Evaluate Your Process and Do it Better

In an effort to be more competitive, companies are constantly looking at their processes and procedures and trying to find ways to do things better.

Columns From: 9/15/2011 Modern Machine Shop,

Editor's Commentary

From the monthly column: Competing Ideas
A variety of tools can be used in a company’s improvement efforts. Value stream maps identify the relationships between value-added and non-value-added activities; process maps list all activities and how long they take to complete; and flow charts provide a visual indicator of sequential and parallel tasks. 
 
The following are examples of four companies and the tools they used to evaluate their processes:
 

COMPANY 1

This company used value stream mapping to evaluate its product reconditioning process. The company was experiencing problems meeting its two-week turnaround target. 
 
What it found: 
• Incoming products waited an average of four days before they were evaluated. In the customer’s eyes, the “clock” started when the company received the products, so four days were lost at the start.
 
• One step of the reconditioning process had a first-pass yield of 50 percent. This time-consuming step put a tremendous strain on resources because it typically had to be done twice for every unit.
 
• Only one person was fully trained and capable of doing key steps in the process. 
 
Results: The company placed more emphasis on evaluating the products and scheduling them sooner. Detailed analysis of the first-pass yield problem identified a major cause of failure, and steps were taken to address it. Also, more people were trained on key process steps to provide more resource flexibility.

 

COMPANY 2

A job shop used a process map to evaluate the engineering phase of its new jobs. The shop experienced significant delays when designing fixtures, ordering appropriate tools and developing CNC programs.
 
What it found:  
• The individual projects were not being effectively managed. Namely, there was only a final completion date with no milestone dates for individual steps.
 
• Although all projects are different, the engineering-related steps were similar. 
 
• Special tools were not being ordered soon enough.
 
Results: The company created a project management template that listed all key steps in the engineering process. Engineers were asked to complete the template with dates for each critical phase of a new project and to provide a weekly update of progress. Special tool ordering was emphasized and listed on the template as one of the first steps.
 

COMPANY 3

This company used a process map to review its first-piece inspection process, which was a constant bottleneck.
 
What it found: 
• Work brought into the inspection department was placed on a table in no particular order, and the inspectors randomly selected jobs without knowing their priority.
 
• Once a job was inspected, it was placed on another table to await pickup.
 
• Jobs were in the inspection department between two hours and two days.
 
Results: A small roller conveyor was placed in the inspection department, and manufacturing personnel placed their jobs at the end of the conveyor. Certain approved jobs were moved to the front of the conveyor. The roller conveyor accommodated a “first in, first out” schedule for incoming work.
 

COMPANY 4

This company used a flow chart to review its order receipt and handling process because it took too long for manufacturing personnel to receive orders.
 
What it found: 
• Many people were involved in the pre-production process, which had many hand-offs.
 
• Management approvals were difficult to complete because managers travelled frequently and were unavailable to sign off when needed.
 
• Different people in different areas completed various forms containing the same information.
 
• A slow order-acknowledgement process delayed the delivery of new work to the shop.
 
Results: The value of orders requiring management review and approval was increased to eliminate unnecessary approval steps. Orders that still required management approval were entered as soon as they were received and marked “pending” to provide visibility. Also, the number of forms was reduced by eliminating redundant information. 
 

In each of these instances, companies made the commitment to look into critical processes to make them work better.  

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