Planning, Processes and Equipment
Tips to ensure that your manufacturing is cost effective and competitive
Manufacturing productivity is something that can make or break your business.
It can have a significant impact on your costs. It can have a very significant impact on your profitability. And it definitely has a particularly significant impact on your ability to remain competitive.
But what can you do to ensure your manufacturing is as productive as possible?
Well, productivity is directly influenced by a number of factors, covering processes, equipment used and employee behaviour.
To realise improvement across all of these related yet distinct areas requires (ongoing) analysis of the current systems and practices used, identifying training requirements and assessing whether the tools and equipment you are using are up to scratch.
Don’t worry – driving improvements in efficiency and productivity is a challenge faced by virtually every manufacturer.
And whilst this doesn’t make it any easier, knowing why it is so important, and the potential rewards for what may seem relatively minor gains can act as both motivation to and justification for focusing on this area.
Quick Reference / Contents
Why is manufacturing productivity important?
Put simply, any improvements made to levels of productivity (which may be realised through gains in efficiency) can have a direct impact on your competitiveness and profitability as a business.
This applies regardless of the size of your business, the markets you target with your products, the raw materials you utilise, your customer profiles, your geographical location and how well established your brand / business is.
Another way to look at it is through the costs you pass on to your customers.
Inefficient processes and low productivity mean costs are higher than they could / should be. This cost can either be absorbed by your company (hurting profits), can be passed to your customers (potentially reducing sales – and therefore profitability), or can be mitigated through cheaper materials and lower quality products (which again can affect sales and – you guessed it – profits).
It may be out of date (or even broken) machinery and equipment, an unmotivated workforce or just poorly thought through processes, but the end result is always the same.
Your manufacturing productivity is arguably the level of performance within your company, and regardless of how well you are currently doing, it is something that can always nearly always be improved upon.
01: Eleven Tips
11 actionable tips to begin improving manufacturing productivity
So what steps can you take to improve your efficiency? What areas should you focus on? Where do you start? Whilst not necessarily a comprehensive list, the following areas could all result in– or at least help in identifying the potential for – improving manufacturing productivity.
- Assess where you currently stand
- Train and incentivise staff
- Know the product(s) being produced
- Organise your materials and parts
- Use suitable handling equipment / totes
- Maximise the use of space
- Troubleshoot and maintain machines
- Cut down on wastage
- Reduce downtime
- Remember to be realistic
- Prepare for the unexpected
Please continue reading the rest of this guide for further details on how addressing these points could start making a tangible difference to your operations.
Assess where you currently stand
Before you can make any decisions on how to improve your productivity, the first step is to measure your existing output and highlight any bottlenecks or “pain points” within your manufacturing operation.
This involves looking at procedures, processes, technology and the people tasked with bringing this all together. Other secondary points to consider are the lines (and methods) of communication and resources available to drive improvements.
Also, ensure that any changes made are recorded alongside the observed / measured improvement (or otherwise) to ascertain ongoing improvement.
Train and incentivise staff
One of the most commonly overlooked ways to improve manufacturing productivity is that of training staff.
Depending on your industry and product type, chances are that your equipment and processes are constantly evolving in some aspect. It may be new product lines, technological advancements or even legislative changes.
As such, training staff – even those that have been with you for many years – can result in best practices being followed more closely and ultimately aiding efficiency.
Another over looked factor is cross training. Having multi-skilled staff can mean that if team members are absent (through sickness or planned leave / holidays) ensures productivity does not get impacted.
It can also help to reduce downtime (i.e. if one job is completed they know how to work on the next required process), and can help to mitigate bottlenecks in certain areas too.
04: Product Knowledge
Know the product(s) being produced
Similarly to training staff on how to operate different machinery, or various processes throughout your manufacturing setup, knowing the actual products that you are producing can also yield surprising results.
Manufacturing efficiency begins with knowledgeable staff that feel engaged and valued (a side effect of training), with an added benefit that it can often lead to ideas focused on improvements from the employees themselves.
And this doesn’t have to be formal, classroom style learning – supervised on the job training can be less disruptive whilst being just as effective.
05: Part Picking
Organise your materials and parts (efficient retrieval)
The amount of money (and staff time) that is wasted through a lack of organisation can be staggering.
