The Bottom Line Is Everything: 8 Ways to Improve Your Manufacturing Efficiency

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Manufacturers watch their bottom line constantly. So many factors affect their productivity from so many directions, they must stay current on what is happening inside and out.

Manufacturing is a particularly complex infrastructure. Its operational issues differ from other business workflows like healthcare and education. And, its success requires strategic approaches to manpower, money, and material. And, these strategies involve product quality, improvement, and timely delivery.

In contemporary global competition, the manufacturing floor must accept its role in product performance and customer satisfaction. But, it must also meet the expectations of all its internal and external stakeholders.

Manufacturing leadership must direct and manage metrics on process design, performance utilization, material costs, process outputs, and inventory optimization. And, if the business is to succeed, it must balance these functions and expedite their integration in a competitive, diverse, and profit-driven world.

Achieving manufacturing efficiency presents a complex and comprehensive challenge where scores of factors assault even the strongest strategies.

8 ways to improve that bottom line:

  1. Clarify achievable goals. Leadership should oversee the collaborative development of realistic expectations. Decision-makers from every organizational silo must share accountability for production goals. They each have shares in outcomes and should contribute to inputs.

Someone must manage those expectations in real time. For example, owners or shareholders may demand a level of performance. But, if those expectations exceed the organization’s capacity and resources, there is no way to reach those objectives.

As Larry Fast wrote in Industry Week, “a modest goal to improve anything by 5% to 10% will cause most people to simply focus enough and work enough hours to make the numbers happen. They won’t have to change how they think, how they work or how they behave. They also won’t work with much urgency.” And, “efficiency” requires urgency.

It is fair to expect production people and processes to stretch their efforts. But, meeting unrealistic expectations is counter-productive and self-destructive when meeting those stretch goals compromise product quality and workplace safety. Manufacturers must maximize the participation of key leaders to draft strategies that frame production and personal goals to guarantee timely outputs, high-quality products, and safety procedures.

  • Start with what you have. It may be time for manufacturers to look at what they are doing. They should draw a picture of their start to finish operation. That means tracking the business supply chain from its source through metrics on customer satisfaction. This larger picture creates a context for analyzing the current workflow.

This big picture should reveal good points and bad. It should prioritize problems and needs to repair. Clusters of problems mark the key issues. People, processes, and problems have a way of coming together to forge productivity bottlenecks. Mapping this workflow identifies the problems, but it also should indicate the factors that trigger them.

Those factors do not work independently. People operate machines engineered with technology, and both need nurturing and development. Accidents will happen; workflows will fail. Still, strategic planning will reduce those risks and offer backup flows or workarounds.

Any process has segments linked by power and planning. Each process has likely paint points that required communication and resolution. Things must move forward, but sometimes forward requires a 360° view of the situation and expectations.

  • Improve processes continuously. Management and workers should debrief performance daily. Focus on the process reduces personal issues. It could mean re-assigning team members or re-assessing direction, but it’s all about the process.

Manufacturing processes can age. Machines, resources, and people fail. But, all aspects of the process need daily review. Strategy, again, leads when it can realign and redirect resources on a moment’s notice. It must have the agility and resilience to move workflow to the right or left of the floor to save the day.

However, improving processes requires leaders and crafts to remain current on their tools. With continuous advances in materials and technology, keeping pace let alone getting ahead is a constant challenge.

  • Get smart. Process improvement requires updating employees and machines. Treating employees are talent rather than assets or capital. Those financial terms are consumables. Talent, however, will serve the business now and in its future if the organization provides or enables continuing education.

New technologies and advanced processes keep talent fresh. Developing talent currently feeds the talent pipeline for the future. Training opportunities keep employees secure in their futures and reduce employee turnover.

