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Simple Lean Strategies to Improve Workflow in Ball and Roller Bearing Production

May 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,


For ball and roller bearing manufacturers, the future looks relatively bright. According to Freedonia Group, global demand for bearings is projected to rise 7.3 percent annually through 2018, with ball and roller bearings driving the growth..

However, even with optimistic forecasts, industry leaders can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Market opportunity only intensifies competition, and ball and bearing manufactures are already fighting against imports from lower-cost countries. Staying profitable in a global market requires manufacturers to constantly seek new ways to both differentiate themselves and minimize costs. This means continuous improvement and optimization are critical.

The Workflow Challenge
To remain competitive, today’s industrial manufacturers need to face their greatest operational challenges head on, starting with improving workflow and eliminating bottlenecks. As stated in the latest white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, this is one of the top five challenges ball and roller bearing manufacturers face. Workflow bottlenecks can negatively impact productivity, customer delivery, and ultimately, the bottom line.

Identifying and eliminating bottlenecks is a difficult, but important task for any metal-cutting company striving to be successful. For example, in an article from manufacturing.net, Curt Schmidgall, value stream manager at Winegard, describes how the antennae manufacturer struggled to meet market demand. A lean manufacturing exercise revealed the issue: Product testing at the end of Winegard’s manufacturing process was creating a huge bottleneck. By changing when the testing occurred (during the assembly process versus after the product is built), the company more than doubled its output and was able to meet market demand.

Getting Lean
Like Winegard, many companies are using lean manufacturing strategies to reduce bottlenecks and improve workflow. This includes applying the well-known Theory of Constraints, as well as a host of other lean tools. However, don’t get bogged down with the terminology; continuous improvement doesn’t have to be complex to have an impact. While you may not have the extra hours or resources to implement an aggressive lean program, there are some basic strategies managers can use to improve workflow.

In Reliable Plant’s article, “6 Ways to Get Lean in 2015,” three of the six strategies listed are geared specifically toward improving your operation’s workflow. These tactics are good examples of how “lean” can be simple, but effective:

In the end, the pressure to meet customer deadlines can easily take priority in any high-volume manufacturing operation, especially as demand increases. However, manufacturing leaders know that constantly improving their processes and attacking challenges like workflow can make all the difference. By implementing even a few simple lean strategies, ball and roller bearing manufacturers can identify and eliminate bottlenecks, improve productivity, and increase profitability.