May 10, 2015 / agility, best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, root cause analysis, strategic planning, workflow process
Lean manufacturing is nothing new for industrial metal cutting companies. Principles based on continuous improvement, streamlining production, and machine efficiency have long changed the way metal fabricators operate. What has changed, however, is customer demand.
Today, fabricators simply must do more with less to stay afloat—cutting more in less time. For high-mix fabricators and sawing operations, the increased challenge is nothing less than daunting. With a few improvement techniques, however, increased productivity is tangible even for the most customized job and machine shops.
If you are a high-mix fabricator, below are a few strategies to help you operate as efficiently as your higher volume counterparts:
- Get on a schedule. An unscheduled fabrication shop is at the mercy of its orders, which puts customers, employees, and the bottom line at risk. According to a recent column in The Fabricator, a principle called Practical Lean can help high-mix shops schedule without the headache. Developed specifically for high-mix, low-volume fabricator shops, Practical Lean helps ensure parts and orders are received and released at a set time (as is the goal of scheduling), but it also looks at the root causes of why scheduling goes awry. See the full article here to read more about how this tool can help prevent scheduling nightmares.
- Optimize Workflow. An entire fabricator shop is made of many moving parts with various operators and several stations. However, if taken one-by-one, each process can be broken down into a set process. Take those individual processes and improve them where you can. As this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology describes, this includes analyzing equipment placement, material flow, and ergonomics. The less times an operator has to touch or move material the shop saves time and money—resulting in increased production.
- Be open and flexible. Despite changing schedules and customer requirements, it’s important to remain open with key stakeholders and flexible with the new processes you’ve put in place. This article from Industry Week says transparency with management, supervisors, and operators increases overall communication and allows the entire operation to adjust if and when needed. This leads to another guiding principle—maintaining flexibility, both figuratively and literally. Operators should be able to adapt to changing orders with their workstations, equipment, and overall shop floor layout, just as the shop should be able to accommodate more or less staffing needs and adjust processes as necessary to ensure orders remain on schedule.
While it is a challenge for high-mix shops to achieve the efficiency of high volume metal-cutting operations, it is possible. Taking time to assess, and more importantly, implement changes to processes can help eliminate downtime, increase productivity, and maybe even boost volume.
As consumer demand increases, how will your high-mix fabrication shop deal with the pressure? Perhaps it’s time to look at your current production processes and see where you can make some changes. Even small improvements can have a big impact.