When Should You Review Your Manufacturing Processes?

Here are eight signs that you need to take a hard look at your manufacturing processes.


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There are certain signs that indicate you need to review your processes to make sure they are delivering the desired results. Such signs should be heeded because the sooner you can modify or replace a bad process, the sooner you will see improvement. Here are eight signs to look for:

An increase in defective parts or products.

Sudden changes in quality should raise two questions: Is the process being followed? And is the process no longer capable of meeting quality requirements? Simply reviewing the process should answer the first question and getting back on track may be all that is needed. The second question may take a little more effort to resolve as process capability studies related to material, equipment, tooling and more may be warranted. For sure, a change in quality is one of the most critical signs that a process is in need of review and one that must receive immediate attention.

Excessive work in process.

Whenever you find a lot of products that have been started but not finished, there is a fundamental problem. Excessive work in process (WIP) can reflect a process that blindly moves forward whether or not there are sufficient components to enable completion. Products finished in one process then put aside may indicate that more were produced than needed, and only the needed quantity moved to the next process. In this case, the production order release process must be reviewed as should departmental job quantity overrun practices. Reviewing the process from start to finish may reveal an excessive number of hand-offs and an imbalance in the time required to complete each step.

Inaccurate inventory.

Wrong counts of raw material, WIP or finished goods is another signal that a process is not working. In this case, the process breakdown could either reside in the manufacturing operation, where scrap or missing parts are not properly accounted for, or in a warehousing operation, where inventory transactions are not well controlled. If you notice either of these things, the manufacturing procedures for in-process quality control need review, as do the warehouse management functions of picking, put-away and relocation.

Many temporary actions.

Sometimes it is necessary to undertake temporary (“this order only”) actions that enable a specific job to be completed. However, if such temporary actions are frequently repeated from one product to another, this is a signal that the process needs to be reviewed. Either the temporary actions need to be documented and made permanent, or they need to be eliminated by seeking and implementing corrective actions.

Excessive product travel during manufacturing cycle. 

The term “spaghetti diagram” refers to an extensive, convoluted and often-overlapping path a product follows as it is being completed. Sketched out, the path actually resembles a bowl of spaghetti. If product flow takes on the appearance of a spaghetti diagram, this is a visible sign that the process needs to be improved.

An increasing number of storage racks, cabinets, shelves and carts.

If such storage devices are growing in number, this is a sure sign that your inventory is growing. Now, if your sales are growing at the same rate, this may not be a problem. However, if sales are not growing at the rate of your inventory, this is a sign to challenge the amount of inventory on hand. If inventory is deemed to be excessive, the ordering process is in need of review to ensure alignment of production and sales levels.

People are moving more than products.

When people are moving about, they are not adding value to the product or process. The causes of this movement — looking for things; seeking instructions; bringing tools, material or supplies to the work area; or moving product to the next step in the process — should all be reviewed with the objective of eliminating or reducing.

Employees in “wait” mode.

At times, people cannot do their jobs because they are waiting for something to happen. The causes of waiting may be numerous, but they need to be addressed. Employees want to do a good job and are probably as frustrated as anyone when they cannot. Getting to the root causes of some of the “wait” issues employees face is a way to mitigate such frustration, while improving any type of process.

When I first entered the world of manufacturing, I heard a phrase that bears repeating: “At some point, every process should be challenged and forced to justify its continued existence.” We cannot go wrong if we make this a regular part of our operations.