August 3, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, LIT, production planning, productivity, strategic planning, workflow process
Over the last 20 years, lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, and other improvement techniques have changed the face of manufacturing. Kaizen programs, 5S, value-stream mapping, and other lean strategies have rendered impressive results in high-volume manufacturing plants around the world. However, not every lean principle is an off-the-shelf solution for operational efficiency. This is especially true for high-mix, low-volume manufacturing environments.
Industrial metal-cutting shops are often juggling multiple jobs—many of them custom and almost none of them the same. Production requirements, lead times, and due dates can vary, which makes forecasting and traditional lean concepts difficult to apply. In fact, according to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, many small, high-mix operations don’t even attempt to implement traditional lean techniques because they are typically more successful in higher production environments.
The good news, however, is that lean manufacturing is evolving. “A growing number of high-mix, low-volume operations are tweaking traditional lean methodologies to their specific situation,” the eBook notes. “Lean manufacturing techniques can be modified to increase efficiency in even the most customized metal-cutting operations.”
For example, according to an article from Canadian Metalworking, one way to achieve operational excellence in a high-mix manufacturing environment is to create a mixed-model value stream. This begins by creating “product families” or groups of products that have similar process flow and work content. “The next step is to create one current-state map per product family and then a future-state design for that family that can achieve operational excellence,” the article states.
There is no question that this task can be complicated when dealing with a variable product mix. To help managers successfully achieve operational excellence in mixed model production, Canadian Metalworking offers the following 10 guidelines: (You can read the full article here.)
- Do you have the right product families? Create product families based on similar processing steps and work content, not brainstorming.
- What is the takt time at the pacemaker? Determine how often the pacemaker must produce a part to keep up with customer demand for the product family.
- Can the equipment support takt time? Determine if existing machine capacity can support the product family within the established takt time.
- What is the interval? Calculate how often the pacemaker will cycle through and produce all the parts in the product family.
- What are the balance charts for the products? Balance the work content, per operator, to takt time to create continuous flow through the pacemaker process. There will be different balance profiles for each product within the family.
- How will we balance flow for the mix? Determine how variation within customer demand and the product family will be handled, either by adjusting labor, sequencing, or work balancing.
- How will we create standard work for the mix? Standard work means establishing one standard way to build the products in the family, and then having everyone follow that method.
- How will we create pitch at the pacemaker? Pitch is a visual time frame that tells everyone in the value stream if they are on time to customer demand. The pitch created is tied to how often work is released to and taken away from the pacemaker.
- How will we schedule the mix at the pacemaker? Determine the mix that can be supported at the pacemaker, and schedule the pacemaker to handle variation within the product family.
- How do we deal with changes in customer demand? Customer demand can vary, and we need to pre-establish a Plan B to use when it does. Plan B might involve pulling a product or rebalancing the pacemaker.
Of course, this is just one example of how lean can be applied to smaller, variable manufacturing environments. For more strategies, check out the book Made to Order Lean by Greg Lane or these links of archived case studies published by Modern Machine Shop and The Fabricator.
While high-mix, low-volume operations certainly present a unique set of production challenges, there are several custom methods managers can put in place to reduce waste, optimize flow, and improve productivity. It may take a little research and some creativity, but leading-edge shops are finding that in today’s competitive market, the benefits are well worth the investment.
September 15, 2015 / continuous improvement, industry news, KPIs, LIT, operations metrics, performance metrics, predictive management, production planning, productivity, strategic planning
A brief look around at any public establishment quickly reveals just how much connectivity has changed the world. Whether checking an email on the train, texting a family member outside a restaurant, or posting photos on social media during a concert, almost every adult—and teen—rely on some type of connected device to function. It has, at this point, become a social norm in first-world culture.
However, could the same be said when looking around your shop floor? In some cases, the answer would be yes. Some industry leaders grabbed onto connectivity years ago, making the strategic decision to connect their production equipment to the Internet and/or back office functions to streamline processes or to gain access to valuable data.
Others haven’t quite caught on. As one article from Forbes reported, some industry leaders are saying that as little as 10 percent of industrial operations are currently using the connected enterprise. That number, which may or may not be accurate, seems surprisingly low when publications like the Harvard Business Review are saying that the use of smart, connected products “is perhaps the most substantial change in the manufacturing firm since the Second Industrial Revolution.”
In fact, thanks to advancements in machine-to-machine (M2M) and communications technology, many believe the manufacturing industry is on the brink of the “fourth industrial revolution,” also known as Industry 4.0. This concept has been widely discussed and promoted in Europe, especially by German manufacturers Siemens and Bosch, but the term is starting to gain a little traction in the U.S as well.
What is Industry 4.0?
Because this is a newer term, the definitions for what comprises Industry 4.0 vary greatly. An article from ZDNet outlines the four major shifts in industrial manufacturing as follows:
- Industry 1.0: Water/steam power
- Industry 2.0: Electric power
- Industry 3.0: Computing power
- Industry 4:0: Internet of Things (IoT) power
In general, many use Industry 4.0 as a collective term that refers to all of the technologies that will help foster the next-generation “smart factory”—a place where machines communicate with each other and their users in real-time, and factory processes become visible and controllable in virtual space. This typically includes technological concepts like embedded systems, automation and robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Internet of Services (IoS).
