A New Goal for Today’s Manufacturing Industry
Jim Kosmala 07.10.2020
For the past few months shops across the Americas have been dealing with an onslaught of change on a daily basis. While this reactive mode can be quite necessary, we also need to keep an eye on our future path, which requires investigation and reflection. I believe that success in today’s manufacturing industry, both near- and long-term, will be shaped by the degree of process efficiency plants can attain. This is perhaps truer than ever in the midst of global upheaval such as that brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is The Goal?
We’re hearing words like “reshoring” and “nearshoring” more often these days. It’s important to consider, why did companies pursue offshoring to begin with? Primarily, it was the allure of “cheaper labor” and the belief that this could make companies more competitively priced. In reality however, creating a successful plant or business is not a simple, linear cause-and-effect process such as winning on price alone. A dimensional approach can be much more effective, such as that proposed by Eliyahu M. Goldratt in his popular book The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. He states, “The goal is not to improve one measurement in isolation. The goal is to reduce operational expense and reduce inventory while simultaneously increasing throughput.”
Focus on Process Efficiency
In the world of manufacturing, it will be wise to put our focus on process efficiency. If you have a more efficient process, you can produce more with less, therefore reducing the impact of labor cost. Have we been looking at the wrong goal all this time? It could be that process efficiency is more important than cheap labor, and that leads us down an entirely different path.
If you have a more efficient process, you can produce more with less, therefore reducing the impact of labor cost.
UNEXPECTED SOURCES OF SAVINGS
Currently many shops have slowed down, which feels a bit jarring after so many years of being consistently busy. But this becomes an opportunity. Now is a good time to scrutinize your processes and determine where the weak points are in your plant. Doing so can be quite revealing and may uncover unexpected sources of savings.
DRAMATIC INCREASE IN THROUGHPUT
Recently we worked with a manufacturer who was planning a transition from two-axis to four-axis turning for some of their CNC machines. Their old process had been in place for over a decade, and when we stepped in to help engineer a new process, we started to look at some measurements. One of our first steps was to conduct a computer analysis and process simulation here at Okuma America. We quickly noticed that their cutting time in OP20 (operation 20 of the process) was one third of the time in OP30, meaning 30 was taking three times as long as 20. When we went to the customer’s plant to check, sure enough, we encountered a pile of parts between OP20 and OP30, confirming that 30 had been a bottleneck all this time. In our new process we added an OP35 and found a way to make 30 and 35 twice as fast. This re-engineered process enabled us to keep up with OP20, the blockage was removed, and their throughput increased dramatically while reducing in-process inventory.
CONSIDER A MACHINING PROCESS REVIEW
Analyzing machine data helps identify problem areas in the plant, and Okuma’s Connect Plan can help do this through its machine status monitoring capabilities. For those not quite ready to utilize Connect Plan, Okuma is also currently offering a Machining Process Review that can be used to improve efficiencies. This is a more traditional approach, where an engineer walks through the plant with a stopwatch and a clipboard, measuring the timing of processes, observing material flow, and identifying stations that are starved or blocked, all the elements of a typical throughput analysis.
Once this is complete, we deliver a report containing our suggestions for improving process efficiency, many of which don’t involve a new machine tool at all. I’ve seen several low-cost and minimal-cost suggestions, ranging from creating macro programs for similar parts, providing additional tools for operators such as torque wrenches and setup carts, to maintaining proper coolant concentration…the list goes on.
SEIZE THE MOMENT
The best place to begin working on process efficiency is by looking for your low-hanging fruit, which are the easier and lower-cost approaches. By starting small you can build momentum without significant barriers. We should also be intentional about changing our mindset, and evolve our thinking away from just focusing on labor cost (although that can be one factor). Our mentality as we prepare for the next phase in the business cycle should be to seize the current moment of opportunity and begin taking actions that enhance process efficiency.