Whether your business is related to traditional manufacturing services or additive manufacturing, some of the items mentioned below are obvious, but others may have been overlooked at some time (or “because it was inconvenient timing” like I recently heard from one c-level executive). What does that mean??? You don’t have time to do what’s right for your business??? But, one thing is clear: If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’re getting.
We all struggle with habits of ineffectiveness which are rooted in our constant social conditioning towards quick-fix, short-term thinking (that almost everybody is ‘selling’ in some form or another). Whatever you are doing in your business… live out your imagination, not your history. Don’t succumb to the (soon to be proverbial) inertia handcuffs. In physics, inertia is a property of matter by which something continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force. BE THAT EXTERNAL FORCE IN YOUR BUSINESS.
Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, said, “We are not animals. We are not a product of what has happened to us in our past. We have the power of choice.”
There has been a lot of discussion over the years about lean management and focusing on your core competencies, but, remember that it is possible to streamline your business and production operations without hiring an expensive consultant. Maybe an item included in the list below will merit a deeper look, such that, when changes are implemented, it proves to be a game changer in your business production operations.
1. Improve quality throughout the entire production process. Have the right QMS – quality management system in place, to ensure everything is done in a compliant way, and according to any necessary specification requirements. Also, your QMS should automatically qualify shop floor personnel, processing equipment for a specific job, and outside vendors.
2. Minimize waste (both wasted time and materials) across the production environment; use technology to track productivity metrics. Have a complete understanding of what really matters to overall performance, and then ensure business decisions align with that. Don’t look for perfection because that’s not realistic; but always look at ways to make progress in any area whenever possible. Just a few of the waste categories to look at include inventory, data redundancy, over-producing, people waiting on something (system downtime, manager approval, information from others, etc.), fixing errors, underutilized staff; excess movement/motion in regular activities, etc.)
3. Appropriate communications keep everyone in the company in sync. Synchronized interdepartmental communications are critical to across-the-board improvements; i.e. the right information at the right time. Encourage sharing, input and dialogue. Each year, millions of dollars are wasted due to poor communications and easily solved misunderstandings in the workplace.
4. Reduce errors, delays (and rework); each person needs to have a mindset of continuous improvement (and be rewarded for their ideas that led to improvements) that promotes agility and productive change. Consider facilitating regular ideation session to bring in team members from each department for brainstorming sessions.
5. Make traceability a priority; make sure your software system is allowing you to capture the appropriate data at every step; from order entry all the way through to shipping; to find the ‘weakest link’. And, it’s not always people… sometimes the real culprit is a dysfunctional process.
6. Increase your workforce mobility; make sure your MES/QMS software works on mobile devices and provides real-time notifications of shop floor triggering events (via text message and/or email) to production supervisors before a problem escalates; and gives your employees immediate access to the data they need to do a better job.
7. Analyze every part of your workflow; take a business workflow inventory. The efficiency of any production operation depends on workflow. Assess existing processes and solicit feedback; ask for employee feedback about what frustrates them in their day-to-day job duties. Also, ask your customers if there are any frustrations they are experiencing with your company. And, don’t make workflow changes based on cost alone.
8. Consider the cloud. Moving your business network over to the cloud through virtualization could help streamline operations by reducing downtime, making it easier for your staff to share data, and it has been proven that the data is actually safer in the cloud than it is on your own server, which is more susceptible to ransomware, hacking and viruses.
9. Look to go paperless as much as possible in your business; and not just because you’re doing your part in protecting the planet. Illegible handwritten notes scribbled on paper forms cause all kinds of problems. Papers get lost or accidentally destroyed. The goal at the end of the day is not to have to store paper processing documents into a bank of file cabinets. All documents should be immediately accessible to your staff when they need them from whatever computer or mobile device they are using. Your MES/QMS software should have this capability. Plus, your audit times will be cut in half when an auditor does not need to ‘dig’ through file cabinets to find all the documentation related to a particular job.
10. Reduce lead times; the gaps between individual operating steps in a process; the amount of time it takes to complete a series of tasks; or the latency between the initiation and execution of a process. One of the key factors is queue time; the amount of time it takes for some activity to be attended to. In many production organizations, queue time can take up about 90% of the total lead time. Sometimes lead time is confused with actual activity; or calendar time vs. clock time. Calendar time is how long it takes between the request and the completion; while clock time is how much work went into getting it done. A task usually takes the same amount of time to complete, whether it takes 1 day or 4 days of calendar time. Reducing lead time isn’t about capacity; it’s delivering the request (or the parts) sooner to the next operating step in the ‘process’.
Helping to streamline your production processing begins by collecting the right information at the right time. It’s all part of leveraging ‘big data’ then analyzing your relevant corporate data through KPI dashboards or other types of summarized reporting, to improve productivity and profitability across the enterprise, while reducing total cost. It also means understanding the people, processes, tools and technology that are required to keep the business running smoothly.
There’s a good chance you could increase production without any additional cost, just by eliminating non-value-added tasks and/or relieving bottlenecks. There are many more that can be mentioned, but you have to start somewhere.
Bluestreak | Bright AM is an excellent example of a manufacturing execution system and quality management system that can help your business make improvements in all these areas. Use this link to take a look at the various modules that can be implemented: