Working Smarter, Not Harder

Eight tips help manufacturers satisfy their customers using limited resources.


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Even as business has picked up for many companies, there is still a widespread reluctance to increase staffing levels. Uncertainty about future business is a contributing factor to this reluctance, but just as relevant is the fact that successful companies, especially manufacturers, have learned to do more with the resources they have. For the most part, they have accomplished this by having their employees work smarter, not harder. Here are just a few of the ways today’s manufacturers are working smarter to satisfy their customers. 
1. Develop the most effective man-machine ratios for key equipment. Manufacturers need to strike the right balance between the number of machines and the number of operators/setup personnel tending them. This balance may fluctuate based on the type of part being machined, the cycle time of the machining process, and the amount of “extra work” (secondary machining, in-process inspection, part finishing and others) being performed during the machining cycle. Regardless of what the ideal ratio turns out to be, it is critical is that this ratio is evaluated on a regular basis and modified as needed. Whereas it is certainly inefficient for one operator to do nothing more than watch a single machine run, it is probably worse to allow machines to sit idle due to an insufficient number of available operators.
2. Complete everything that can possibly be done in one operation. Quite simply, the fewer operations a part undergoes, the fewer setups are required. This concept is critical to reduce any part’s throughput time. Combining processes into fewer operations might at times sacrifice machining efficiency, yet it ultimately streamlines the overall manufacturing process and enables parts to ship sooner.
3. Standardize all machine setups. In many job shops (low volume, high mix), time spent completing machine change-overs can be significant and often means the difference between making and losing money on a particular job. A well-managed, standardized machine setup process will reduce setup time and increase production availability. An integral part of this standardization is the certainty that material, tooling, and all paperwork needed to run any job are available and prepared ahead of time.
4. Make sure tools are available when needed. Establish an effective tool management and replenishment system to minimize the likelihood that an important tool is not available when needed. This system relies on a combination of effective in-house tool inventory control and recognition of tool suppliers as critical components in the company’s supply chain.
5. Have a fixed production schedule for at least a day or two. A volatile production schedule breeds inefficiency, and in some companies, continuous rescheduling is the norm. Advance preparation of a job is impossible when employees don’t know what the next job is. A firm schedule, even for a relatively short interval, will go a long way toward increasing manufacturing output. 
6. Make sure the quality management system works. With this system in place, problems are discovered quickly and corrective action can be taken. Controls isolate defective parts and prevent them from being passed along to the next process. When operators need to check key dimensions, they have the tools and equipment to do so effectively. An effective quality management system minimizes disruptions caused by rework or repair, leaving more time available for value-added work.
7. Analyze all systems and make sure they truly support the needs of the organization. All systems should to be challenged to ensure their continued existence is justified. Often, they become unwieldy, and their original purpose is unclear to many. A periodic review of all active systems, whether they are paperwork, computer, communication, or document-control related, will help determine whether they are helping or hurting
the organization. 
8. Measure the right things. There are so many metrics available to an organization to help determine its effectiveness that it is easy to lose sight of what is truly important. Ultimately, manufacturers need to know if they are making the right things (measured by lead times and on-time delivery), making the right things the right way (measured by productivity), and making the right things right (measured by quality). By focusing on these basic performance indicators, a company can quickly assess its strengths and areas for improvement.

The more of these concepts you can apply to your organization, the greater the likelihood that you, too, can accomplish more with resources already at your disposal.