Eliminating the 4 percent of processes that kill efficiency by up to 50 percent
January 24, 2012
Removing non-value-added tasks to boost efficiency.
Productivity and uptime are hot topics this year. Software will get you closer to the goal, but unless you combine technology with process improvement, the grail will almost always recede just as it finally seems within reach.
When approaching manufacturing productivity, keep in mind a mental rule that a mere 4 percent of the process can reduce productivity by as much as half. Go on the hunt for the 4 percent of tasks that hinder efficiency, all the while keeping this huge gain in mind.
Unfortunately, some engineers can spend up to half their time searching for information, repeatedly entering the same information into diverse systems, or manually performing complicated engineering calculations – all of which do not add value to the end product. To illustrate, let's take a look at three manufacturing businesses that have successfully eliminated that 4 percent of non-value-added tasks to boost efficiency.
Belvac, a Lynchburg, Va.-based manufacturer of canning machinery, reduced a process that normally took a week of a top engineer's time to a single day and made it a simple task that any engineer can perform.
Beverage canmakers change can shapes and sizes frequently to keep pace with the markets, and Belvac often must redesign existing machinery so it can manufacture the new sizes.
A top Belvac engineer might spend days working out a new constant velocity path—a critical component of canmaking machine operation and design. Once the new path is approved, the team goes about designing new parts, getting them drawn, modeled, and into the system. The whole process of putting a new design into production might take a week. The challenge in maintaining a constant velocity path is that as a can size increases, so does the clearance on the machine. The clearance needs to increase at certain intervals, and this is difficult to visualize.
In order to "see" the path better, Belvac implemented a 3-D model template in Autodesk® Inventor®. Now engineers input new can dimensions into the model and then edit them to determine the optimal velocity path. As they change the model dimensions, they can see the corresponding changes to the machine's constant velocity path. Once they like the way the can path flows, they open the assembly function and simply hit update. This keeps engineers from having to dig through several hundred files to input new dimensions.
"Now that we're quickly generating a consistent and standardized set of drawings, we can rapidly move a customer request through manufacturing, QA, and assembly, creating huge efficiencies," said Joe Schill, Belvac's director, can machinery engineering. "This single process improvement has dramatically slashed the engineering time needed to accommodate customer changes from five days down to five hours.
"Cutting engineering time from days to hours provides many benefits, which all positively impact the bottom line," continued Schill. "Increasing engineering throughput means that Belvac can not only respond more quickly to customer requests, but also process more customer jobs in the same amount of time. Now engineers are freed up for higher-value work. Being able to better manage the workflow on the shop floor also minimizes expensive staff overtime."
Engineers at Dadanco, an HVAC manufacturer in Westfield, Mass., designed a technology that allows MEP designers to specify custom, energy-efficient HVAC systems. While many of the company's HVAC units have only a couple dozen or so components, describing a custom unit requires a full set of component and assembly drawings, as well as a bill of materials (BOM) for production. On average, a set comprises 27 sheets and takes the designer two to three days to produce. For some commercial buildings with more than 30 unit variations, Dadanco spends up to 60 days just on design.
Dadanco streamlined this repetitive process by creating a prototype template with predefined sheet configurations for each product line—rebuilding each part and then tying them to assembly drawings. To support the customization process, programmers used iLogic to create a dialogue-driven product configurator. The software allowed Dadanco to implement rules-based design automation built on the experience and best practices of its engineering staff. By selecting a product template and providing some details, anyone can now generate a drawing set for a custom unit.
Engineers were already using Inventor and getting the benefits of 3-D design, but they weren't using their design assets effectively. Now, instead of hunting for a "look-alike" unit and using it as a base model, designers can leverage the dialogue box interface to call up a product line template, and then the automation tool swaps out components as necessary, including mountings, the number of nozzles, and coil configurations. Now 90 percent or more of drawing customizations are completed automatically.
Most engineering-driven organizations do not look at technology systems as a whole. Consider the following questions: How do sales processes affect engineering? Can you reduce the number of times the same information is input into systems down to a single entry?
Engineering is not the only process in a manufacturing organization; order entry, purchasing, and shop floor processes all have the potential to contribute to inefficiencies. Management at STEALTH Concealment Solutions, N. Charleston, S.C., decided to look at the entire chain, and then identify the top one or two areas for improvement that would get the biggest bang for their buck.
The manufacturer of concealed cell tower structures created an online quotation entry system. The system, which uses a simple Web browser interface, moves a salesperson through a series of questions based on the product category he selects from among 18 product lines. If, for example, a salesperson is responding to a request for quotation for a rooftop structure, the system asks them about dimensions, materials requirements (e.g., brick, stucco, corrugated), whether or not the structure will require ballast, and if the structure will be fixed to the roof.
These are not the same questions the system would ask if the structure was for a flagpole, silo, or church steeple, for example. Each product line requires different standard inputs, and the salesperson is walked through each of those inputs. Based on a particular answer, the system may also ask follow-up questions. By following this decision tree, the salesperson is ensured he is asking and answering the right questions to build a detailed and reusable model.
This automated request-for-quote system allowed STEALTH to increase the number of proposals it sends out without increasing staff time.
"Not only has the system saved us hundreds of man-hours, reducing our time to design 10-fold, but the solution also helps us to be more responsive to clients in an extremely time-sensitive market," said Trey Nemeth, Stealth's vice president of operations.
To apply the 4/50 rule in your own organization, take some time to review your entire workflow, and make a list of those tasks that are repetitive and time-consuming yet don't contribute directly to the bottom line. In many cases, people already know where the problems exist, but they just have not taken the time to quantify the pain. Then decide which of those processes would make the biggest impact if they were automated or improved. Start there and work toward eliminating as many of those inefficiencies as you can.