Now is the time of the year that we put the efficiency of our manufacturing operations to the true test. Orders are pouring in, and there are only so many hours in the day. One cannot afford to get too far behind and disappoint our customers, yet one also cannot afford to let quality slip which could leave an ugly blemish on the company’s reputation for years to come.

So, despite the crazy and demanding production schedule, now is perhaps the best time of year to analyze our production facilities to see what we can do to maximize production flow and optimize efficiency while keeping quality at acceptable levels. While we think that no one is in a position to better analyze this than ourselves, sometimes it really pays to bring in a third party as an unbiased set of eyes to help us to “see the forest through the trees” so to speak.

Sometimes the smallest things can make a huge difference. How many manual operations is each employee performing per hour? How many steps is he or she taking per hour? Where are the bottlenecks in the production flow? Where are the critical quality checkpoints and how can these be most efficiently checked without reducing line speed? What are the key points in the production process that could most benefit from automation? What aspects of the production process might be better served by outsourcing?

I know one production manager that had all of his employees wear pedometers to record how many steps each one of them was taking during the course of a production day. He was shocked to find that employees were logging numerous miles (yes, miles) walking from one station to the next. This not only eats up time but also creates unnecessary fatigue which in turn further affects productivity and quality. But an expensive piece of automated equipment is not necessarily the answer. I have been part of production survey teams that have identified something as simple as a few extra castor tables to slide insulating units across a 6-foot span of space as opposed to walking over and back. In such cases a very modest investment of a few thousand dollars paid huge dividends since it reduced the number of steps the employee was taking during the course of the production day.

But sometimes, it does indeed pay to invest in a new piece of automated machinery to take your manufacturing process efficiency to the next level. This is why I find that going to events such as GlassBuild America to be so crucial, despite the venue being in heart of the busy season. I hate to hear customers say, “I am not going because I just cannot afford to get away.” When I ask why, they oftentimes respond, “We are buried right now!”

“Well, that is all the more reason why you cannot afford to stay home,” I suggest. “The potential solution to your problem might just be a piece of automated equipment on the show floor or even just a few ideas that you gather from talking to friends and associates that you see at the show!”

Sometimes your best foot forward is not a step at all but just a pause and a breath of fresh air.

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