it stays out of a landfill.
Further to the idea of refurbishing parts, if a retail $48/hour charge-out rate is considered, it's still feasible at that volume of items. For more expensive things, this returns even more for the time invested, even though these parts may take longer to work upon. Take a $10 tilt-lock knob. Only five of those an hour justifies the cost of their refurbishment. (One of our shop staff can easily do six to ten in that time.)Some of you may be thinking: "Why should I take the time to
buff a 10-cent part?" Again, do the mathematics regarding the
price of the new item versus the labour cost to restore a used one.
As an illustration, let us consider a $15 per hour labour rate for
junior shop personnel. That works out to be 25 cents a minute. One
need only buff three 10-cent pieces of hardware a minute to be
economically favourable when overhauling versus buying new. In our
shop, workers can average eight or more hardware pieces a minute.
So even at $20 an hour for that person, we are still well ahead.
Remember The Nickel & Dime Approach; the savings on just
this one item over the run of a year or multiple years add up.
Now consider these little savings for many items over many years
and the amount can be quite large. It's akin to a big manufacturer
saving a dollar on a part. It's nothing to a multi-million-dollar
company, but if 100,000 of these parts are used, the savings
would cover quite a few other expenses.
Savings begin with nickels and dimes, people.
- Use Long-Life Lamps
If available, and reduced light output and/or colour
temperature is not an issue, buy 2000-hour, or more,
lamps. High output, non arc-source lamps last less
than 1000 hours. Some very high output lamps last only
25 hours. 2000-hour lamps will cost more initially but
pay for themselves over their life.
- Lower the Socket Voltage
A 10-percent drop in socket voltage via dimmer trimming
boosts life of incandescent/quartz lamps by 400%. At
this voltage other factors may be unwelcome, though.
Typically, the following is what happens when socket
voltage is reduced to 90% of rated lamp voltage:
85% Wattage Consumed
82% Efficiency (Lumens per Watt)
70% Light Output
-100 Degrees Lower Colour Temperature
Except for wattage, the others may not be acceptable,
especially light output. One can compromise by limiting
voltage to a 5% drop, though. This will boost lamp life
to about 200% while still giving a light output of 85%.
- Maintain Fixture Sockets
Nothing kills lamp life more quickly than tarnished
sockets. Always inspect burnout lamp bases and the
sockets from which they are removed. Any that are dark
or corroded need to be buffed or replaced. Also have a
look at heat dissipation to be sure the sockets are well
ventilated. Be sure to burn fixtures socket down whenever
possible. A clue that heat is excessive is discolouration
of the lamp base and/or socket.
- Give Lamps a Break
During rehearsals when there is a pause for a director
to speak with actors or musicians, tech crew, etc., lower
the board master to half. It keeps light on the stage and
maintains the scene, but this increases the service life
of lamps, gels and fixtures. It may not seem much, but
added up over the years, it can be significant.
To have these products last longer, dilute them. Some concentrations may be stronger than your requirements dictate. In particular, water-based liquids can be diluted with ordinary tap water unless that water is excessively hard. Experiment to find which dilution ratio works well. Start by adding 5 or 10% water to soaps, hand lotions and cleaners. This will stretch your budget while introducing smaller quantities of these items into the environment. Be aware that glass cleaners may leave streaks if diluted with tap water; the method here is to use distilled water. Dilute the spray bottle contents so that you can test the ratio with that quantity rather than possibly over-diluting the bulk quantity. This also ensures that one still has the full-strength product available for when it might be needed.
TIP: If cleaner or soap nozzles develop clogs or
their mechanisms become sluggish, they can often be
cleaned by pumping hot water through them and/or by
inserting a small-diameter pin into the nozzle opening.
For more on these subjects, go to
- Give Away / Recycle / Throw Out Deteriorated Whatevers. Take a thorough look at your shop inventory. How many items have lain around for years that never get used for one reason or another? If they can't be put to use because they have deteriorated too much, can't be stripped for parts, nor placed into storage elsewhere, consider throwing them out. Better yet, give them away to someone starting out. That person can put more labour into them than it's worth to you because, while he or she cannot afford to buy those items, he or she may well have the time to fix them.
Otherwise, recycle what you can before throwing out the rest. Remember that metals can bring in money. For one trip to the scrap yard, recovered metal salvaged from around our shop was cashed in and garnered just under $80 in scrap value. The bulk was steel, but there were copper and aluminum too. $80 was almost a tank of fuel for the company cargo van. Some metals, such as copper, command amazingly high prices on the salvage market. Take the time to strip the metals of fabric, plastics or other. Clean metal nets much higher prices from scrap dealers.
Not sure that you want to get rid of an item or three? It's best to hang on to these if you have the space. At the next shop inventory point, consider them again. Few feelings are worse than down the road regretting having gotten rid of something you once possessed. Don't end up singing an "I used to own one of those" lament; keep these items, but store them out of the way. This latter point is discussed next.
- Move Anything Not Used in the Past Two to Five Years to Upper or Out-of-the-Way Locations. This is for things that you definitely want to keep but that are not presently being used. Having to move them out of the way or reach over top of them is not conducive to an efficient workplace. Besides being in the way, they take up valuable space in a shop that may seem to get smaller as each year passes. This adds frustration to one's day. It can increase the time to complete projects through procrastination generated by not wanting to work among clutter. A simple repositioning of items not frequently used in favour of those that currently are, can do wonders.
