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5 Methods to Drive Manufacturing Process Improvement

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manufacturing process improvement examples

Driving manufacturing process improvement is one of the most effective ways to increase quality, operational efficiency, and the bottom line. Improving the processes that contribute to the final product is an easy way to create scalable and sustainable changes. The right improvements can reduce defects, decrease production time, and boost client satisfaction. But how do you know where to start?

 For companies experiencing rapid growth, finding new and innovative approaches will ensure that your plant operates at full capacity during busy periods. Those that simply want to improve their approach will benefit from adopting modern lean thinking methods. Every business can take advantage of new ideas, technologies, and best practice examples in a way that fits with their existing model. In this article, we explore five proven methodologies that can drive manufacturing process improvement and boost the productivity of an operation.


The 5S Approach

The 5S methodology is all about getting your lean manufacturing floor organized. It’s a structured approach to arranging everything in its optimal place to maximize productivity and output. The beauty of this approach is that it’s relatively simple to implement and doesn’t require any specific training.

 The 5S process consists of the following elements;

  •         Sort – separate the materials, tools, and items that are useful from those that can be eliminated.
  •         Set in order – so that the remaining things are organized and easy to find.
  •         Shine – give the workspace a thorough clean so that it sparkles and there’s no dirt or debris to cause machinery faults.
  •         Standardize – record standard operating procedures (SOPs) for each of the processes that occur in the workflow.
  •         Sustain – maintain this approach by diligently following the SOPs and ensuring all new staff are trained to follow them too.

The reason it’s so effective is that it eliminates waste that’s caused by disorganization. Every time a team member has to walk somewhere to find a tool or locate source material, it causes small delays to the production process. Over the course of a day, week, and year, these soon add up to significant amounts of time. What may seem like a small inconvenience is actually substantially multiplied over the production year. By removing these tiny blips in the system, you allow processes to flow more smoothly which leads to efficiency gains.

Standardization is also a crucial component of both quality control and productivity. It’s common for people to prefer ‘their own way of doing things’ but even slight differences can lead to delays that soon stack up. Top-notch manufacturing prioritizes the final product above all else so there’s no room for individual quirks. A non-standard approach can cause defects, returns, and reputational loss. The simplest approach to setting standards is creating a checklist that people can follow. Displaying it prominently in the workspace acts as a visual cue and reminder to follow all of the steps. It’s a quick and easy way to drive manufacturing process improvement at a grassroots level.

Kaizen Methodology

The Kaizen approach is all about continuous improvement. It focuses on making incremental changes that can be consistently implemented to deliver scalable results. Instead of trying to initiate large-scale change, this continuous improvement model focuses on smaller tweaks. Over time, these seemingly small changes contribute to significant improvements in processes, efficiency, and outputs.

Kaizen continuous improvement is both a philosophy and a practical tool. Embedding the philosophy of striving for continual improvement creates a culture of innovation over the long-term. Following the steps to achieve continuous improvement is what delivers impact in the short to medium term. Being proactive in waste reduction and process optimization can transform the dynamics of your business operations.

A practical approach to implementing Kaizen is using the PDCA cycle. This stands for plan do check act:

  • Plan – define your strategic goals and how you’ll achieve them.
  • Do – implement the plan and make any changes required to ensure it works.
  • Check – evaluate the results and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Act – make adjustments based on what’s found in the previous step.

By working through each of these steps, in turn, you can plan and execute small-scale experiments. Once you’ve checked their effects, you can implement them on a wider scale to maximize their impact. By repeating this process, you’ll drive manufacturing process improvement on a consistent basis.

The Six Big Losses

Another way to improve manufacturing processes is to tackle the most common causes of inefficiency. Whatever type of operation your run or product you make, it’s likely that you’ll come across the same sources of waste. These are known as the ‘six big losses’ and consist of the following:

  •         Breakdowns
  •         Setup time or adjustments
  •         Small stops
  •         Speed reduction
  •         Startup rejects
  •         Production rejects

Focusing on these areas is an effective way to drive manufacturing process improvement. An easy way to do this is to set up informal project teams who are tasked with resolving one specific challenge. Begin with the issue that’s causing the most wastage in your business and concentrate on how to resolve it. Once you’ve found and implemented a solution, move on to the next loss area and tackle that. Alternatively, you can start by value stream mapping as a method of waste identification. This helps you to see what’s important from the customers’ perspective so that you can focus on improvement process efforts around these and strip back everything else.