This particularly true if materials or components are stored at various points in the manufacturing process – with time spent retrieving these items making up a significant portion of your (staff) costs.
The increased speed at which the parts or components arrive at your manufacturing line will lead to increased productivity, as well as helping to avoid delays and production even stopping whilst waiting for items. This is also true for reducing picking errors, which organisation can again help with.
And better organisation can also highlight shortages of any stock more quickly, again preventing downtime.
Use suitable handling equipment / totes
Besides improving picking and retrieval of your materials and components, the movement of these around your production facility (and even between different sites altogether) can also impact productivity.
It is crucial to use handling totes (such as those manufactured from Correx®) to not only aid the manual handling process, but also to ensure safety for your operatives as well.
Using totes that have been enhanced with suitable dividers can also enable more efficient movement of multiple items at once, can aid quick visual stock checking, and can also eliminate wastage of parts or components that are damaged during movement (usually by colliding with each other in the tote, or through surface marking or scuffs).
Find out about more about the types of dividers and inserts by reading this guide.
Maximise the use of space
Leading on from both picking processes and movement of parts around your factory, maximising the use of space can be a surprisingly effective way to improve your manufacturing productivity.
The amount of time employees spend moving from one area to another has a direct impact on the efficiency of your manufacturing.
By rearranging your factory floor to put commonly used equipment or machines closer to each other, to keep of stock of parts or components nearer to where they will be needed, and make each trip as efficient as possible (i.e. move multiple items with a tote, and ensure picking errors are minimised through well-organised stock and parts bins) can all have a big impact.
Ultimately, you may wish to consider rearranging your manufacturing floor layout in order to create a smoother workflow or both components, product and people.
Troubleshoot and maintain machines
Regular maintenance and troubleshooting of your machinery and equipment is crucial in maintaining and improving productivity.
This is also where it is important to train – and then trust – the employees that use these on a daily basis. They will be the first to spot an issue, and if familiar with the equipment can potentially fix the issue with little disruption caused.
Besides this, knowing the signs that something is not running well (or even at capacity) can be critical in avoiding larger problems. It is far easier to keep a machine running through maintenance and care than it is to repair it once something has failed.
Cut down on wastage
Every damaged component that cannot be used costs money. Every unfinished product costs money. Every item returned by your customers costs money – and hurts your brand and business reputation.
And whilst it is also understandable that mistakes can and will occur, if this becomes too frequent then getting to the root cause and identifying a fix (either training / recruitment, new processes, equipment etc.) is critical.
Most of the above points can be directly related to avoiding manufacturing downtime. And there are a number of ways downtime can occur – and be avoided.
For example, not maintaining machines can lead to breakdowns which halt production lines.
Staff picking the wrong components (potentially because of poor organisation) can mean production is slowed whilst the correct items are being found. Similarly, if components do not make it to the production line in good time this can also cause delay.
This is in addition to having multi-skilled staff that can be flexible, and work on different sections of your manufacturing to help cope with bottlenecks in particular areas when required or to cope with planned or unplanned absences.
It is important to bear in mind that, ultimately every minute production stops, you’re losing money.
Remember to be realistic
Expectations from your customers, tight deadlines and pressures from external factors (for example logistics and delivery times) can all lead to targets becoming distorted and often unachievable.
In cases such as this, it is important to manage expectations diplomatically and ensure corners are not cut – whether this is through safety or quality. This could lead to employees become demotivated, which can lead to worsening of productivity rather than improvements.
As a result, once you have a full picture of your current productivity, set realistic goals that focus on the quality of output, punctuality and that do not compromise safety.
And involving employees and gaining their feedback on initiatives can help them feel engaged and valued too.
Prepare for the unexpected
Finally, being ready for peaks in demand can be critical to productivity levels.
Whilst improved productivity obviously helps with regards to meeting any challenges posed by increased workload (which may be seasonal, due to unexpected product success, or a huge range of external factors beyond your control), failing to prepare can also hinder productivity.
If a backlog builds up in production, it can lead to demotivated staff; too much stock of materials or components held on site (reducing organisation) and has an ongoing impact until the additional requirement is fulfilled.
This is again where efficient processes and multi-skilled staff using the correct equipment can be critical.