December 5, 2013 / continuous improvement, workflow process
As customers continue to demand faster delivery, metal service centers have no choice but to optimize every aspect of their industrial metal-cutting process. This means squeezing out any inefficiencies that could be holding up production—a task most managers would admit is a lot easier said than done. While every operation wants to run as “lean” as possible, the challenge is finding the time and resources to identify workflow bottlenecks and then pinpoint the areas of improvements that will have a real impact on the bottom line.
As metal service centers juggle issues like multiple shifts, tight production schedules, and a high product mix, it can be difficult for managers to make any broad efficiency improvements. In fact, many companies don’t even know where to start and, in turn, end up pushing orders through instead of taking the time to reevaluate their processes. While this may work in the short-term, the long-term costs to areas such as quality and even maintenance can be detrimental to the economic health of a metal service center.
While efficiency initiatives are no small undertaking, even a few changes can make a difference. The key is knowing where to start. The following are some tips to help managers improve workflow on the shop floor and, even more so, start on a path toward continuous improvement.
- Monitor and Measure Processes. As the saying goes, “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” However, measurement can take many forms. Some companies may want to go all out and conduct a detailed time analysis of every operation happening on the shop floor. Others, however, may want to take a more simple approach, like Micron Metalworks. The Minnesota fabricator, recently featured on thefabricator.com, used an observation technique it describes as the “13-second rule:” If anyone was stationary for more than 13 seconds, they marked that down as an area for improvement.
- Implement a Preventative Maintenance (PM) Program. While some maintenance downtime is inevitable, the goal of a PM program is to reduce that downtime as much as possible. PM programs can help extend the useful life of metal-cutting equipment, increase efficiency, and improve cut quality. However, because a PM program requires both time and resources, James Shorten, a technical specialist at Centris Consulting, says it will require a commitment from everyone in the company—from executives and production managers to the maintenance department and even operators. To keep production running smoothly, Shorten also recommends scheduling PM programs in the off-shift.
- Establish a Process Improvement Team. Perhaps the best way to attack workflow bottlenecks is to ensure they don’t happen again. As discussed in LENOX Institute of Technology’s white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, one leading service center addressed this issue by assembling a process improvement team. Every time there is a bottleneck on the shop floor, the team investigates the issue, determines the source, and develops a solution. By getting to the root of the problem, companies will reduce the likelihood of dealing with the same issue in the future and, in the meantime, identify major operational issues that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.