Customers now expect that anything from anywhere can be purchased, delivered, and maybe even installed overnight. This need for speed at the end of the value stream has raced upstream to its start, with manufacturers struggling to reduce lead times to keep up. Fortunately, manufacturers can leverage powerful lead time reduction strategies to support their operations as they rush to satisfy impatient customers now — if they’re willing to implement fundamental changes in how they operate. Reducing lead time is an important factor for inventory control, customer satisfaction, forecasting demand, and maintaining flexibility.

Benefits of Lead Time Reduction

Reducing lead time is an important factor for; inventory control, customer satisfaction, forecasting demand, waste reduction, productivity optimization, and maintaining flexibility. Meeting the needs of demanding customers requires agile operations. In agile operations with smaller batches, delivery lead times can be cut dramatically — even when product manufacturing times remain unchanged. Why? Because big-batch queues often delay orders for days. Eliminate the queue, and the delay disappears with it.

By focusing operations on reducing lead times, our clients have been able to streamline operations and reduce cost while improving productivity.

Strategies to Reduce Lead Time

Understanding the fundamental operational changes that can increase manufacturing speed and deliver to customers quickly can help reduce overall manufacturing lead time.

People Power

In a fast-paced production environment, any constraint will cause delays — including workforce constraints. If every problem or decision requires the involvement of management, then the capacity of managers and supervisors to make decisions will almost certainly become a bottleneck. The solution is to make every employee capable of solving problems and improving operations, via a three-phase approach:

  1. Engage: Managers must interview frontline associates to learn what they do, how they do it, obstacles they face, and their ideas/suggestions for improvement. Managers must also update frontline staff continuously regarding management actions and policies, and the reasons behind them. A regular, honest exchange of ideas will gradually build employee engagement and trust.
  2. Educate: As frontline associates become engaged, they’ll want to do more, but may lack skills for more advanced job functions. Managers must therefore provide them with education and tools to learn how to improve their work processes. A continuous skills development program can identify gaps in employee knowledge and competencies, and close them with education, training, and support materials.
  3. Empower: Once engagement and knowledge are fully supported, managers then organize frontline employees into teams focused on specific goals, which enable them to “own” operational performances. For example, employees may staff a safety committee, which is responsible for monitoring operations, auditing work practices, reporting near-misses, etc. Frontline employees learn accountability for safety and how to identify problems and implement solutions. (Nothing impairs and demoralizes a workforce more than safety problems.) Similar teams are then formed to tackle other day-to-day production problems and targets (e.g., delivery times, quality, uptime).

Maintenance Power

Production stoppages destroy speed, yet manufacturers frequently encounter them. The PSM Process Industries Performance Study found an average machine uptime (as a percentage of scheduled uptime) of just 67 percent.  Three maintenance principles combat downtime and improve speed:

  • Daily team maintenance

    Maintenance staff don’t need to perform all maintenance. Daily team maintenance provides operators with the knowledge and skills required to proactively prevent equipment breakdowns and minor stops, which improves reliability, stability, and changeover times. Operators perform basic maintenance tasks including start-up; machines checks (review for abnormalities, cleaning, lubrication, etc.); and safety monitoring.

  • Planned maintenance

    Manufacturers need both preventive routines to minimize equipment failures and predictive techniques to anticipate future failures. These practices establish a systematic approach for efficient use of maintenance staff and budgets. Zero-loss thinking guides machine-improvement efforts by identifying sources of machine losses, which are then eliminated.

  • Early equipment management

    Manufacturing leaders need long-term plans for equipment and facilities that coordinate capital expenditures with growth targets. Use of early equipment management will align acquisitions and integrations of new equipment with market needs, future plant capacities, and capabilities required for demand projections (e.g., new machines for new products). It helps manufacturers manage the acquisition process (e.g., design out losses related to new-equipment startups, reduce startup times and costs) and install new equipment without negatively impacting plant performance.

Digital Power

Manufacturers are also leveraging technology for speed. At or near the top of every list is the Internet of Things (IoT) and the ability to digitally connect processes for automated, proactive decision-making. A third of manufacturers already have a strategy implemented to apply IoT technologies to their processes, and another 23 percent have a strategy developed. Some 55 percent of manufacturers are already incorporating smart devices and/or embedded intelligence to increase the speed of operations.

No matter the trends, technology is only as impactful as its ability to work within your organization. Zero-loss analysis of current conditions in a facility can guide manufacturers in identifying the right technologies — including IoT systems, networks, and devices — for their operations, investing in tools that are likely to have the greatest impact on performance. Rather than forcing technologies where they’re not really needed, zero-loss analysis helps companies establish a digital-manufacturing plan specific to immediate needs and capable of supporting long-term growth and flexibility.

Zero-loss thinking establishes a continuous cycle for assessing operations and identifying the problems that lead to the highest losses. It directionally leads manufacturers to where they should allocate time, resources, and technology to attack the most pressing problems, including those that throttle the speed of operations — lengthy equipment changeovers, waiting for material and components, machine breakdowns, etc. With zero-loss thinking, manufacturers know where to work at improving operations, and then let the specific problem inform the solution — be it people power, maintenance power, and/or digital power.

The pace of manufacturing operations is faster today than ever — and will be even more rapid tomorrow. Is your company ready to keep up? Performance Solutions by Milliken works with manufacturers to embed workforce and maintenance systems within their organizations to improve speed, and gives managers and employees the methods to select and leverage new technologies for optimal outcomes today and tomorrow. If your company and plants are in need of speed, sign up here to receive more news and analysis, and to learn more about how Performance Solutions can help.

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