But, manufacturing is also driven by “smart” machines. The technologies at work on the floor pick parts, assemble structures, finish surfaces, package goods, and more. Technology sorts, counts, stores, and more. So, productivity will depend on how smart the tools are kept and maintained. Fewer manufacturing workers use hand tools, and more use their brains to read, adjust, and transfer machine and workflow performance. They need the latest tools to optimize their contribution, including heavy material handling equipment, forklift trucks, conveyor belts, and more.

  • Put money where it matters. Manufacturers increase their potential by investing big. The quality of the investment counts. There is no efficiency in throwing good money after bad. Any investment must enable people, update technology, and improve tools. But, the organization also requires strategic investment.

Manufacturing requires preventive and responsive physical maintenance. Organizations often skimp on maintenance as if it were all janitorial services. Manufacturing processes cannot perform when machines are down. And, the more sophisticated the machines, the more demanding the care required.

Success also depends on investment in material resources. The operation needs the resources it takes to produce quality products. It needs what it needs not more than it needs. But, it must source the supplies it needs intelligently. Purchasing, inventory, and operations must work collaboratively on structuring and maintaining their supply chain.

  • Organize and reorganize. Organization speeds productivity and reduces waste. Everything and everyone needs a place. When all things are in their place, the waste should be observable. Craftspeople are disciplined to keep their ready and accessible. But, the whole work floor needs the same discipline.

The manufacturing floor must stay levels well above the neighbourhood car mechanic. It’s an environment supporting safety, training, budget, and more. So, it must be planned as a venue for specific processes. For example, the layout in machining differs from the layout of shipping. The environments in every process venue must contribute to efficiency.

Breaking processes into cells creates a sequential performance chain. Staff can follow the mapping visually and intelligently. Everyone can note the pain points and follow paths to resolution. Organizing cells create opportunities for zero-based performance metrics.

  • Collaboration diversifies inputs. Encouraging and enabling input and feedback improves efficiency in several ways. Multiplying and diversifying inputs increases the intelligence going towards design and development.

Collaboration also aligns everyone with common purposes and methodologies. Everyone working on the same page reduces material waste and energy consumption. It soothes conflicts and promotes the integration of diverse skills and thinking.

Collaboration creates better teams, and members work better when they understand how their responsibilities differ from accountabilities. The group thinking extends their sense of belonging in current and future plans. And, it creates functional connections between organization silos and hierarchies.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Denise Lee Yohn said. “Only when employees are engaged with the brand will they think and act in the specific ways that produce the specific results the company is seeking. Employees must internalize the organization’s purpose and values so they make decisions that clearly support those priorities.”

  • Design waste out of the process. Reimagining the workflow can reduce the waste of material, square footage, energy, and employee effort. Different manufacturers work differently. Their horizontal and vertical infrastructure must match their performance expectations.

Inventory must be available, accessible, and well-organized. Sorting and picking must come easily. And, technology can make a difference there. The inventory quality and volume must be “just-in-time” ready and its tracking accurate and informative.

For that matter, quantifying everything reduces waste, reports wear and feeds analytics that matter. For instance, using barcodes and SKUs to track source-to-sale demonstrates efficiency and processing weaknesses. The same goes for standardizing the work agreed upon; standard processes are more easily managed and measured.

If you can measure it, you can improve it.

Analytics are tools to measure large scale, integrated, and complex functions. The data processed by the analytics reports and identifies the pressure points and points to systems solutions. Analytics process complex inputs and report in real-time to all invested parties.

Measurements are not grades. They are process-related marks of progress, speed, and efficiency. They are descriptive, not prescriptive. They count events and provide information upon which analysts can act.

There is some risk in equating efficiency with productivity. Productivity measures volume and speed. Efficiency optimizes the quality in quantity. Getting them both right in manufacturing is the challenge.

Efficiency seeks profits in quality produced with less waste, investment, and labour. Still, while its metrics can be ambiguous or misdirecting, the measures are a place to start, a process to standardize, and a means to improve. We recommend you to use MOSIMTEC’s manufacturing simulation technology to keep your manufacturing operations efficient. This powerful simulation tools can help you to find the most profitable scenario for your business.