According a report from Deloitte, there are four characteristics that define Industry 4.0:
- Vertical networking of smart production systems
- Horizontal integration via a new generation of global value chain networks
- Cross-disciplinary “through-engineering” across the entire value chain
- Acceleration through exponential technologies
For a great primer on Industry 4.0, including its distinction from terms like “Industrial Internet,” read this article from Industry Week.
How Can You Prepare?
Regardless of how you define or categorize the evolution of manufacturing, the point is that most experts agree that connectivity has the power to change manufacturing as we know it. Research also shows that many manufacturers are not prepared or equipped to be part of this next industrial revolution. A 2014 Smart Manufacturing Technologies Survey, for example, found that 40 percent of the survey participants have no visibility into the real-time status of their company’s manufacturing process. Adrian Jennings, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of software provider Ubisense, which conducted the survey, says this reveals a major blind spot among today’s manufacturers.
“The manufacturing world is talking about Industry 4.0, but this survey confirmed that most manufacturers are far from embracing cyber-physical systems which define the next Industrial Revolution,” Jennings said.
How can your shop transition to what is likely the future of manufacturing? A contributed article appearing manufacturing.net provides some helpful tips and provides the value story for moving your operation from Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0. Specifically, the article suggests the following:
“Start small and start local — trying to create large scale cyber-physical systems as a single effort presents too many challenges to be successful. Pick a problem or pain point and tackle it to prove that these solutions work and provide value. As benefits surface, roll this out to other processes keeping the ultimate goal of end-to-end visibility in mind. Be sure to invest in the right infrastructure at the outset and create islands of cyber-physical systems throughout the operation.”
Another article from Modern Machine Shop simplifies it further:
- Take heed. The Industrial IoT is real and taking shape here and now.
- Keep your eye on the prize. Better decision-making is the main benefit of creating a connected factory in which machines and people are smarter.
- Start small, but plan big. Whether it is machine monitoring or cloud-based CAM programming, the initial steps have to be manageable, transparent and respectful of the individual.
And if you think this transition isn’t already happening in the metal-cutting world, think again. According to a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, one metal service center has developed an internal software system to automatically track the number of square inches processed by each band saw and each blade. At any point, the operations manager can go to a computer screen, click on a saw, and see how many square inches that saw is currently processing and has processed in the past. This has allowed the service center to easily track trends and quickly detect problem areas.
In what ways has your metal-cutting organization prepared for this next phase of industrial manufacturing? Are you ready to usher in “smarter,” more connected operational strategies?
March 20, 2014 / customer delivery, lean manufacturing, production planning
There is no question that lean techniques have changed the face of manufacturing. Kaizen programs, 5S, value-stream mapping, and other lean strategies have rendered impressive results in high-volume manufacturing plants around the world. However, not every lean principle is an off-the-shelf solution for operational efficiency. This is especially true for high-mix, low-volume manufacturing environments.
Machine shops that cut metal are often juggling multiple jobs—many of them custom and almost none of them the same. Production requirements, lead times, and due dates can vary, which makes forecasting and traditional lean concepts difficult to apply. That’s not to say, however, that high-mix operations can’t get lean. As the following examples demonstrate, lean and other improvement techniques can be modified to increase efficiency in even the most customized job and machine shops.
- Improve where you can. According to the book, Made-to-Order Lean by Greg Lane, the primary focus for high-mix, low-volume operations should be “eliminating non-value-added activities and instituting improvements on the most repetitive jobs, a strategy that gives you more time to produce your low-volume work.” In other words, get lean where you can and as much as you can. This video posted by Modern Machine Shop describes the lean journey of a job shop that only produces hundreds of parts per month. While it wasn’t able to apply the entire lean philosophy to its operation, it was still able to implement some principles and has seen significant results, including increased sales.
- Identify patterns to optimize flow. At first glance, most high-mix machine shops appear very complex. However, as the job shop owner quoted in this Modern Machine Shop article discovered, almost every operation can be broken down into a few standardized processes. With the help of a software tool called the Production Flow Analysis and Simplification Toolkit (PFAST), the shop owner was able to evaluate and simplify material flows in order to develop part families and machine grouping. As a result, the shop was able to organize parts into process families and implement hybrid cells to streamline routings, fundamentally transforming the shop’s business.
- Reduce work-in-process. As described in this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, a common workflow pitfall of a high-mix operation is cumbersome production planning and variability, which can cause machine shops to scramble day-to-day, minute-to-minute and just barely meet order deadlines. An in-depth article from The Fabricator describes how two managers addressed this issue by adapting another improvement principle called the Theory of Constraints (TOC). Using the drum-buffer-rope concept and a tool called the Velocity Scheduling System, the companies featured in the article were able to reduce the amount of work in process (WIP) on the floor and, as a result, improved productivity, delivery time, and cash flow. You can read the entire article here.
While high-mix, low-volume operations certainly present a unique set of production challenges, these case studies reveal that there are several strategies managers can put in place to reduce waste, optimize flow, and improve productivity. It may take a little research and some creativity, but leading-edge machine shops are finding that in today’s competitive market, the benefits are well worth the investment.