Historically, low-variation/high-volume production has been tweaked to gain optimal efficiencies and quality. Unfortunately for many manufacturers in the United States, manufacturing is now done in high-variation/low-volume environments.
The market advantages of high-variation/ low-volume production are clear: better tailoring to specific customer demand, improved responsiveness and lower inventory requirements for finished goods. However, this production scheme has traditionally yielded lower quality output because of variation. This is a fact of life for modern manufacturers, but there is still a need for improved quality and lower operational costs.
Despite changing needs from customers, manufacturers can make their processes so robust that in fact, they seem like low-variation processes and thus yield the optimization opportunities of high-volume production. By following these five steps, processes can be made to give results of higher-volume runs.
1. Utilize Sequential Processing Where Possible
Optimize flow, despite product variation, through sequential processing of operations within the facility. Where possible, use flexible processing equipment to allow for management of takt time despite processing times of varying lengths in some case.
2. Stay Simple with Routings
Reversing flow for parts or product in the manufacturing stream for secondary operations, aside from waste of travel, also increases management requirement for traceability. By maintaining simple part or product routings, traceability challenges can be reduced.
3. Implement a Predictable Process
A predictable process (despite differences in processing times and difficulty) allows plant management to have better predicted outcomes, thus reducing surprises. If a process has decision points, then every part meeting the same criteria should flow through the same process steps.
4. Create an Open Environment
An open environment allows everyone (management, supervisors and operators) to see what’s going on in the plant and to adjust as needed. This also yields increased communication between employees. Flow of information within the plant is as important, if not more important, than flow of product.
5. Maintain Flexibility
The design of the facility, work stations, equipment placement and staffing should be flexible to accommodate changing needs and requirements within the facility. The ability to reconfigure the work environment is absolutely critical as processes, products and staffing levels change within the organization.
By following these five steps, a process will become very consistent, despite changing product requirements. While a consistent process may be dull, it will also yield superior results.
Jason Piatt is cofounder and president of Praestar Technology Corp. Prior to founding Praestar Technology, Jason held various tactical and executive positions in engineering, sales and marketing, and program management with a leading power transmission component manufacturer. He has served as a member of the faculty at Penn State University and has taught at Pennsylvania College of Technology in electrical and mechanical engineering technology, mathematics, and physics. Jason and the Praestar Consulting team have assisted numerous manufacturers in the areas of lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, sales and marketing management, and strategy formation.