I spend my days talking to manufacturers, all of which are constantly looking to improve productivity. This often initiates the popular debate between batching and single piece flow. Even as an advocate of Lean Manufacturing, I’ll admit that for some places it doesn’t make sense. However, there is one advancement that is universally beneficial: standardizing a process.
Consider your daily commute to work — you have done it far too often, and every day you wish it was quicker. Through experimentation, GPS assistance, or construction detours, you have discovered your preferred route. If you are like me, you are even aware of the patterns of traffic lights and have it methodically designed. It is because of this repetition (a.k.a standardization) you know with high confidence when you will be home and can plan your evening accordingly.
Manufacturing is similar to sharing your commute home with thousands of other drivers, if one accident takes place everyone falls out of schedule. This disruption causes chaos as support staff scrambles to get everything back in order. In manufacturing, these corrections can be costly: overtime, rush shipments, and possibly missing a delivery date.
The best way to avoid mistakes is to understand them. Unlike traffic accidents, when defects occur in manufacturing it is very likely it is caught long after it has been made. If there is no standard process in place, it is challenging to identify why or how the process failed. Consequently, it is typical that the operator is blamed for the mistake, which provides minimal assistance in avoiding the same mistake in the future.
It is far easier to discover the cause of a defect with a standardized process in place. Once the failure is located, process adjustments can be made to avoid future mistakes. Even if a manufacturer does not do high production runs, there are often aspects of the process that are repeated from job to job. All operators should be accustomed to using equipment the same way.
For manufacturers that do not currently enforce a standard process, know that it is common to meet resistance when you attempt to do so. Standardizing is not for micro-managing or controlling your operators — it is a method to collaborate together to create the best process for your facility. Create incentives to reward your operators for their contribution(s), and practice positive reinforcement. There is much to gain from standardizing, but getting there is certainly no easy task. Digital work instructions are a wonderful tool to aid in this transition. If this is a project you are looking to implement in your facility, contact Scout Systems and talk to someone with a great deal of experience in this field.