What is Continuous Improvement for Manufacturers?
Continuous improvement as a philosophy is exactly what it sounds like. It is actively improving your manufacturing process, on a regular basis. This is an ongoing effort that never stops, there is never an end to the improvements that you can make. You don’t want to become stagnant, or content with your current situation. In this article, we will go over a few key ideas that tie into the continuous improvement philosophy, as well as give some insight on what tools can help you improve your process.
A common misconception is that continuous improvement comes into the picture only when something goes wrong, or when equipment needs maintenance. Although this is obviously an instance when you need to make a change, there are plenty of other areas around any shop floor that could benefit from a better process. There’s no doubt that you can implement a better process when there is presumably “nothing wrong.”
Just because it isn’t broke, does Not mean it cannot be Improved
One of our employees here at Ectobox, had a former position where he would oversee over 100 different managers spread out at different factories all over the world. I will refer to some of his experiences periodically throughout this article. Something that he would hear from his peers on a regular basis was “We never had to this before” or “That process is fine the way it is.” These answers are not acceptable in any situation. There is no such thing as a perfect process. There will always be something to work on or some area that could be improved. It’s not situational at all, there is never a process that is completely optimal.
A lot of manufacturers will only look at what is causing them problems when deciding what needs to be improved. Of course, these are great places to start making improvements, however, they are far from the only areas. If something is broken or is causing lots of issues, it’s an easy answer, get it fixed as fast as possible. However, don’t forget to take a step back and look over your whole manufacturing process. Just because it is NOT broke, don’t neglect it, there is lots of room to make improvements!
Let’s say you find a squeaky wheel and think that is where the best improvement opportunity is. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Let’s say you also have a process that you think is working perfectly, no need to change anything. This machine is producing parts right at the expected rate and you’re happy with that. This is not the right mindset. If you have a continuous improvement mindset, you might realize that this machine could be twice as efficient! Maybe you could be selling twice as much, could be selling for a lower price, or taking higher margins.
You would never realize this if you were just content with that machine producing parts right at the rate it should be, meeting your expectations already. Back to the machine with a squeaky wheel, this is also something to address. My main point being, even your best-performing machines or processes could be improved, and it might have the potential to be a much more beneficial improvement. This is one reason why you can’t be satisfied, you have to keep on pushing forward for the best results.
“Good Enough” is Never Good Enough
You should never accept that anything is “good enough” in business. At any given time, there is always somebody out there that is ready and willing to do better than you are. The only way you can stop this is to keep on improving yourself, constantly making the right adjustments to move ahead. There is no such thing as treading water in business, you either go up or you go down. There is no in-between.
This is the mindset that you have to have. It doesn’t matter how good your current process is, or how “far ahead” you think you might be from the rest of the competition. You can never just sit back and say “Oh, we have a nice client list now, we can take our foot off the gas, relax, and keep delivering the same stuff to these customers.” There is always going to be someone thinking about how they can do this better, cheaper, and faster than you currently are. If you have a continuous improvement mindset- staying in place is moving backward.
What tools can assist in Your Continuous Improvement Efforts
Just like anything else, continuous improvement requires good data. You need to be able to find the data on the shop floor to support your continuous improvement efforts. This way you will be able to monitor everything that is happening on the shop floor, and you will be able to monitor the success of the improvements you made. Once you change something or make an adjustment, you need to know if that worked or not. An IIoT system can track changes in real-time, you can see instant results and have the data to back you up so that you will know if you made the correct decision or not right away.
The philosophy is continuous improvement, not “make repairs when you need to.” Just because there is not a problem, does not mean that is a completely optimal process with no room for improvement. There is always an opportunity to improve that process, increase throughput, or save money.
More on IIoT and its Continuous Improvement Benefits
IIoT can help you in lots of ways, and it streamlines the continuous improvement process. Simply put, IIoT automates the gathering of data, sorting of data, and presenting of data. A lot of people could make the right decisions if they had the right data laid out in front of them in a nice, easy-to-understand way.
Here is another experience from one of our employees here at Ectobox. This one is about a previous position they had overseeing over 100 managers across the world. He strongly stressed that he could not go running around the shop floor for half of the day looking for information. There is no time for that, it’s a waste. Information needed to be delivered to him. If you need to make decisions for hundreds of people, there is simply no time to run around looking for the information that should be available in a much easier way to attain.
What needed to change? Information needed to be delivered to him in a way where he could understand it quickly, and make decisions based on that information. That is exactly what IIoT should be doing for you. IIoT should be getting information for you, formatting it in an understandable way, then it should push that information to the decision-maker so that they will see it without having to go look for it. Put the data right in front of the right person, the right way, at the right time, to make quick decisions.
That’s it, that is the goal. Implementing an IIoT system is the best way that you can track improvements, and deliver data efficiently. Putting all of this together will set you up the right way to make the right improvements for your factory, based on the right information.