Businesses need to continually improve their products and processes to improve the efficient utilization of resources. Using fewer resources to produce the same amount of goods increases profitability, and it’s good for the environment. Improving the productivity of manufacturing facilities is one of the core tasks of the operations team.
Overcoming productivity challenges
Throughout the journey that began with steam engines, the manufacturing industry saw exponential growth in productivity. Most industrial processes boast very good efficiency due to the use of modern industrial tools. This high starting point makes any productivity improvement a massive challenge. In addition to that, hurdles like lack of support, lack of training, and unrealistic expectations from management are some of the challenges plant operations teams face while trying to improve productivity.
Despite the challenges, if you want to reach your business goals, you need to improve the productivity of your facility. The following sections cover the six practices you should adopt to achieve that.
Key Performance Indicators
One of the biggest challenges in this aspect is the lack of direction to improve productivity. With just an overarching goal of productivity improvement, there are many avenues to achieve it. Trying to improve productivity without anything to aim at is akin to running around in the dark.
The first step in the path toward productivity improvement is to state clear, objective, and achievable goals. This is possible by identifying performance indicators for factory operations, and setting a target for the key performance indicators. Now the operations team has a clear objective to move toward. With that, you will be able to chart the path to improve productivity.
Many performance indicators can be identified for a plant operation. You cannot use all of them to improve operations at the same time. You should definitely weigh the different indicators and pick the one that will have the most impact. The impact relevant to your plant might be different than the industry standard, and you should be choosing the performance indicator that aligns and contributes more towards improving your plant’s productivity.
Lean manufacturing is a production process ideology that emphasizes reducing wastage and improving productivity. This ideology finds its origin in Japanese manufacturing facilities and has gained acceptance across the globe. This is due to the effectiveness of implementing lean manufacturing principles to improve productivity.
The five core principles of lean manufacturing are:
- Engage only in the processes that add value to the end consumer. Every other process is an excess and has to be eliminated.
- Analyze the materials and processes involved in manufacturing a product by mapping out the value stream. This can be used to remove materials and processes that do not add value.
- Improving lead times requires bringing down functional barriers. Create flow to carry out processes smoothly, with minimum delay and wastage.
- Manufacturing products without demand is a waste of time and resources. Create a pull system in the production process that initiates production only when there is demand.
- Embrace the philosophy of ‘Kaizen’, which means continuous improvement. You always have to find avenues to reduce wastage and improve efficiency.
Implement and completely adopt continuous improvement, and you will see gradual yet compounding process improvements.
The lack of centralized information, and a lack of control over the information, is a challenge when the operations team wants to improve productivity. Information technology has tools to bridge this gap. It helps provide the right data at the right time — to analyze it and take appropriate actions. IT can be used for a wide range of applications in the plant, from work order management to deep supply chain integration.
A wide variety of IT tools are available for manufacturing plants. Some of the prominent tools are:
- Manufacturing execution system (MES)
- Computerized maintenance management system (CMMS)
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
- Computer-aided design (CAD)
- Environment, health, and safety (EHS)
- Inventory management software
Software tools help to centralize data and use actionable insights from the data to improve productivity. If you don’t have any digital tools in your facility, start your digital transformation journey immediately. Find the software tools that align with your requirements and your strategy to improve productivity.
One of the common problems that hinder productivity in manufacturing facilities are errors introduced by human employees. This significant dent in productivity can be overcome with the introduction of automated machines, which can perform operations without any human interference. The accuracy rate of automated processes is near perfect.
Earlier, the cost of automation was high due to a lack of available technology. With improvements in technology, implementing automation has become affordable for most industrial facilities. Consider automating at least the complex process that comes with high error rates.
The improvement from automation is not just the elimination of errors in processes. Automation helps cut down the number of employees required to complete a process. Hiring skilled employees is quite expensive in the current labor market. Automation helps in reducing the number of employees required and cuts down operational expenses. Considering all the cost savings and process improvement, automation initiatives can break even in very few years despite the high initial investment required.
Material and people have to move through the plant to complete various processes in creating a product. The travel between different workstations increases production time. If your facility has a process B that comes after process A, and if the workstations for these are at separate corners of your facility, it takes a long time to transport goods between the workstations. This is productivity lost due to poor production layout design.
It’s possible to improve process efficiency and production time just by adopting a production layout that cuts down the travel time between different processes. Execute a detailed audit of the existing layout and modify it to cut down distances between processes. You should not be taking a siloed approach at reducing the distance between consecutive processes. Instead, take a bird’s eye view to improve your production layout.
Participation of management and employees is essential in productivity improvement efforts. Put in the effort to make all the stakeholders understand the importance of improved productivity and how it can help them individually. You can organize workshops and seminars to drive home the message.
Employee empowerment is critical for the success of productivity improvement initiatives. To achieve this, provide them with training and tools to align with the initiatives. You should also delegate some decision-making abilities to employees and thus foster a culture of taking immediate action.
Improving the productivity of plant operations is at the core of the mandate for operations teams across industries. This task has its own set of challenges, ranging from apathy to a lack of expertise. Take a proactive step, and convince all stakeholders of the importance of improving productivity. Each initiative might be a small step towards improvement. But these small strides compound to create radical improvements for productivity, process, people, and profits.
About the Author
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.