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Right at Home

By Jeremy Monks

July 30, 2018

width=400Years ago, I attended college to study history and geography. I never did very well in math, and I certainly did not expect to develop a technical career. I went from taking Canadian and American Relations Pre-1940 to feeding sheets into a rotary die cutter. That gave way to operating the machine, and then being team leader of a production shift. After two years of working with production, I was given the chance to be a junior member of the structural design department. I’ve been designing now for 12 years, and I still enjoy everything about it.

Most days start with reading through emails about current projects, new design requisitions, and maybe some production mixed in to give a hint of urgency to things. After we have taken care of any production requests, we take a look at the sales requests and make an effort to prioritize. That decision-making process takes into account factors such as customer timeline requirements, the type of project, available sample board, special tools or production equipment needed for sample making, and whether we have all the information needed to begin work. Every day is a juggling act with prioritizing and usually remains fluid as we fit things in where needed.

It is a constant learning process, sometimes running smoothly and sometimes very much not. We work through it and try to learn what we can about how to improve on a continuous basis. Sales, customer services, scheduling, design, and production all work closely together so that we can learn from one another. The departments spend time cross-

training and getting to know how other areas work not just so that information can make it to design effectively, but also so that design can send information back to the sales and customer service teams and help streamline the production setup routine. We’ve put a lot of emphasis on streamlining our processes in the last few years, and although it has been successful, we still run into hiccups.

Every business like ours is made up of people, and when people work well together, they become a team capable of great things. The people we work with form a network and knowledge base that help support one another and further each other’s understanding of the whole business. As designers, we have the freedom and the chance to visit with customers, tour facilities, liaise with production supervisors and scheduling, and meet with machine operators. Everyone involved benefits if we use these connections and maintain relationships and communication throughout.

When we bring in new designers, a big part of the training process is helping them get to know the rest of the production operation. Design is just one part of the whole process, but if a designer combines an understanding of design with knowing how orders are entered, how sheets are ordered and scheduled on a corrugator, how machine operators set up a flexo or rotary, and even how someone takes bundles and stacks them on a pallet to be strapped, a designer can help make throughput streamlined and effective. If we combine understanding people’s jobs with understanding what our available machinery is capable of, we can achieve a confidence in our own roles that translates into successful designs.

Knowing about limits and machine processes is one side of design; the other side is keeping in mind the values that make our work mean something. There are three goals that help maintain focus when working on any project: 1) the design has to meet the requirements of our client and, in turn, their clients; 2) the design has to be able to do the work: Can it support the required weight, and can it withstand the stresses that the intended use will bring?; and 3) the design has to be efficient, both in production throughput and material use. This is in part to be cost-effective and competitive in the market, and in part to promote sustainability in any way we can. With these in mind, we can create something that works for our clients and our own company—something that we can be proud to put out into the world.

Working as a cohesive team is such an important part of what the design department does. Being able to take the ideas and requirements of every other department and make something that works for everyone really adds to the sense of accomplishment for the day. As part of the greater picture, the design department is right at home in the middle of everything.

width=150Jeremy Monks is a senior structural designer at Boxmaster. He can be reached at