Continuous improvement: “The ongoing improvement of products, services or processes through incremental and breakthrough improvements. These efforts can seek “incremental” improvement over time or “breakthrough” improvement all at once.” (Source: American Society for Quality (ASQ)
To practice continuous improvement, you must establish goals; otherwise, you’re walking along a path of seamlessly never-ending to-do lists with no direction.
Not to be completely cliché, but you need direction to reach your end destination. We’ve all been at that point where we think we know how to get somewhere and decided we didn’t need Waze to do it. But, we ended up lost and had to turn to the directions app on our phone. Directions are necessary to reaching a destination, just as directions are needed in manufacturing to improve processes.
In order to successfully embark on the continuous improvement journey, you need to set goals (i.e. directions) beforehand, and then, the fun part begins – actually making improvements in your factory.
What is Continuous Improvement in Manufacturing?
In order to explain continuous improvement’s role in the manufacturing industry, it’s important to start at the beginning – Toyota’s climb to the top as an example of exemplary manufacturing.
Throughout the years, Toyota has set the industry standard, including the concept of continuous improvement, or kaizen. The two are one and the same.
Jeffrey K. Liker, author of ‘The Toyota Way‘ defines continuous improvement (kaizen) as the “process of making incremental improvements, no matter how small, and achieving the lean goal of eliminating all waste that adds cost without adding to value… Kaizen is a total philosophy that strives for perfection and sustains TPS on a daily basis.”
Manufacturers know they need to continually make improvements to achieve success, but the question remains:
- How do you make improvements?
- Is there specific software that can help aid in continuous improvement efforts?
- Are there specific tools that should be used?
Manufacturing analytics is software designed for this exact purpose, guiding manufacturers through the continuous improvement journey.
What are the Tools of Continuous Improvement?
We’re going to be honest here – if you Google “tools of continuous improvement”, you’re going to get pages and pages of results that will tell you a few helpful tips like creating a culture that supports continuous improvement to the less helpful like using a whiteboard with sticky notes or writing down project plans and performance data on an oversized piece of paper. The former, very helpful. The latter, not so much and incredibly outdated. We’re in the middle of Industry 4.0, and there is a much more efficient way to do this.
Manufacturing analytics is designed to provide visibility into the plant – track availability, reduce downtime, increase throughput and performance, and improve quality, all with data collected from the machines (and operators) on the floor. The data gathered can help improve the factory floor which contributes to and results in continuous improvement.
The idea behind manufacturing analytics, and SensrTrx specifically, is to start small, achieve quick wins, think big, and move fast. The data gathered from one machine or line allows manufacturers to make actionable decisions that lead to improvements. Then, when improvements, are made, that process of continuous improvements is implemented on additional machines, lines, or even rolled out to the entire plant.
Continuous improvement is a journey, SensrTrx enables that journey.
However, culture is a key part of successfully making continuous improvements. To show continuous improvement, a culture that supports the methodology must be in place.
Why is Culture Important?
To implement successful changes, employees must support and be on board with the changes. Everyone has to be on board with the idea and be committed to making that idea successful. Every person, from line operator to CEO, is involved in the journey of continuous improvement. It’s truly a team effort.
Let’s say the team is on board and ready to embark on the continuous improvement journey. That journey starts with sitting down and looking at the plant floor –
- What’s going on?
- Is there one line performing better than another?
When these questions are answered, or at least hypothesized, a direction is known. With the help of manufacturing analytics, start collecting data to get to the root of the issue.
How Do You Maintain the Improvements Made?
In an ideal world, manufacturers conduct a Kaizen event and the numbers don’t lie – it’s an impressive success! But, what happens when the event is completed and the process begins to revert back to the previous levels? How do you prevent that from happening? How can you sustain the gains?
- Kaizen events can improve production. To sustain continuous improvement gains, real-time monitoring is the key. It helps maintain improvement in manufacturing and ensures success in the future.
Let’s say an outside consultant is brought in or an internal continuous improvement team identifies a problem and runs a Kaizen event to find the root cause. To remove waste from production, the consultants or continuous improvement teams do time studies, watch the process run, time events with a stopwatch, or even create production sheets for operators and supervisors to fill out detailing the process. Tedious, right?
They use the results from the Kaizen event to figure out where waste is in the process and fix it. Once, the waste is removed, they leave and go on to their next job.
What happens if people drift back into their old habits and those changes and fixes go out the window? How do you make sure that doesn’t happen? And, if it does, how do you know it’s happened?
There’s really no process in place to ensure those scenarios don’t happen if you don’t have an analytics and productivity system. It’s truly a guessing game. Sustaining the gains of implementation is difficult without a monitoring process in place.
For example, let’s say the consultant or improvement team make the process faster. But, over time, bad habits rise back to the surface. Cycle time becomes longer. Delivery times extend further and further. Takt time decreases. Over time, the entire process gradually slows down.
If a monitoring system had been in place, the manufacturer would’ve immediately known something was wrong and measures could have been taken to prevent the downward spiral. He or she would’ve learned from what they’ve seen in reporting, reinforced, and fixed the changes that were made during the Kaizen process.
Manufacturing productivity and analytics software provides reliable data collection and scoreboards displaying real-time data, ensuring success long after Kaizen events have concluded. It enables continuous improvement and monitoring for gradual decreases in performance.
Prepare for the Unpredictable and Maintain Big Wins
Manufacturing is ever-evolving – nothing ever stays the same. A manufacturer may be producing the same product day after day, the same amounts of product, but there are always other variables that will change. People change. Machines get older. There are a number of factors that contribute to change, whether planned or unplanned.
Even if you are able to improve, employ the best, most capable supervisors and operators, it is very likely something will happen to cause a different problem, one that you didn’t know about or couldn’t have anticipated. That problem can reduce the effectiveness of any working part of the factory – a line, a product, etc.
If you think about a bottling line, today, the problem could be a filler that needs to be fixed. Tomorrow, it’s the capper, a week from now, you’re selling a new product which means adding another changeover that’s more complex than the rest. A different day brings new challenges, not all of which we can be prepared for.
With manufacturing analytics on your side, you are able to weather the storm, prepare for the unpredictable, and really maintain those big wins. You’ve essentially got the power to truly sustain the gains.
Think of manufacturing analytics as a roadmap. Except the roadmap is smart and as you progress along the journey, it will evolve with you. It will help you improve, monitor changes, and grow as a company.
Yes, we’ve said it before, and will continue to say it – continuous improvement is a journey.
Are you ready to begin that journey with manufacturing analytics? Let’s work together to develop a map – schedule a demo with us.