A Guest Post by Megan Ray Nichols
Your manufacturing plant is unlike any other in many ways, but it also has a lot in common with other machine shops and factory floors. If you want a quick guide on some big productivity ideas, here are four places you can focus your efforts.
1. Be Unafraid of Rethinking Your Workflows
The Japanese word “kaizen” refers to a philosophy of continual positive change. If you’ve ever seen the inside of an Amazon fulfillment center, you know it’s a word that sees regular use. For manufacturers, the idea can be especially powerful.
There can be a sense in some workplaces that managers are disconnected from the daily realities on shop floors. When this is the case, productivity is the first thing that suffers. Workers are in a prime position to know when a change in tool, layout or another variable could improve things, as well as make them feel safer and more confident.
However, finding those opportunities means walking the shop floor or the warehouse aisles and asking the right questions and encouraging regular feedback from star performers in every area. Turn a critical eye to every detail, like:
- How far do materials have to travel between work areas?
- Are there any roles or processes for which automation is a more efficient and safer choice?
- Are existing layouts slowing down your employees? Is new racking or storage a wise investment for freeing up labor bottlenecks?
- Where do more intensive changes to traffic patterns, product or implement storage, or facility design need to be considered?
There may be a lot of productivity you can unlock within your facility if it’s overdue for a refresh, and within your organization, if it’s been hesitant to try new things.
2. Make Maintenance a Cultural Matter
It would be hard to understate the importance of timely and competent maintenance in manufacturing plants. A thorough approach requires that many pieces come together, including training and company culture:
- Companies need to train machine and vehicle operators on proper pre-start procedures and troubleshooting steps to reduce wear and tear.
- Each piece of equipment must have a complete startup checklist so operators can easily spot mechanical issues.
What does maintenance have to do with productivity in manufacturing? A lot. On average, manufacturers lose 800 productive hours to downtime every year. For manufacturers, the cost per minute can be as high as $22,000. Breakdowns aren’t good for your earnings, and they’re not good for productivity when you need to bounce back from absolute zero regularly.
3. Look for Ways to Make Your Inventory Leaner
Maintaining the ideal inventory levels is another piece of the productivity puzzle that deserves special mention. Nobody needs to remind you of the problems that an unbalanced inventory can pose to a manufacturing company pursuing LEAN ideals, or that wants to make its time more profitable. Too much requires storage and retrieval, which is pricy and can waste a lot of time. Too little and you’ve got a facility, machines and idle hands with no work to do.
Short of automating this process, you can also arrange to share access to your inventory levels directly with your most critical vendors. They’ll probably be only too happy to keep you topped off, within a threshold, you both agree on.
Another way to make your inventory management processes more efficient is to ensure you always have a backup plan. Keep records on things like defect rates, late deliveries or noticeable declines in quality for all your materials. If the standard dips below what you deem acceptable, you should have another source you can turn to. On the flip side, if even your best projections fail to account for a sudden spike in demand, other vendors can step in and help supplement your existing supply chains.
4. Supplement Wisely With Technology
Never underestimate the role a wise technology investment can play. Aftermarket kits make it relatively easy to retrofit legacy equipment for condition monitoring that makes servicing them a far more proactive endeavor. A lot of new items come with that functionality out of the box.
Using technology to boost productivity also extends to the way you train your employees to complete critical tasks, operate machinery or transport hazardous materials. Since some role-changes, including those involving HAZMAT, require training within 90 days, it makes sense to use distance learning technologies so your associates can achieve or renew certifications before expiration.
Inventory is another task where it makes sense to offload some of the burden to technology. In this case, it’s artificial intelligence as part of an enterprise resource planning system. Even medium-sized businesses have software solutions that can help make predictions about material shortages based on past performance, customer and vendor actions, developments in critical markets and more.
With these tips, you have an excellent start when it comes to boosting your manufacturing plant’s productivity. Not everything here is a matter of spending money on new equipment — the cultural elements of productivity are just as important.