Monthly Archives: October 2012

5 Ways to Take the Scary Out Of Continuous Process Improvement

5 Ways to Take the Scary Out Of Continuous Process Improvement

With Halloween here, we thought we’d take a look at something which inspires fear and dread in many manufacturing employees… the Continuous Improvement Committee.

In theory, “Continuous Process Improvement” offers a near Utopian vision of how business should work.  Rather than management dictating how business will improve, continuous process improvement utilizes the expertise, interest and strengths of employees to think about improvement, and then empowers the employees to make the improvements a reality.

The suggestion box has become the “go-to” tool for Continuous Improvement Committees.

But, all too often, reality is nowhere near the vision.  “Continuous Improvement Committees” may occasionally meet for lunch.  There might be a suggestion box in the lunchroom, and campaigns may lead to a lot of work and temporary improvements before, inevitably, slipping back to the status quo.  And, it has been shown “continuous improvement” may stifle innovation or worse.

Rather than give up and scrap all hope of “continuous improvement,” simply evaluating the process and making a few small changes could lead to the positive results many companies expect from the committees.  Here are a few common sense ideas for taking the pain out of continuous improvement so you can focus on the improvement:

1)      Create a steering committee that includes all branches of the company, including an advocate in management or the executive team.  You’ll need a voice with management to coordinate your improvement activities.

2)      Determine the ROI as you are planning improvements.  It’s not enough to ask people to “improve” for the sake of improvement.  There should be a clear benefit. Identifying the ROI will also help as you evaluate results and provide measurable benchmarks in the process.

3)      Structure the plan around phases.  Many times, continuous improvement projects fall victim to lofty goals that introduce more change and complexity than necessary.  Making small improvements in controlled phases with a measured result and ROI will build support for future improvements.  Historical evidence has shown smaller phases allow the opportunity to make adjustments, leading to greater project success.

4)      Keep in mind the idea of “controlled” phases as you plan.  Look at the project and identify who or what is driving the changes.  Maintaining control during each phase helps ensure the ROI continues to be the focus of the project.

5)      As you plan improvements, think about sustainability.  Implementing an improvement is only half the project.  The other half is ensuring the improvement is one that will last after the campaign is over.  Many times it is necessary to implement “process enforcement” to ensure sustainability.

Take the fear out of continuous improvement and make a positive change today.

Honestly, the suggestions here aren’t groundbreaking, but they’re not meant to be. Our goal is to take the fear out of continuous improvement. These concepts can be applied to any improvement project, including the move to paperless manufacturing on the shop floor.  We designed our paperless manufacturing around simple, controlled phases that ensure an ROI for each phase and gives control of the project to our customers.  Our software has been designed to minimize training and ensure sustainable process improvements for manufacturing.  It’s how we can promise paper off the shop floor in less than 30 days.

So what success (or failure) have you had with Continuous Process Improvement?  How can you ensure improvements are sustainable?  The truth is, continuous improvement isn’t scary, but not doing anything to improve your business might be.  Send us a message if you’d like to learn more.  We’d love to hear from you!

Next week, we’re going to take a look at that moment when you realize something isn’t working and it’s time for change.  See you then!

Two Trends Shaping Manufacturing, and What They Mean to You

Two Trends Shaping Manufacturing, and What They Mean to You

I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.

– Albert Einstein

It’s better to plan and prepare for success in the future, than close your eyes and hope for the best!  Photo:

The truth is, you can’t stop the future, and no one has mastered the fine art of predicting it.  But, you can  put yourself in position to capitalize on change, even without a crystal ball.

“Agile” manufacturing and the increasing role of information technology are two trends shaping manufacturing and the shop floor.  Understanding these trends, and the changes they are making, can shape our decisions as we plan for 2013 and beyond.

Agile Manufacturing

Agile manufacturing is a response to customer demand for customized high-quality, low-cost, make-to-order or configure-to-order products.  Manufacturers are becoming more flexible and responsive to customer needs, helping the industry survive and prosper with continuous and unpredictable change.

There are several factors motivating the move toward agile manufacturing.  As globalization increases, manufacturers must manage worldwide supply chain and customer needs with agile manufacturing.  Rapid changes to technology lead to shortened product and technology life cycles.  Fickle customer demands and market dynamics are other factors motivating agile manufacturing.

To succeed with agile manufacturing, businesses must have faster, better, shop floor communication.  Customer requests need to rapidly reach designers, who make changes to production plans and send the revised plans to operations, who need assurance production is building the correct products.  Management needs to see at a glance the status of the shop floor so they can quickly make strategic and tactical decisions.  The entire process requires streamlined, efficient communication.

For an organization to succeed in agile manufacturing, products and information must move quickly and efficiently throughout production.  Knowledge must be available when and where it is needed.  Mobile manufacturing, or using mobile technology such as tablets, and mobile computers in manufacturing, are important tools in agile manufacturing.

