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Hidden Opportunities for Improvement in Manufacturing

Posted by Matt Banna

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Dec 23, 2020 10:55:00 AM

engineering people manofacturing industry with big modern computer mashinesManufacturing organizations dedicated to continuous improvement look for opportunities to eliminate waste at every juncture. They may spend most of their time looking at core activities like production efficiency because improvements to essential processes result in significant gains.

However, there are many activities on the margins that can also be a significant source of waste. Improvements to these tasks might not yield monumental results, but the good news is they can be improved with just a little bit of attention and effort.

Is it possible that you might have opportunities for improvements hiding in plain sight? Here are a few places to look.

Shift Start

For many manufacturing organizations, the start of a shift is a busy time. Some operations are stopped, while others are started. It is a typical time for communicating and organizing things. Many organizations hold more meetings during the time of shift start before production is up to full speed. It's a useful exercise to measure the amount of time between shift start and full production. Some manufactures find that as much as half a shift a week is lost during this transition time.

Once you understand the scope of the problem, look for simple solutions to reduce this waste. Perhaps bringing some people in early, staggering meetings, or streamlining communications could help the shift become more productive.

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Speaking of meetings, whether at the start of a shift or not, they are a common cause for waste in manufacturing. (To be honest, they are a common cause of waste in every industry.) Even if you've built a relevant agenda and been purposeful about who should be in the meeting, there is still a high chance of waste. Imagine that ten people show up on time. They wait six minutes for others to arrive and the meeting to start. While six minutes doesn't seem that long, multiply it by ten people, and you've lost an hour's capacity. When that happens with multiple meetings over a quarter or year, you've got a significant opportunity for improvement.

As with every other improvement, start by finding the reason that a given meeting starts late. (The causes could be different for every meeting.) Common reasons for late starts are the meeting location, the time, other meetings, or simply lack of concern for starting on time. Once the issue is raised, meeting leaders can usually implement solutions quickly.

New Product Introductions

For manufacturers, new product introductions are one of the most complex handoffs. They involve a range of development activities and resources, as well as production activities and resources. To make new product introductions as waste-free as possible, examine how many problems are solved during the introduction that may have been solved before the process started. Is there a manufacturing improvement software in place to identify issues and allow the product team and production team to work collaboratively to resolve them?

New Employee Orientation

People tend to think about new employee orientation as a one-time event, but it is really the series of activities required to get the new person as proficient at their job as their predecessor. When you think of it that way, there's a bigger opportunity for improvement than you might imagine. For example, let's say you have 4% turnover, and it takes five months until someone is proficient. What would it mean to your organization if you could drop that time to 3 months?

Hiring and training a new employee gets you only part of the way there. Other activities that might yield improvements include coaching and mentoring, goal management, ergonomic evaluation, and more. It is also helpful to examine the cross-functional responsibilities between HR and functional managers.

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If you look at these hidden opportunities, you will see a pattern. They are all handoffs or connections. That's part of the reason that these opportunities are less visible than those related to core functions. Another reason is that these connections are rarely owned. Someone owns process 1, another person owns process 2, but no one is accountable for the link, so it gets less attention.

Every transition is an opportunity for error or delay. It pays to eliminate handoffs if you can, and apply structured improvement if you can't. If you know where to look, the opportunities for continuous improvement in manufacturing are limitless.

Topics: Daily Lean Management, Spread Continuous Improvement, Improvement Process

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