Optimise your production process in 5 steps
Technical and digital developments follow each other at lightning speed, especially in industry. Concepts such as Smart Industry, Predictive Maintenance and iIoT are flying around our ears. Manufacturing companies that are not actively working on an innovative production process are increasingly lagging behind the frontrunners. In addition, the customer is also making increasingly higher demands; flexibility, quality and faster delivery time at competitive prices. Responding to this is a continuous challenge. Insight into your own process is key here, because what do you need to innovate in? What can be done better?
Review your production process
Every company has sound knowledge of its own production process. However, there are major differences as to where this knowledge extends. Most companies will be able to identify where a process begins, how the product is created and where the various parts come from. Many companies will also be able to go into the deeper layers of this process, what are the bottlenecks? Is unnecessary inventory present? And at what point is the most value added? To a lesser extent, companies have a total overview of the production process and a plan to continuously improve and innovate this process. These types of companies often work with improvement methods such as Lean, QRM, Six Sigma, TOC, et cetera. Efficient, zero-defect and flexible production is key. The latter group is the strongest when it comes to process optimisation and thus future-proofing. This insight is the basis for an optimisation plan.
Identify points of improvement
Where can the most profit be made with the least effort? That is the first question that should be asked. For example, it is possible to look at where there is a lot of downtime and what is causing it. Are there long changeover times, are there start-up problems in the morning or is there a downtime during shift changes? Or is there too much rejection due to quality problems? Reducing this can be profitable. After all, less rejection means less material and time wasted. Inventory is also seen as waste in the Lean six-sigma theory, just like waiting time, overprocessing, errors, movement and unused talent. For an improvement project, this is the phase in which it is determined what the scope and objective are, who the stakeholders are and how the project will be organized internally.
Define the points of improvement using data
It is tempting to immediately come up with and implement a solution after identifying the points for improvement. However, it is better to first map out the total process and determine what data is needed to properly define the problem and also to perform a 0-measurement to be able to assess later whether the improvement has really been effective.
In addition, improvements in the entire production process must match the rest of the process. It would be a shame to make improvements that don’t have a result at the end of the production line. For example: capacity increase in step B cannot be fully utilised because step A cannot deliver as much. Also consider the knowledge and skills of the employees and how this influences the process. Evaluate the production process and points for improvement and see which linked steps can be tackled together. Perhaps these steps could be redesigned or combined instead of improving just one production step. Make a clear plan in which it is clear which steps will be tackled together or separately and in what way. Some companies have an official way of working for this and call it Management of Change (MOC). This is especially important in large, complex processes. Also consider safety, for example.
Analyse the data
When the problem is clear and relevant data is available, it is time to analyse whether a clear cause to the problem can be found. Often finding the cause is not as easy as it seems. A frequently used tool to find out whether you have really got hold of the root cause is the 5-WHY method. Name the problem and have someone ask ‘why?’ five times in a row. This forces you to think beyond the obvious causes. What answer do employees give to the question ‘why does the machine no longer work properly?’ ‘Because it is broken’? “Because Operator … made a wrong move”? Why is the machine broken, why did the operator make a mistake. Give it a try and you will be amazed at the results.
Find and implement the right solution
Then the optimisation plan can be made. See which solution is suitable for the points for improvement. Consider automating manual actions or implementing continuous quality measurement. Training staff to achieve faster changeover times is also an action of improvement. Finding the right solution for a point of improvement requires creativity, otherwise you could have thought of it earlier. Involve the right parties in this process on time, preferably a few steps earlier, who can think along in smart solutions. This can be an external advisor, but also a machine builder or other solution supplier. Again, a fresh look helps prevent tunnel vision and sheds light on things that might otherwise be missed.
Secure the results and start the cycle again
When bottlenecks have been addressed and improved, the optimisation is not finished. Because even with a renewed production process there is a risk that the improvement will not last. For this it is very important to secure the solutions. This goes beyond just documentation. This also means training, instructing, explaining, marking and checking.
Things can always be better and can always be further optimised. Moreover, through the application of new smart solutions, you sometimes encounter bottlenecks that were not visible before (Theory of constraints – TOC). Finally, technical and digital innovations continue, creating new possibilities and insights to optimise your production process even further. You are never finished improving your process!