As I have stated in past columns, today's customers are more demanding than ever, wanting the best product at the best price and in the shortest time. In order for any manufacturer to satisfy today's demanding customers, that manufacturer must have a streamlined manufacturing process. Streamlined manufacturing processes are not always those with the highest speed machines or the highest level of automation, but those with the fewest activities that do not add value to the product. We can define a value-added activity as one that transforms a part from one condition to another. For example, milling a flat on a shaft changes the shape of the shaft from round to flat. Assuming a flat surface is required on the end product, a value-added transformation has occurred. Assembling components to create a product is another value-added transformation. Identifying and eliminating (or at least reducing) non-value-added activity is the key to streamlining a manufacturing process.
Let's look at steps a company can take to streamline its own manufacturing processes.
First, analyze your manufacturing flow and develop simple flow charts. This is a good first step in recognizing what is actually being done in the manufacturing operation. An effective way to develop a flow chart is to take a drawing of the present plant layout and trace the movement of various parts. This will provide a good picture of where the parts go and just how far they travel. Next, add color to the lines. Green is a good color for showing all activities that do add value; red is a good color for showing all non-value-added activities. Use the flow chart to compare the number of activities that add value to those that do not.
Second, focus on the non-value-added activities and investigate why they are being done. Many non-value-added activities are performed due to the layout of a plant, or the way a company chooses to process work orders. Typical non-value-added operations include part movement through the plant; part storage in a queue waiting for work to be performed; lifting, positioning or locating a part in a work area; wrapping or packing a part for protection during in-plant movement or storage; and marking or engraving a part for identification purposes (unless specifically required by the customer).
There are other non-value-added operations that occur as a result of previous operations not being performed completely or accurately. For example, deburring is required if previous machining operations have not cut properly, or the machine operator has not removed the burr. Obviously any rework operation is also the result of a previous operation not being properly performed.
Some operations are considered to be value-added by some, but due to the strict definition, really do not change the condition of a product. The main example of this is inspection. It can be argued that inspection adds value by reducing the likelihood of problems down the line. However, inspection does not transform any part and is not adding value to the part.
Eliminate the non-value-added activities one at a time. Target each non-value-added activity and develop a plan to eliminate it. Often operations such as in-plant transportation, temporary part storage, and temporary packaging can be eliminated. For example, relocating workstations so they are next to each other will eliminate much of the travel, storage and packaging needed for a part.
For non-value-added activities that cannot be eliminated now, take steps to simplify them for the near term and eliminate them in the future. It may require a capital investment to eliminate some non-value-added activities. For example, repositioning machines may require a rigger and significant modification of buildings and utilities. If this is the case and funds are not immediately available, try to simplify these non-value-added activities now, while developing a permanent solution.
Once you have experienced a few successes in streamlining manufacturing operations, encourage everyone in the company to identify and eliminate non-value-added activities in their work areas. This may require training on recognizing non-value-added activities, but worker involvement is the best way to promote continuous improvement and better customer service.