The voice of the consumer echoes across manufacturing: “We want better quality goods, we want them faster, and we want them cheaper.” Manufacturers can’t help but hear it. And they must respond, even as they deal with volatile markets, unstable supply chains, and tough competition. To create a manufacturing organization that’s agile and responsive to challenges and opportunities in this dynamic environment, you must optimize your manufacturing processes across three dimensions: cost, value, and risk.
Striking a Balance with Manufacturing Optimization
Manufacturing organizations must find a way to reach two compelling outcomes, driven by competing demands from internal and external stakeholders: optimizing performance and profitability while ensuring compliance.
These two outcomes are not mutually exclusive, but they require a carefully balanced ongoing alignment.
- Cost is incurred across the entire scope of your manufacturing operations, from raw material or component inputs all the way to packaging; from supply-chain logistics to distribution. You are continually watching the cost of energy consumption, plant maintenance, and equipment repair. And you can directly influence costs tied to factors such as waste, rework, efficiency, productivity, and yield.
- Value refers not only to the quality of your products but also the value of your manufacturing operations. Value is driven by your ability to be agile and responsive, support product innovation, and even influence market innovation.
- Risk includes both operational and strategic risks. Operational risk points to issues that occur daily or weekly within your manufacturing operations, such as quality or production issues or machine breakdowns. Strategic risk addresses occurrences such as major quality events (like food safety) that may impact the organization’s brand or reputation, or the inability to respond quickly or effectively to competitors’ tactics or market opportunities.
Striking the right balance requires a mastery of data and informed decision making. For example, you can cut costs to the point where quality is negatively impacted. Or you can continually increase the quality of products to the point where they become too costly to compete in the market. Or you can become so risk-averse that the organization becomes inflexible.
Efficiency and Productivity
We often use the words efficiency and productivity interchangeably. However, they really mean two different things.
- Efficiency is achieving a given level of output or performance while minimizing inputs. If you need a certain amount of product to get out the door every week, then you try to reduce the amount of labor, raw materials, and energy involved in production. Typically, if you can increase efficiency, you simultaneously reduce costs.
- Productivity is when you achieve a greater level of output or performance using the same level of inputs—labor, materials, and other resources. By increasing the amount of output with the same inputs, you generate more revenue for the business while containing costs.
Increases in efficiency and productivity not only reduce costs (which tends to be our focus) but also increase the overall value of manufacturing operations and help to mitigate risk. This realization may seem obvious, but it’s not easy to achieve. How do we get to those new levels of efficiency and productivity that most of us continually strive to achieve?
See What You’re Missing
The key ingredient is operational visibility. For example, when you have access to real-time data from across your operations, you can identify processes that are performing well (or optimally), use them as benchmarks, and compare them to other processes not performing as well.
Likewise, you can identify processes that are underperforming and address the root causes of those issues. As a result, efficiency and productivity both increase.
It is an ongoing, iterative cycle of continuous improvement, and it’s made possible through modern SPC tools such as Enact® by InfinityQS®. When your quality team attacks a problem, they can use insights from real-time and historical data to make operational improvements. From those lessons learned, they can create a best practice and share it with the entire company. And when everyone embraces those best practices, product inconsistency diminishes—perhaps even becomes a thing of the past. That is a goal worth striving for.
Most manufacturers collect plenty of data. But, unfortunately, few do anything with it until something has happened. That’s reactive operations.
What we propose with Enact is that you become a proactive operation. If there’s a long time between when you identify a performance bottleneck or quality problem and when you correct the issue, then you lose efficiency and productive output.
But when you can quickly identify and respond to an issue—or even predict and prevent that issue—you increase efficiency and ultimately reduce costs across the manufacturing organization.
Optimization Starts with Operators
When we talk about becoming proactive, it’s easy to overlook operators. They are often overworked and time-starved, but they are some of your most important employees.
Manufacturers may have high levels of automation in production lines, filling lines, packaging lines, and mixing processes—but those automated pieces are flanked by manual processes. Operators manually monitor machine parameters, perform quality checks, and carry out quality-related or administrative tasks. Regardless of how well the process is running, efficiency and productivity improvements are held back.
If operators are spending all their time monitoring processes that are running within specifications and without any problems—or when they happen to take their eye off the ball to perform one of their myriad other tasks—they're not going to be aware when an abnormal trend or event occurs. That's inefficient.
However, you can bring operators into the efficiency and productivity equation by automating some of their repetitive and mundane tasks. Giving them modern tools enables them to be more effective in performing their roles.
Supervisors and Managers Need You to Ditch Paper and Spreadsheets
If you manually collect data with paper and pencil, you are asking for trouble. If you’re still asking your managers to move data from paper into spreadsheets and manually compile and analyze it—you will never have a clear picture of your operations.
Manual data collection, analysis, and reporting is plagued with potential errors:
- Misread data
- Transposed numbers
- Illegible or misinterpreted information
- Lost or damaged log sheets
- Incorrect transfer of data to electronic systems
When quality and production data is not digitized, the critical information companies need to better manage their plants is inaccessible.
Powering Agility with Informed Decisions
When your manufacturing organization is agile, you are able to:
- Easily and quickly change the mix or the specifications of products
- Respond to shifting market dynamics
- Ramp production up or down as needed
- Exploit emerging opportunities in the market
- Improve customer satisfaction
- Compete more effectively
IT solutions add a lot of value, but many legacy applications are costly to purchase, implement, and maintain. Today’s cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions simplify and streamline the implementation of tools that make a meaningful difference for your operations—immediately.
By utilizing a purpose-built platform like Enact, you can achieve real-time operational visibility. And with that increased visibility, you can see past all the gaps or blind spots in your production and quality operations. Put simply, your decision making becomes informed decision making—based on accurate, reliable data.
And that gives you the ability to become agile, resilient, and responsive—no matter what disruptions crop up next.
We invite you to visit our website to discover how Enact by InfinityQS (an Advantive company) empowers informed decisions—and substantial improvements in your manufacturing processes across the dimensions of cost, value, and risk.