Information Technology

In the past, traditional manufacturing was a labor-intensive mechanical process.  Today, more sophisticated advanced manufacturing is based on information technology.  Success is determined by an organization efficiently moving, producing, and using information both on the shop floor and in the marketplace.

Efficient communication and information technology speeds up productivity, which is the basis of agile manufacturing.  Continuous improvement of process control is enabled when you have real-time visibility of production, increasing and maintaining quality.  “Smart manufacturing” seamlessly links all departments in a production plant, delivering products faster and with a higher quality.  “Smart supply chains” link suppliers to the shop floor, ensuring on-time delivery and enabling lean manufacturing.  All of this is based on communication and information being delivered to the right person at the right time.

Looking at emerging trends can be both exhilarating and scary.  It’s an exercise I like to do every few months as I work on goal-setting.  You don’t need a crystal ball to see manufacturing has changed and is continuing to change.  Technology is driving this change, and technology is changing faster and faster.  The truth is, the old models where manufacturing employees spent up to 60% of their time collecting and processing information inefficiently will no longer work.  The key to success is efficiently using information to guide manufacturing, and businesses better able to meet this goal are poised for success in the future.

What has your business done to meet the growing trend of agile manufacturing?  Have you implemented any manufacturing intelligence projects in your plant?  If so, let us know how it is helping.  We’d love to hear from you!

Next time, we’ll take a look at what you can do when you’re tasked with process improvements in manufacturing.  Membership on a continuous improvement committee can mean more than an occasional lunchtime meeting!

4 Reasons Why You Should Look at Paperless Manufacturing

4 Reasons Why You Should Look at Paperless Manufacturing

Ask any child what pet they want, and you are bound to get a plethora of answers straight from Animal Planet.  My nephew recently asked for an elephant, and ended up with a puppy.  This was a simpler, more manageable first step for a junior elephant-tamer.

There are good lessons to be found in parenting, including the benefits of simpler, more manageable first steps.

What would you gain if your manufacturing operations went paperless?

There is a lot of risk involved in implementing a full shop-floor MES solution.  It is a major investment, and IT, Operations, Engineering and Executives all play a role in the project.  New functionality must be integrated with existing work flow.  Is the existing ERP going to play nicely with the new software?  If custom code is needed, then you have more concerns.  Will the shop floor accept change, or have you bought shiny shelfware, with employees continuing to work from paper?

Paperless Manufacturing – the simple step of moving work orders from a paper-based distribution system to a fully-functional system that creates electronic work orders, is a low-risk first step that offers immediate improvements.  With paperless manufacturing, you control the pace, rate and cost of change focusing on improvement, not managing risk.  Here’s why:

  1. Low Risk

Moving work orders and instructions to a paperless system is low risk.  Cost is minimal, in fact, you gain the direct cost savings once printing and delivery costs are eliminated.  There is no need to replace existing work orders, you are simply managing them in a new format – electronic work instructions.  Many of the risks involved in using paper work orders or MS Office work instructions, such as revision control and miscommunication, are removed when you move to paperless manufacturing.

  1. Easy Transition

Small changes are much easier for a team to make than global changes.  A web-based browser system requires little work from IT.  There is no reason to make significant changes to your communications.  You use the same work instructions found on the paper documents, which greatly minimizes the training time and transition period for your shop floor.  In fact, it is simple to incorporate other improvements like workstation training videos and visual work instruction once you have paperless manufacturing in place.  When ready, you can add more powerful capabilities to improve shop floor communications.

  1. Guaranteed ROI

Many MES projects fail when unnecessary additional functionality is added to the project.  Companies pile functionality and features on the MES, but the added costs make achieving ROI more difficult.  In a phased project focused solely on achieving paperless manufacturing, it is simple to calculate ROI.  Once you’ve transitioned to paperless manufacturing, you can better evaluate the additional functions to find the greatest ROI.

  1. Ensure functionality

Often, MES projects turn out to be a Leap of Faith.  You go from nothing, to a full-fledged software solution for manufacturing with mountains of functionality and steep learning curves.  Many manufacturers end up using only what they have to, barely scratching the functionality surface.  Paperless manufacturing allows a slow rollout of functionality, ensuring your team is optimizing their usage before moving on to the next step.

There has never been a better time to free yourself from paper!

Done right, true paperless manufacturing implementation is a simple, quick process requiring very little training for the shop floor.  It delivers tremendous benefits over manufacturing using distributed paper or simply viewing a MS Office document or pdf on the shop floor.  Paperless manufacturing offers added security, revision control, linkage of images or graphics to text or video, accurate archiving, in addition to cost savings, increased quality, and improved productivity with streamlined changed management and work order distribution.  You’ll see an almost immediate ROI, with no need for production downtime.

How many manufacturers are using a paperless manufacturing system now, or have begun to incorporate the functionality of an MES into your operations?  What success have you had introducing new functionality into your operations?  Share with us!  And join us next time as we look at what the future holds for manufacturers, and how we can be prepared to seize success when it comes.