The basic definition of productivity is how much output we can generate per unit of input. In the context of manufacturing, productivity can be defined as the value of products produced per unit input used. The inputs used are a combination of labor, material, and machinery. Managers need to continually strive to improve the productivity of their organizations to remain competitive and increase their profitability. Improving productivity in a manufacturing organization requires multi-faceted effort. Here are some ways which will help to boost productivity in manufacturing:
1. Process standardization and control: Implement standard operating procedures, workflows, and processes. A monitoring and feedback mechanism needs to be implemented to review processes and performance from time to time. Providing the appropriate procedures and instructions to shop floor workers can be enabled by using digital tools. This also automates data collection at the source for process monitoring. Using this data, trends can be studied, and output can be analyzed in that context. Several manufacturing execution software tools are available to do such process monitoring, based on the specific use case.
2. Implement automation: Utilize technology to automate repetitive tasks, manage inventory, collect, and analyze data. Once data is available, trends can be analyzed, what-if scenarios can be studied, and better decision making is enabled. Lately, a variety of Industry 4.0 digital tools and technologies catering to specific use cases are available to choose from for companies trying to implement process automation. For example, production counters can help keep a count of production from each workstation. Automation can also involve physical infrastructure such as pick and place robots, material handling equipment, manufacturing, and process equipment, etc. The ROI for each use case needs to be studied before proceeding with industrial automation technology implementation.
3. Reduce waste: Waste can occur on the shop floor in many forms. The lean manufacturing system identifies eight types of waste on the shop floor. Using lean manufacturing techniques to identify and eliminate different types of waste has a direct impact on output and productivity. Strategies for waste elimination will need to be derived based on the specific use case and aligning the short term and long-term goals of the organization. For example, a factory may find out that the plant layout is contributing to increased material movement and movement of operators which does not really contribute much to the value of the product. Changing the plant layout which suits the most used and relevant process flows will help reduce waste in this case. Managers need to take a deeper look at their operations to understand where waste is occurring in the system. This can be enabled by implementing production tracking and monitoring software which can help them capture data digitally from the source, so that appropriate insights can be generated.
4. Improve utilization: Reduce downtime of machines, improve production planning, and integrate supply chain to achieve high utilization of all assets of the factory. Implementing regular maintenance schedules and procedures and ensuring they are followed helps improve machines’ performance and reliability, thus boosting operational efficiency. Improved communication with suppliers and customers, utilizing systems such as ERP, MES, etc. leads to better production planning and scheduling. This also leads to lower inventory needed, thus reducing costs further.
5. Identify and reduce bottlenecks: The entire shop floor needs to be imagined as a system having distinct workstations. Find out where bottlenecks exist and devise strategies to reduce their impact on the manufacturing processes in the factory. Adding equipment or more workers to bottlenecks may help mitigate some of the effects. For example, the most expensive machine or process should never be kept waiting for jobs, there should always be a buffer before that workstation. Integrating industrial automation systems on the shop floor, using production tracking software, etc. are some ways of reducing the effects of bottlenecks.
6. Deploy the right tools and technologies: Improve collaboration, communication, and coordination between various teams to break down information silos in the organization. More transparent communication and change management processes helps various teams adapt to changes quickly. Moving away from paper based and analog processes to digital tools enables this. Implementing tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams for communication with shop floor employees may not yield the desired results as the target users may not be familiar with such tools and they may not have the need for such extensive systems. A simpler system focused on the specific needs of shop floor management might yield better results in this case. Several smart factory technologies catering to various needs of the customer are available to choose from these days.
7. Embrace a safety culture: Implement safety standards and procedures to ensure employees feel safe on the shop floor. This allows them to work freely and be more productive, and the operations become scalable. PPE usage, regular training and audits, reporting mechanisms for violations and clear communication about safety standards to be followed are some practices that can be deployed to improve the safety culture in an organization. Using automation where hazardous material is being handled can also be considered.
Though each of these initiatives can be implemented individually, the true value is realized when a combination of these are identified and deployed based on the needs of the organization. This can lead to a multi-fold increase in productivity for the organization. Data is a key pillar on which these improvement practices rely on. Digitization of processes helps automate data collection to a large extent. This establishes the baseline performance and further improvement techniques can then be finalized based on the specific needs of the organization. Manufacturers will benefit by implementing these measures based on their requirements and use cases.