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Making Continuous Improvement Work in Your Fabrication Shop

June 10, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


For the last few years, manufacturers have touted continuous improvement as a top priority and company goal. Case in point: two of the three industrial metal-cutting companies featured here in a case study on top performers listed continuous improvement as an imperative operational strategy and best practice that sets their metal-cutting shops above the rest.

However, the truth is while many managers understand the theory of continuous improvement, many are still unsure of how to successfully put it into practice. In fact, research has found that the success rate for continuous improvement efforts is less than 60 percent.

What is continuous improvement? Is it simply a set of tools to adopt and implement—or is there more to it than that? Below is a brief overview of this often over-used, misunderstood term, and some tips for putting it to work in your fabrication shop.

Defining Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement (CI) is defined by ASQ as an ongoing effort to improve a product, service, or process. Most companies achieve this by either adopting one of the well-known continuous improvement methods or through the combination of two or more tools.

According to ASQ, the most widely used tool for continuous improvement is a four-step quality model—the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle, also known as Deming Cycle or Shewhart Cycle. Other widely used tools include Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, and Total Quality Management.

Even so, as an article from Canadian Metalworking points out, it’s important for managers to remember that continuous improvement is more than just a collection of tools. “Many people mistake the individual tools of continuous improvement for the most important part of the program,” the article states. “The tools are just the most visible part that we can see, and subsequently adopt.”

Personnel development, the Canadian Metalworking article continues, should actually be the central focus of continuous improvement. This means that people—not tools—need to be the primary focus of your CI efforts.

People before Process
When focusing on personnel development, there are three areas in particular that managers should focus on. As the following explains, teamwork, management, and culture all play critical roles in a successful CI program:

Sustainable Success
In theory, the concept of constantly improving a business sounds good. However, the truth is that many managers don’t fully understand what it takes to implement a successful CI program.

To be effective, continuous improvement needs to be about more than just a set of process improvement tools. While a tool may help you achieve short-term improvement, it is the people behind the effort that will help you realize continuous, ongoing improvements. Managers who focus on building a strong team and company culture fully devoted to continuous improvement will see long-term, sustainable results.