May 20, 2015 / bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer delivery, lean manufacturing, LIT, root cause analysis, workflow process
Successfully operating and managing a machine shop is no easy task. Despite a slowly growing economy, the challenges facing today’s machine shops are no less than they were before. In fact, this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology describes the top five operating challenges a machine shop faces in its metal-cutting operations—challenges that are universal to every operation, regardless of market conditions.
According to the white paper, the top challenge for most shops is process and workflow bottlenecks. In most cases, lean practices are a huge part of the solution. Successful managers know that in order to achieve overall success, you need to actively identify and solve production issues.
This doesn’t come easy or naturally for every shop manager, however. As Wayne Chaneski says in this Modern Machine Shop article, “It’s surprising to me the number of business owners, division heads, operations managers, and even department supervisors who just don’t know what is going on in their areas of responsibility. To such people, I have a simple suggestion: Find out!”
Put simply: Identifying the problem is the first step. The next step is finding the cause and fixing it—permanently.
One lean manufacturing tool that many shops find helpful is root cause analysis. According to LeanProduction.com, root cause analysis is a problem-solving exercise that focuses on solving the underlying cause, not just the symptoms. There are several techniques that can be used when conducting a root cause analysis, including the following:
- The Five Whys. This strategy suggests that you ask the question “why” five times with the notion that each time you ask the question, you move a step closer to discovering the root of the problem. By repeatedly asking “why,” you discover the cause and effect of the issue.
- Fishbone Diagram. This graphically depicts the results of the Five Whys. Known as a fishbone because of its shape, the diagram shows an arrow with the cause on the left and effect on the right, with various factors stemming from the cause that affect the overall problem.
- Barrier analysis. This exercise controls various factors to identify the barriers related to a particular outcome. The idea is that the barriers either prevent or detect the problem and the barrier that fails is considered the root cause.
For more information on root cause analysis, check out this article from the American Society for Quality (ASQ), which includes an educational video from ASQ Fellow Jim Rooney.
It goes without saying that there are many tools that can be used to attack the common workflow challenges a metal-cutting operation encounters on a daily basis. However, a root cause analysis is one tool that can help shops uncover “hidden” problems before they turn into a full-blown issue that effects your production, your product, your deliveries, and, most importantly, your bottom line.