Creating spare capacity – part 2

By Pascal Pollet – Sirris, Belgium

In the first article of this series, we discussed how a little spare capacity can drastically reduce your lead times. This article continues with a number of practical tips on how to create additional spare capacity at a minimal cost.

Tip 5: Do not trust round numbers  

Production speeds are often set at round numbers such as 1,000 strokes per minute, 20 metres per minute. But what are the chances that the optimal speed is exactly 20 metres per minute, and not 21 or 22 metres per minute? Round numbers point at non-optimised production rates. If you see such a round number, ask if the speed can also be set to 21, and a day later to 22, etc. until you notice that the highest achievable speed has been reached. Before you know it, you may have increased the output of a bottleneck machine by 10 percent or more. 

Tip 6: Invest in cross-training 

We already discussed the impact of training on productivity in tip 2. A special form of high-impact training is cross-training. There are several important advantages to cross-training. 

Many high-mix-low-volume production environments are characterised by varying bottlenecks. Cross-trained employees can easily be moved to another workstation, allowing the bottlenecks, and therefore the entire company, to process more orders. 

Cross-trained employees have more insight in the work of their colleagues and can often contribute to improvements at other work centres. For example, by providing information in the right format or by packaging materials in the right way, the work of a colleague can often be made easier. 

Tip 7: Provide correct and complete information right from the start 

A lot of time is often wasted on collecting the necessary information in the order processing phase. Missing or wrong information often leads to back and forth communication between engineering, sales and the customer, or even worse, to errors and, therefore, rework. You can avoid this waste by clearly placing the responsibility for providing correct and complete information to the source of the information (typically sales). The further down the chain the problems are discovered, the more time is wasted.

Creating standardised order forms, check lists and providing product training to the sales staff are often very helpful. For complex sales processes, it is advisable to involve engineering already at an early stage. This sometimes requires some extra effort on the part of the engineering department, but it avoids a lot of problems afterwards and is often an excellent learning moment for the sales people involved. 

Tip 8: Reduce the work-in-progress on the shop floor  

Having a lot of work-in-progress (WIP) on the shop floor feels good to many production operators, as it gives the impression that there is enough work available. However, having a lot of WIP is wasteful: WIP takes up a lot of space and results in greater walking distances, too much WIP also results in more searching, and the longer the goods remain on the shop floor, the more likely they get damaged or become obsolete.

By reducing your work-in-progress, you can eliminate these wastes and often significantly increase your productivity. We’ve seen examples of companies who reduced their WIP with 80% and got a productivity improvement of 20% in return.

There are many simple ways to reduce your WIP. If you use an MRP planning system, you can simply reduce the lead time parameters in the system to ensure that orders start later, thereby reducing the shop floor lead time and the work-in-progress. Another way is by physically limiting the WIP on the shopfloor by restricting the amount of carts or pallets that are circulating or by introducing a production control system called POLCA.

Find out more about QRM and what it can do for your company