Are You Going Too Slow On Speeding Ahead?

The argument in favor of faster production equipment may seem like a case that doesn’t have to be made. In manufacturing, speed is good.

Columns From: 3/5/2007 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Peter Zelinski

The argument in favor of faster production equipment may seem like a case that doesn’t have to be made. In manufacturing, speed is good. Yet many shops resist making that investment until long after the new equipment could have been not only paying its way, but also moving the shop forward.
The danger lies in assuming the visible is all there is. Today you are meeting production and delivery demands, and turning a profit doing so. Does that mean you’re succeeding? By obvious measures, yes. But in the realm of the non-obvious, could there be additional savings to realize, or opportunities that are going unmet?

A recent survey found a link between faster equipment and better business performance. Reading between the lines of this finding, it seems safe to imagine that many of the respondents were surprised to discover just how significant the fast equipment proved to be. Speed potentially offers various benefits at once. Here are some thoughts:

  1. It can make the part cheaper. Making more units in a fixed amount of time can reduce each unit’s share of the fixed costs.
  2. Inventory can shrink because faster and more responsive production lets the shop keep fewer finished parts on hand.
  3. The shop may find it can compete in a different game—courting customers it once would have avoided because the lead time requirements seemed too intense.
  4. Current customers will eventually ask for tighter lead times, too. Getting up to speed today lets the shop get ready in advance.
  5. How much goodwill do heroes enjoy? The shop that can speed through a sudden run of parts may provide the solution to a customer’s emergency. A steady flow of non-emergency work may result.

All of these benefits build on the original benefits the shop was seeking with speed—namely, the chance to safeguard the shop’s existing success by machining the current work a little faster, while freeing up capacity with which to take on more work.

Today, many shops are busy after enduring leaner years in the recent past. A lot of these shops used the lean period to go lean themselves. Unable to justify new equipment at that time, they reengineered their practices and processes to get inefficiencies out of the way. Now, the shop that has improved its use of existing resources in this way is in a particularly good position to realize the benefits of newer and more responsive equipment. The shop that once went lean may be ready to go lean and mean today.

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