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Manufacturing Tomorrow

Manufacturing Tomorrow


3 Tips For Manufacturers To Increase Agility

Jul 12, 2016
By: Mark Stevens

Most businesses understand the importance of being agile, but they often have obstacles to it built into their own systems and processes.

In today’s fast-moving environment, manufacturers must ensure their production system can adjust to meet changing customer demand. Customers have come to expect a speedy response thanks to advances in technology and processes that brought such conveniences as next-day delivery of consumer goods. Companies should evaluate internal operations to see if they’re standing in their own way when it comes to flexibility. Here are three tips to become more agile.

1.  Understand your capacity: Manufacturers in the automotive supply chain are typically highly agile because they understand the capacity of their systems, and their contracts address changes in capacity demand. For example, a contract may be set up for the production of 100 parts per hour in two shifts, and require 90 days’ notice to add a third shift for higher production.

What often happens is businesses design ERP systems for infinite capacity, and there’s a lack of understanding of what the capacity actually is. Customer-facing employees must communicate with internal employees so there is agreement on what is feasible.

People often look at the capacity of one asset or workstation and assume they can achieve that level of production. But what if the process must go through a shared machine, such as a heat treat oven? Identify where such bottlenecks occur. You can only produce as fast as the slowest step in the process.

It’s not always easy to pin down what the slowest link in the chain is because it may change. As a result, many businesses simply give up on defining capacity, which is a mistake. The key is to work horizontally to understand what the production system is dependent on, as well as the capacity of all the functions that support production.

2.  Reduce changeover time:
Many manufacturers have significant changeover time. Changeovers should be measured in seconds or minutes, not hours. If you have a multi-million dollar machine that isn’t running, that’s a problem. One very simple option to cutting down changeover time is to put teams in place sort of like NASCAR pit crews. The concept behind it is single-minute exchange of die (SMED).

Say for example you have a press with a two-hour changeover time. Many companies will wait until the press has finished producing an order to start the changeover process. While they’re gathering tools and people to change the machine over, it’s just sitting idle. That makes just as much sense as a NASCAR driver pulling into the pit and waiting for someone to fetch the crew, gas and tires.

Instead, identify what can be done while the press is still running to make the changeover as short as possible. Gather and stage all the tools and materials so that when the press stops, all you need to do is swap the old with the new. It’s amazing how much prep work can be done while machines are running.

3.  Right-size your machines:
People often assume bigger and faster are better and that they need elaborate machines with high functionality. In reality, your equipment should match demand. There’s no point in having excess capacity. Why pay money for something you’re not going to use?

Even if having excess capacity doesn’t cost more, it still increases the complexity of your operation, which hinders your ability to be agile. That’s why it’s critical to have machines that are the right size for your operations.

It’s important not only from a performance perspective, but also in terms of the physical size of the factory. You want to minimize your footprint as much as possible to increase efficiency and maximize agility.

Agility provides manufacturers with a competitive advantage. It’s all about understanding your people, machines and processes, and identifying how to get the most out all of your assets.


Mark Stevens
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