Lead time improvement for manufacturers will always be an issue. Simply because any manufacturing process will never be completely optimal, there is always going to be room for improvement. That is the mindset manufacturers must have in order to grow and remain successful.
On-time delivery and lead time improvement are complex issues because there are so many factors, everything is involved. The back office is involved, suppliers are involved, everyone and everything on the plant floor is involved. When you try to focus on improving lead times and OTD, you can get overwhelmed very quickly. Where do you start? Why? What will actually help? How do you know if the adjustment you made even made a positive impact or not?
Small, Incremental Changes
Small, incremental changes are the key to improving lead times. With a process so complex, you need to tackle it one step at a time. You aren’t going to be able to change everything at once, it won’t happen overnight. Furthermore, if you make too many changes at one time, how do you gauge what worked and what didn’t? It’s almost impossible to make that differentiation.
What do you need to help you get there? We’ve established that making small incremental changes is a viable approach, but there are still so many areas to improve. How do you decide where to start?
It’s like walking up a staircase. Each step is small, but after a little bit, once you get to the top and look at how far you’ve gone, you realize how each small step added up to make a big impact. Furthermore, you made it easy by taking it one step at a time, small incremental progress. Think about how much tougher it would have been if all you saw was where you stand, and where you need to end up, 50 feet higher. Don’t make it harder than it has to be!
Equip Yourself with the Proper Tools
Managing the entire manufacturing process from beginning to end is no small task. That’s where modern manufacturing intelligence solutions, such as an MES, can step in. An MES can manage everything that happens on the plant floor- every person, every machine, every product, and every process. In order to start making changes, you need information. You need to know what is happening on the plant floor- when materials arrive, who is running what machine, how much downtime you encountered, how much scrap, how long do your changeovers take, and the list goes on.
If you don’t know any of these things, how will they get improved? How would you cut back on downtime if you don’t know what’s causing it? Or, how do you improve changeover times if you don’t know how long your current changeovers are?
On the flip side, if you have access to this information, you can start making decisions based on it. Decide on a few metrics to track in areas that you can improve, gather the data, analyze it, and make a data-driven decision.
Data drives our world, and it should be driving the changes you make on the plant floor to improve lead times and your overall manufacturing process. However, this is only the first step. Nothing happens until you take action.
Enable Yourself to Take Action
Once you are equipped- you have the tools you need, you’re tracking metrics and processes, and you’re making data-driven decisions to improve your process. Now, it’s time to take action. Nothing happens until you take action. Time to execute.
It almost sounds too simple. Not easy, but simple. The whole process is to gather information, make a decision, and take action. Make the data work for you, leverage it, use it to your advantage.
The process could look something like this for example: Let’s say that you are a discrete manufacturer, and you determined that with the numerous product changeovers that take place every day, that would be a good process to start tracking and drive improvement.
You start gathering data and notice that operator 1 is much more efficient than operator 2. So, you start to analyze the data and find out why. Once you come to a conclusion based on the data, drive action. Maybe it was operator 1’s loading tendencies that made his product changeovers so much more efficient. Take note of that, and make it part of the standard process among the entire company.
Boom! One thing off the list- product changeovers are improved, you can use real-time data to instantly gauge results, and move on to the next area.
That’s one more small, incremental step towards an extremely efficient manufacturing process and improved lead times.
Concluding Thoughts on Lead Time Improvement
Now, will this cut your lead times in half overnight? No, but the sequences of small incremental changes make a big difference over time. Make sure that you are 1. Equipped, and 2. Enabled. This way, you will know:
- Where you stand,
- How to identify your own inefficiencies,
- Where you can improve, and
- How much of an impact your adjustments really made.
We all want results instantly, but oftentimes that is not reality. Position yourself to make quick wins on a consistent basis, and continually improve. Establishing these things will put you in a great position for company growth and improvement in many areas, not just in improving lead times.
The little things add up, small but consistent steps will make a big change over time. Remember to make your data work for you, take it one step at a time, and be proactive.