Overall Equipment Effectiveness

Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is a way of tracking the productivity of your machinery. It’s a lean methodology that helps you to measure losses that are caused due to the inefficiency of a particular process. The OEE framework focuses on three types of loss:

  •         Downtime – due to faults or breakdowns
  •         Slow cycles – caused by unnecessary delays
  •         Rejects – due to quality issues

It’s generally agreed that 85% OEE is a decent baseline to aim for when first starting out. Achieving this indicates that you’re operating at an efficient rate which is both achievable and realistic. Once you hit this benchmark, you can, of course, continue to improve so that it increases even further.

One way to boost your OEE is to be proactive about maintaining your equipment. Conducting preventative maintenance is something that many companies skip over but it’s a highly effective way to increase productivity. By regularly servicing equipment and replacing worn down parts before they fail, you can reduce downtime, slow cycles, and rejects. Create a preventative maintenance schedule so that equipment is serviced on a consistent basis and the likelihood of failures is minimized.

There are also smart machine monitoring tools that can help you to operate at full capacity and manage manufacturing process improvement efforts. Using a combination of trackers and software, these tools collect data on the performance of machinery. They can indicate when a fault has occurred so that you can resolve it early (before the production line gets negatively impacted). Some tools can even predict when parts will need replacing and provide notifications if errors are detected. The ‘smart factory’ approach provides reams of data that can be analyzed and interpreted to identify other areas for improvement. It can support production scheduling, total quality management, and digitize the factory floor.


Ask Your Team

In the quest for shiny new methodologies, it’s easy to overlook your most powerful asset: your people. If you’re looking to make manufacturing process improvements, then why not ask those employees who are closest to the issues? Engaging your staff in the problem-solving process is an incredibly effective way to source practical solutions. This approach also helps to increase staff morale since it demonstrates that their expertise and ideas are valued by the management.

Seek out feedback from employees on how your manufacturing processes can be improved. Gather a range of ideas and suggestions from a variety of team members, then whittle them down to the most effective and practical. If you really want to boost employee engagement at the same time, then give them ownership over the implementation. This has been shown to give staff a greater feeling of purpose and autonomy in their roles, both of which contribute to job satisfaction.

Digital tools have streamlined the entire ideation and implementation process. Instead of relying on dusty old suggestion boxes, comprehensive platforms like Rever make it easy for ideas to be submitted and reviewed. Employees can track the progress of an idea, manage its execution, and measure its impact, all in one place. It’s the ideal way to gather creative solutions to process problems, and then ensure that they actually get implemented.


Driving Process Improvements That Stick

Each of these five methodologies can help your assembly line become more productive and improve your manufacturing output. Whether it’s through pre-planning and workspace organization, root cause analysis of waste, or servicing the machining tools themselves, there are plenty of ways to approach it. Introducing standardized processes or asking employees for input doesn’t cost the earth, but it can reduce the risk of accidents, improve quality, and make a tangible impact on overall profits. Improving efficiency is a continual goal for operations managers and manufacturing companies around the globe. Ultimately, it’s about taking a lean management approach to your manufacturing. If you can identify ways to streamline your operation, it will naturally save time and money as a result. It might require some experimentation and testing to find the approach that works for your business. But investing time into manufacturing process improvement will always pay dividends in the end.


Your Digital Continuous Improvement Tool

Rever is all about sharing and reusing, doing and tracking. Continuous improvement becomes a hundred times easier with our innovative digital platform. Using Rever’s dashboard, you can monitor the performance of your teams, the summary of their impact, and easily identify the people making the biggest difference at your company.

Rever Cycle is our version of the PDCA methodology and guides your teams on the exact steps to follow to execute their own ideas. It allows them to capture the entire process, from identifying a problem to experimenting and implementing a solution. They can use it to capture the before and after with pictures, notes and drawings, making their ideas a reality in no time. The time of your team is too valuable to be wasted in handmade drawings and complex explanations. 

At Rever, we believe that anybody can be a knowledge worker and thrive. What makes us human is the capacity to grow our intellect and will, and to use them for good. We observe, especially at work, that most people are asked to stop thinking and do as they are told. We want to change that. We enable people to achieve their full creative potential.

Are you interested in learning more about manufacturing process improvement or discussing lean implementations? Then get a demo today with one of our friendly Kaizen improvement experts.

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