How to Be More Productive in Manufacturing According to the Experts
With a potential recession looming, inflation and interest rates rising, and the post-pandemic surge in consumer confidence slowing, productivity is stepping into the spotlight. Amid all of this economic uncertainty, manufacturers are turning their focus toward their own operations and processes, making sure everything is running like the proverbial well-oiled machine. Lean and mean. As efficient as possible.
We get it. At USC Consulting Group, we’ve been helping manufacturers become more efficient and productive for 50+ years. Process improvement is our wheelhouse. We can’t do anything about the economy, but we can help our clients increase their productivity so their companies can be at their fighting best to withstand any economic headwinds that come their way.
In the end, it’s about striking that delicate balance between increasing throughput and maintaining quality. Too much speed on the line can indeed increase throughput, but quality could suffer. So, finding that sweet spot between optimal throughput and optimal quality is the key.
Here’s some of the advice we’ve been giving to our clients to do just that.
Focus on the Five M’s
One of the first steps we take when evaluating process improvements in manufacturing companies is to focus on the Five M’s. Many times we find it all starts and ends with this. It’s a tried-and-true management tool — with some debate as to where and when it originated. And now, people put their own spin on the M’s, as they relate to their own operation. At USC, we call them Machines, Methods, Materials, Measurements and Man and Woman power.
- Machines. Evaluate your machines on the line. Do they need maintenance? Do you perform regular maintenance or wait until something is “broke” before you fix it?
- Methods. This step involves evaluating the process of getting the job done. Are there any opportunities to make the workflow more efficient?
- Materials. This is a big headache for manufacturing today — supply chain issues are messing with the ability to have enough material to get the job done when it needs to get done.
- Measurements. Are your metrics and measurements for success and profitability on target?
- Man and Woman power. Do you have the right people in the right jobs? That’s the ideal. But increasingly the question is: Do you have enough skilled people to get the job done, or enough people, period?
Focusing on these five elements of your operation can illuminate a host of opportunities for improvement. Let’s look at some of those in more detail.
Schedule regular maintenance
The old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” does not serve manufacturing very well. We recommend regular maintenance. Yes, it causes a work stoppage, but it doesn’t take you by surprise. You’ll know the line will be stopped for a certain amount of time on a certain day rather than having things grind to a halt unexpectedly because of an unknown problem you’ll have to ferret out and fix. It’s also important to talk to your people on the line about the troubleshooting they’ve been using when things go wrong. It could be they’re on to something.
Look at the 7 Deadly Wastes
It sounds rather dramatic, but this is a concept initially pioneered by the Toyota Lean manufacturing model. It’s aimed at identifying and eliminating waste in manufacturing operations. We’ve added one additional “waste” to that list. Here they are in detail.
- Overproduction. It leaves you with unused product.
- Waiting. Waiting on the shop floor between steps on the line, or waiting on supply or even equipment.
- Transporting. Excessive movement of inventory, causing the possibility of damage, or even excessive movement within the manufacturing process itself.
- Processing. Do you have extra, unnecessary steps in the manufacturing process?
- Inventory. Too much stock on hand.
- Excess motion. Extra walking, lifting, reaching.
- Defects. Defects in product happen to the best of us.
- People. This is the eighth waste we thought was important to add. It is about taking a close look at the untapped potential of your people.
Examining all of these areas of “wastes” in your operation will help you become more efficient and ultimately more profitable.
→ For more information about Lean, download our free eBook, Lean Six Sigma: Do You Really Know These Methodologies?
Upskill Your People
About that eighth “waste.” There may well be hidden potential working on your lines every day that is being underutilized. We see it all the time in talking to frontline workers, who usually know more about the ins-and-outs of the day-to-day than their supervisors do. Is anyone on the line ready to move up? It might take some classes in management training, but so be it. Promotion from within is a powerful motivator for your workforce and in this market, where retaining good people is so difficult, it can be a lifesaver. There’s also another part to this. It’s about not being able to find skilled workers to do the job. This is a big problem for manufacturing industrywide. The solution just might be to invest in training courses for new hires to get them the skills they need.
At USC Consulting Group, we’re committed to helping manufacturing companies improve their processes to become as efficient and productive as possible. In this economy, it’s a must. Give us a call to find out more.