Empty the Workplace
In the manufacturing workplace itself, more is not always better. The general thinking might be that the more tools that are readily available, the better a worker can do his job. But clutter is the enemy – and can lead to unsafe working conditions. You can have the best tools available, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t find them.
Start with a clean slate. Look at an empty workspace and work forward. Determine which tools and supplies are the most crucial and, for now, rule out all others. Place them where they make the most sense for accessing. Note that this assessment should include where computer terminals are placed – or tablets – as we all embrace the paperless manufacturing transformation now underway.
Going forward, any tools added to the workplace must not obstruct access to the essentials. Next, add the secondary tools. Finally, identify the tools and supplies that are rarely needed, or those that are used in an emergency. Keep these tools separate. Have workers clean as they go and keep track of every tool used. At the end of the day, tools from each of the three groups should be returned to their respective space. The result is a Lean workplace that makes more sense, and is more safe.
Based on the exercise above, you might notice some obvious inefficiency. Perhaps it doesn’t make the best sense to have the secondary tools located near a high-traffic loading dock; or maybe management offices near assembly lines are too much of a distraction. Or it could be as basic as a workflow that forces workers to take too many steps.
As daunting as workplace reorganization is, it’s worth the time and effort. Using the housecleaning method outlined above, take a high-level look at floor operations while the facility is at its most organized. From there, you can reorganize as needed without unnecessarily disrupting production with excessive housecleaning.
From a digital housecleaning perspective, consider how files are organized on shared or cloud-based servers. Is there an intuitive naming and folder structure? Could a new employee find traceability or genealogy product details quickly? If not, perhaps a change is in order.
Use the Right Wires and Cables
Not all efficiencies are surface-deep. To improve productivity and output, you must anticipate disruptions and prevent them at the source. Faulty wires and cables are a major cause for expensive halts in a production line. In many ways, it comes down to wires and cables. (See this related post).
A manufacturing environment typically is more abusive than any other work setting. Think harsh chemicals, fluctuating temperatures, heavy traffic and the general wear and tear that comes with running a rigorous production line. It helps to be aggressive on this front, rather than waiting for an outage to shut you down and force your hand. Use industrial-grade cables and wires designed specifically for harsh environments. For example, some cables are made with jacket materials specifically made to withstand abrasions. Others are resistant to water, oils and chemicals. And some are designed for constant flexing or tension that can sometimes happen in manufacturing.
When faced with the option of cheap vs. durable, consider the expenses of more frequent replacements and repairs. By investing in the right cables and wires early on, you can reduce the expense of frequent repairs and ultimately improve productivity and output.
Compare Against the Competition
Once you’ve implemented the strategies above, consider enlisting a third-party group to evaluate your entire operation and compare it against the competition. Production consultancy companies can take a look at building design, flow and general operations and pinpoint problem areas at a very scientific level and make additional recommendations based on what has worked for similar manufacturing facilities. Many will look at production itself — such as the materials and processes you’re using — to make better product recommendations. If long-term productivity and output is your goal, it’s a worthwhile investment.