- Store/Sell Anything Not Used in More Than Five Years. Five years is a long time. If you have unused items that are sitting somewhere for no other reason than that is where they have always been, it's time to move them into storage, or to consider their sale. This point relates to more valuable items that you don't wish to give away, recycle or throw out. If they still have worth or might in the future, be sure to protect them in plastic when storing.
- Locate Nearest to Hand the Items Used Most Often. Why stretch for or walk to things you use every day or week? Position them closer to your principal task area. This mainly applies to tools or service equipment hanging on the wall above a bench or work area. Arrange for those most frequently used to be near the work that requires them.
- Duplicate Items Used in More than One Area. If there are several work areas and you find yourself leaving one to get one or more things from another, then duplicate those items in both areas. This depends upon available room, of course, but typical items that we have in multiple locations are tools, hardware, lubricants and solvents.
- Clear Out the Shop and Start from Bare. A good way to reorganise and to implement the above suggestions is to move out everything and then clean (and repaint, if possible) what remains. Reorganise benches, shelves and electrical power. Things will turn up. They may be those lost items you sought so long ago (or even recently!) This will also be a chance to inventory and categorise your items, and to then list them in a binder or on a computer.
Begin to replace things back into the shop. You can now decide what you actually use on a regular basis, and for the rest you will find out quickly what is necessary and what isn't. While doing this procedure, apply all the previous suggestions to each item. So for what is not brought into the work area, after contemplating each item, place it into one of these piles: "Store", "Sell", "Give-Away", "Recycle", Throw Out". You may surprise yourself with the amount of shop space you can achieve. Even if you keep everything, it would be rare that a reorganisation would not result in more available space. At the minimum, the reorganisation should make for a more pleasant work environment.
- To Gain more Floor Space, Build or Buy Shelving. If upper wall space is unused, put shelves there -- right to near the ceiling. The latter may seem excessive, but available shelf space will always become used. Think about dividing those shelves by installing compartments and also placing in-between shelves for smaller/thinner items. Hang a step ladder close by if these shelves become higher than one can reach from the floor. Test that the shelves and mounting brackets can handle the weight of stored items.
- Hang Up Items. Some things are better hung on walls, posts or bench ends than stored on shelves or in drawers. Of course, this already applies to tools, lighting equipment and cables, but also to other items. Think about hanging up product dispensers for tape and solder; installing a literature rack for shop manuals or sand paper grades; mounting pairs of brackets to grip and spread open garbage and recycling bags for easy, one-handed access; or screwing spring clips to a post to hold work gloves.
If you hang up enough items, especially smaller ones, you may find that you can free up a drawer or shelf for the purpose of storing larger things. Perhaps a series of bins or parts cabinets might be mounted on a wall bracket with the same result. Pick up kitchen-drawer cutlery organisers at thrift stores. These will keep smaller items from intermingling.
- Use Empty Flight Cases for Storage. Road boxes that sit in a shop take up space. If they are empty and little used, consider them as storage units. Items that are moisture sensitive can be wrapped in plastic and sealed with tape. For extra protection, use any air-tight cases you have for these. Mark or tag each case as to its contents, then arrange them all in a manner whereby the ones with items most likely to be accessed are in front or on top. If room is minimal, stack boxes on top of wheeled cases because the latter can be moved as required to access things in behind.
If necessary, any case can always later be returned to service, but in the meantime, take advantage of the storage potential of empty cases. Realise: Boxes stack far more readily than loose items!
- Remove Little-Used Desks and Tables. These often become junk collectors. It is more efficient to design and supply appropriate storage for these items than leaving them sit on a desk or table top. If there is a desk or table that is little used for much more than land-line telephone calls, think about a wall phone, plus a wall-mounted writing surface and storage. Phone numbers can be on a clipboard, also on the wall. Pens, paper, phone books and accessories can be put into mountable wall pockets which are available at stationery stores. The space vacated by a desk can be filled with shelves (or some of those cases that were just discussed) so as to gain a greater storage capability.
- Adapt your Shop Vacuum to be Remote. Move your shop vacuum away from your work area to increase your at-hand room. Plug it into an outlet that is switched from within your work area and turn the vacuum's power switch on. Extend the hose up, over and down to your work area. Use U-bolt or electrical conduit brackets as guides for the hose. Add hose extensions as required. Terminate at a wall-mounted bracket to hold the hose. Another set of brackets, a pegboard or a holster at that location can hold vacuum accessories. When needed, lift the hose and hit the wall switch.
If there is no floor space for the vacuum at its new location, consider mounting it on the wall, too. Don't make it too high or too difficult to access for when it comes time to empty or service it. Regarding the latter, remember to clean the entire hose length from time to time; dips in the hose tend to trap debris.
- Consider a Shop Laptop or Tablet instead of a Space-Hogging Desktop. Laptops are dropping in price as netbooks, e3PCs, tablets and other mobiles become more common. Used laptops are easily available, especially if you place no great demands on a computer system and can make use of an older one. If you require a printer, consider a wall-mounted shelf with a small table below for the laptop instead of a full-size desk or large table. If the printer uses fanfold paper, install a shelf underneath it with ridges at the edges to contain the paper. It's a good idea to make an enclosed housing for all this if your shop generates dust.
- Use a programmable thermostat to turn on heat only as necessary
- Upgrade insulation for winter and summer comfort
- Weatherstrip doors and windows to control heat leakage
- Replace leaky tap washers to conserve water
- Use rags wherever possible to reduce paper towel costs
- Keep all filters clean to improve efficiency
- Use LED or fluorescent lamps to reduce electrical costs
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