Tools for Process Optimization

I’ve been working on a short video for SFT. It’s pretty simple – shows off how we craft custom shoes and I discuss what we care about most.

Bottom line, I’ve been staring at detailed footage of the build process for a single pair of shoes for hours. Days.

Applying a midsole in preparation to thermoform it.

Applying a midsole in preparation to thermoform it.

And it’s paid off. Not just because it’s coming together into a sweet little video, but because editing the video made me realize some things about how SFT builds shoes right now.

For example, no one wants to sit through watching glue dry on rubber for 20 minutes before I reactivate it to apply the rand to the shoe upper, so obviously that all gets cut from the raw footage. And everything that has to be cut, I’ve been looking at through the lens of process optimization – if I can be working on another component during that downtime, I can become more efficient as a craftsperson.

Another, less obvious lesson from video editing was how much time I spend with the glue container open. I’ve known for a while that the contact cement we use has a lifespan. I refuse to use glue over a couple of months old on components that see a lot of abrasion because an older glue bond has less peel strength than one made with fresh glue.

Since I’m constantly moving and conscious of my glue’s working time while painting it onto components, I assumed that the glue in the can wasn’t open to the air (and therefore aging) for longer than could be helped. It was shocking to see how much of the total video footage included an open can of glue! Fortunately, there’s a product called a cement pot that can help reduce the amount of glue exposed to air and the duration of that exposure, so I’ve finally purchased one. Maybe I’ll film another shoe assembly once I have the cement pot to check how much this improves the process and material usage.

These... are not the cement pots I was looking for.

These… are not the cement pots I was looking for.

While large factories have best practices and processes for process optimization, for me as a craftsperson building shoes at the same time as building SFT Climbing, there’s not always a lot of time for reflection on how everything gets done. But when I approach every task with both the immediate goal as well as how it fits into the larger picture in mind, I can almost always find some way to improve the overall process or product. Because we are all cross-function team members at SFT, manufacturing got to see itself in the mirror held up by marketing’s raw video footage, and our glue bonds will be stronger because of that.

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