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Measure the Manufacturing Process, Not Just the Machine

Focusing only on a machine isn’t going to give you what you need on your factory floor. There are often other steps in the entire process that don’t involve actual machining. That’s why it’s important to measure the manufacturing process as a whole.

  • Eliminating waste and focusing on continuous improvement are the biggest area for improvement for manufacturers.
  • After a Kaizen event and waste is removed as a result, you need a way to sustain the gains and monitor the process.
  • Monitoring the entire process, not just a single machine, is most important.
  • Don’t forget about the 8 wastes of Lean manufacturing – eliminating those will help you improve in the long term.
  • Measuring manufacturing processes is the key to success!
    • Examples are given to drive the point home.

Eliminating Waste and Continuous Improvement are Biggest Areas for Improvement

Manufacturers often believe Lean and Kaizen events will solve all of the problems on the factory floor, but the key to creating a more efficient floor is eliminating waste and monitoring that those processes stay fixed. Sure, value-added step gains will make a small difference, but to achieve the biggest gains, eliminating waste is the way to go.

Of course, we’re not saying you shouldn’t do everything you can to improve your processes, but remember, the goal is to improve as much as you can, not just on one machine or one step.

The reasoning? When you’re measuring the entire process and evaluating how to improve the process and not just the machine, you’ll see bigger gains in efficiency.

After a Kaizen Event and Waste is Removed, You Need a Way to Monitor the Gains

Let’s start from the beginning, though. Realizing you have a problem or many problems on the floor and understanding something has to change is the first step towards improvement. How you decided to fix problems is dependent on each manufacturer.

Traditionally, you’ll either have a Lean consultant come in and run a Kaizen event or maybe, you have your internal people do it, instead. Either way, you’re recognizing problems need to be fixed and a Kaizen event can help do that.

You’re taking a step in the right direction, understanding Lean (and the 8 wastes of Lean manufacturing) and the value of improving.

Fast forward to the conclusion of the Kaizen event and the Lean consultants, or your internal teams, efforts are successful and gains are made, great! Maybe you’ve eliminated a few or all of the 8 wastes of Lean manufacturing. The floor is running smoothly and you’re happy with the increased efficiency.

But, how do you know those gains will sustain?

  • How can you ensure the factory floor continues to improve and does not revert back without having a consultant or team come back in and redo the Kaizen event?
  • Will you use a time study or something similar to understand if you’re doing well or not?
  • How can you ensure your operators know where they stand and are doing the right things at any given moment?
  • How can you reinforce the changes that were made and make sure the benefits you thought would happen, are actually happening?

It’s a lot to think about. Not only that but if the right tools aren’t in place, it can be a lot to expect to maintain.

Example time. Let’s say it takes a single minute to exchange dyes in a machine. How can you speed up the changeover to make the process more efficient? If you do a Kaizen event and are able to eliminate 80% of the setup time (Wow, you’re down to 20 seconds to exchange dyes!), that’s a huge accomplishment. But, how are you tracking that gain? If you hire some new folks to manage the line, how are you measuring if they’re maintaining 20 seconds it takes to exchange the dye?

Do you wait until production slows down, takt time is not being hit, and you’re no longer delivering to customers on time?

No. A monitoring process needs to be in place before those gains disappear before it’s too late to fix the problem.

These are important questions to think about as you’re thinking about Lean, Kaizen, and improving the factory floor.

With manufacturing analytics (we highly recommend Mingo, subtle hint), you can track and sustain the gains efficiently and simply.

However, it’s important to remember that just focusing on the machine, in the long run, isn’t going to give you what you need. Yes, it’s important, but more important is the entire process as a whole. Think of it as the big picture.

A lot of manufacturers have other steps in the process that aren’t actual machining. Things like loading and unloading of supplies by forklifts. Truly, there are many steps that don’t involve the actual machine.

Do you just measure the actual time it takes to produce a product on the machine or the time it takes within the entire process to produce a product i.e. including the time it takes for a product to be unloaded in the correct area by the forklift? Typically, we’ve found the process to be 10 or 15 times longer than the machine. Wow.

8 Wastes of Lean Manufacturing

Think about the 8 wastes of lean manufacturing, and in this example, it is defined by the acronym ‘DOWNTIME’.

  • Defects – Rework, scrap
  • Overproduction – Producing more than required customer demand or at a faster pace than needed
  • Waiting – Waiting on people, material, machines, or information
  • Non-utilized Talent – Not fully using the ideas, solutions, and creativity of employees
  • Transportation – Movement of materials and finished goods more than needed
  • Inventory – Raw materials, work in process (WIP), and finished goods stock levels are greater than needed
  • Motion – Movement of people and machinery that does not add value
  • Extra Processing – Putting more work or effort into a part than is required by the customer

Waste elimination (as we’ve said, is more value-driven for most manufacturers) is tied into the approach of designing and developing flowing processes. (Thank you to Ken Talley, Project Engineering Manager at True Refrigeration for the acronym and description to define the 8 wastes of Lean manufacturing.)

8 Wastes of Lean

Measuring Manufacturing Processes is the Key to Success

There is often a lot of setup required before even beginning to make a product. First, the program will need to be loaded to ensure the right product is being produced. Then, run the machine to make the product. After, unload it, inspect it, and deliver it to the next station.

If you’re just focusing on increasing machine cycle time, you’re looking to take seconds out of a process that actually takes 10-15 minutes in total.

The gains won’t be as big if you can’t figure out how to load more, move faster, deliver to the next station quicker, and so on. Again, to measure the manufacturing process means the biggest gains.

Let’s walk through a few examples to give you a visual of what improving an entire manufacturing process might look like, and why it is so beneficial.

Example 1: Let’s say you’re waiting on a product to be delivered to your station before you can proceed to run your machine. You’re consistently waiting and as a result, have a lot of downtime. Then, when a product is delivered, packing and unpacking are needed which means the product isn’t running continuously. The downtime accrues because of a forklift delivering to your station and changeovers.

The delivery delay is actually due to the time it takes to travel across many buildings on the campus, spanned out. Each machine needs to have supplies delivered from another building, but for example’s sake, it’s raining and there’s no shelter between the two buildings.

The forklift driver can’t just pick up a pallet and deliver it to the next building because it could be damaged in the rain. So, first, he must stop what he’s doing, cover the pallet, and drive to the next building. Then, it’s given to the operator to be loaded into the machine, but it’s soaking wet, so it must then be dried off. All of this adds valuable time to the overall process, many of the steps not considered to be value-added, but actually, waste.

The machine isn’t the problem and very little needs to be done to create more value-added steps. Instead, eliminating waste in the entire process will add the most gains.

That example specifically supports the idea of Lean and continuous improvement working together, one cannot be without the other.

Talley agrees, “CI [continuous improvement] is a pillar of Lean or a principle of Lean,” he said. “Eliminating waste and CI are the two basic foundations of Lean manufacturing.”

Example 2: Often, the process as a whole can benefit from clearer communication, eliminating time spent between people trying to sort something out. For example, if a machine runs out of tape or wrap, having an efficient communication plan in place can quickly solve the problem.

On the factory floor in general, so many things are machine focused which, yes is very important, but the bigger picture is more often than not, essential, too. You may have the best machine in the world, but if the setup that goes into the production of a product isn’t efficient, no well-performing machine can fix that problem.

Remember to Measure the Manufacturing Process, Not Just the Machine

Trying to take time out of the value-added steps won’t give you as much efficiency. When you consider that paired with preventive maintenance, the machine is typically not the problem.

Eliminating waste in the process will, however, increase efficiency.

Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.