Tips on How to Improve The Manufacturing Process

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Tips on How to Improve The Manufacturing Process

Jun 19, 2018

Everyone talks a big game about leaner, more efficient processes. Here are seven tips to help manufacturers follow thru on the never-ending quest to get more efficient. 

1.Employee Health

The temporary loss of a worker to illness or injury has an obvious, immediate cost to a manufacturer: work stoppages, reduced throughput. But it also costs manufacturers in more protracted ways:

  • The loss of a skilled, efficient worker

  • Floor closures 

  • Workman’s comp 

  • Increased insurance costs

  • Damage to the production equipment

Protecting the health and safety of employees is a multi-part enterprise that is exponentially cheaper than the costs listed above. These health and safety issues can be addressed many ways: 

  • More thorough cleaning protocols

  • Bacteria-resistant touch surfaces 

  • Bacteria-resistant materials 

  • Routinely updated safety training 

Regardless of your organization’s preferred approach, a well trained, informed staff that feels empowered to speak up about efficiency suggestions is on the right track to being leaner, more innovative, and more profitable. 

2.Get Serious (and Realistic) 

Kaizen, TQM, Six Sigma, A3: they’re just concepts unless you’re tracking concrete, measurable results. There is no one strategy to guarantee success but taking a goal-oriented approach to measuring and re-evaluating processes is the only way to affect lasting improvements. Regardless of the system, here are what most of the success stories have in common:

Pick a Target and Be Specific

After you put your team together, the exchange of ideas must focus on the gap between the current condition of a process and the target condition. Clearly define how you want the process to look in the future. Without a clearly identified end target, new ideas may be too vague to create impact within the organization.

…Even If You’re Just Blue Sky Thinking It 

Choose an area to begin the discussion (this is where leadership can help). Make sure it has a clearly defined standard. If there is no standard, let the employees in that area define the standard. Chances are, your best and most observant employees could give you a list, right now, of improvements that could be made.

3. Throughput > Output

Manufacturers are seeing gains in efficiency simply by re-examining the terminology they use. Whereas many manufacturers once thought optimizing efficiency meant maximizing output, many have increased efficiency by using throughput as the indicator of success. To put it simply, output is total production: including rejects, scraps, and stockpile. Throughput only counts components and products that are successfully delivered to the next stage of production / accepted by the customer. This focus on minimizing scrap, rejects and stockpile can help an organization to resolve production bottlenecks, reduce parts rejection rates, and minimize delivery delays. 

4. Visible & Visited

When you pick a stated, specific process goal, make the measurable goal part of your communications to the team responsible for that part of the process or product. Post the goal on the shop floor near the production area and schedule regular reviews (weekly, at least!) with production teams as well as broader reviews with higher levels of management. 

5.Six Big Losses

Inefficiency in every manufacturing category can be boiled down to six commonly occurring loss categories: 

  • Setup / adjustments 

  • Startup rejects 

  • Breakdowns 

  • Small stops 

  • Reduced speed 

  • Production rejects 

The Six Big Losses approach gives you a framework for addressing universal causes of waste. Wherever you find them, you’ll find lost time and money. Minimize them and you’ll immediately improve efficiency.

6. Train Employees & Management (and tell them to speak up!)

Frontline employees represent an untapped resource in the work of process-improvement… but don’t forget the mid-section of your org chart either. Manufacturers must train their mid-level managers to elicit process improvement suggestions from the employees doing the actual work. Likewise, it’s essential that frontline employees be trained how to identify process improvements. Once employees realize that improvement suggestions are part of their job and will be acted upon, they’ll readily offer ideas. 

7. Smarter Tools, Fewer Physical Prototypes

Thanks to advancements like Digital Twins modeling, users can test workflow before production starts. Manufacturers can forecast when an asset will be due for a repair, find methods to develop better versions of the product, and alter processes - without touching a physical asset.

By pairing Digital Twins modeling with IOT, manufacturers can more accurately forecast production, adjust workflow to equipment’s actual performance, and avoid unforeseen stoppages. These digital models also allow manufacturers to reduce their reliance on costly physical prototypes that require tooling and time. These virtual tests can be carried out in minutes, and any issues that would cause the product to fail can be noted in the program and sent to engineers for revision.