Increase factory output: Part 2 – 5 money-saving tips for tackling machine bottlenecks

It’s easy to assume that a machine is a bottleneck simply because work stacks up behind it. It seems obvious – the machine cannot keep up with the required pace of production. So the Capital Expenditure request gets written or the owner gets his or her chequebook out, the new machine arrives and everyone’s happy. Everyone that is except all of the folk who had better things to spend the money on.

No-one wants to be the party pooper but here’s the Painful Truth: sometimes you don’t really need to spend all that money. In reality, the machine can often produce enough to keep up with customer demand.

In previous posts we’ve talked about Overall Equipment Effeciveness (OEE) as a great way to measure how much good quality output you’re getting from a particular machine or process. In fact we recommend that you consider measuring OEE regularly on all critical / bottleneck machines / processes.  But for the moment let’s just keep it simple and jump straight to some practical money-saving tips…

At this point if you’re well advanced with Lean and you’re regularly hitting OEE levels above 80% then you can stop reading now and instead go away and review progress against your policy deployment  goals. For the rest of us, read on for some practical money-saving tips…

Money-saving tip #1: measure how much of the available time the machine actually performs value-added work, i.e. producing output that the customer will pay for. You’ll be amazed! You spent all of that money and the **** machine is only working half of the time! Measure all of that lost time and what it’s spent on. Things like break-times, set-up’s and changeover’s, break-down’s, scrap and defects, running at lower speeds, not producing right first time, etc, etc, etc. Sounds familiar? Pick the biggest ones and get the team looking at ways of reducing them. Here are some examples…

Money-saving tip#2: look at staggered break-times, improved production scheduling, effective materials supply. In other words, make sure that you always keep the machine running and you always keep it fed with work. If this is a problem area for you, it’s time to learn about Drum-Buffer-Rope: aim to maintain a buffer of materials to feed the machine and feed it at the rate required to keep up with customer demoand (the “drum beat”).

Money-saving tip #3: if the machine needs a warm-up / start-up period, where possible make sure this happens before the start of the working shift. For example – if employees are on site and raring to go (*cough*) at 7.00 am, arrange for someone to come in earlier to warm up the machine. Same applies at the end of shift.

Money-saving tip #4: if you’re losing too much time on set-up’s and changeover’s, you need to apply SMED. In my humble opinion SMED (“Single Minute Exchange of Dies”) gives the biggest, quickest payback of all of the Lean tools and techniques. It’s easy to learn, easy to do and often gives dramatic savings. The first time you apply SMED it’s common to halve the time taken, usually with little or no cost. Excuse the shameless plug here but you can download our SMED training package and learn how to do it in less than 20 minutes for less that £20 (less than $30).

Money-saving tip #5: crank it up! You’ll often hear lots of “reasons” why the machine can’t run at its full rated speed. “It keeps breaking down”, “Quality deteriorates”, “We can’t keep up”, etc, etc. Try it! Measure it! Often the anticipated problems are far less serious than expected. If you do get problems, you’ll then know exactly where you need to focus some improvement effort.

If you’ve already bought that new machine when you didn’t really need to, well at least you’ll know better next time. If you’re just about to buy it, then before you do have a look at these tips. They might just save you a fortune.

If you’ve any examples of your own please submit them here and I’ll post the best one’s (sorry about the delay for moderation but I’m afraid it’s the only way we can avoid being hijacked by spam).

In future posts we’ll be looking at yet more ways to increase factory output so watch this space – or better still, sign up to receive new posts automatically by email. Until next time – keep it Lean…….

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