An efficiently run production line is typically a profitable production line. Powering down your plant’s equipment to make major repairs or minor adjustments will delay your production and can cut into your profits. Also, shutting down to retool a line for different products can be costly. 

5 Tips to Running a "Well-Oiled" Production Line

  1. Schedule preventive maintenance. A little prevention can go a long way toward warding off bigger problems later. Many companies schedule equipment checkups on a regular basis. Scheduling reminders for maintenance can help your staff remember when checkups are due.
  2. Stick to a schedule. A production line that isn’t in sync is a production line that’s less than efficient. Timing and coordinating steps in the process ensures efficiency by minimizing downtime and removing redundancies.
  3. Buy up-to-date software. Software likely plays a large part in maintaining your plant’s efficiency, so make sure the programs you’re using are up to date and easy to use. Intuitive, reliable software can boost productivity and lower labor costs by helping to streamline your process.
  4. Promote communication between engineering and manufacturing. Fostering communication between the workers who deal with your equipment every day and the men and women who keep things running smoothly is another way to ward off big issues with production. Encourage your engineers to participate in the manufacturing process by spending time among line workers and leads. That way, they can hear feedback and comments that can help them uncover issues faster.
  5. Keep your equipment happy. Keep track of the way your equipment operates from the time it’s installed. Be sure that the machines on your production line are getting the right amount of electricity and water. If the electrical or water supply changes at your facility, follow up to ensure that it doesn’t affect your equipment’s performance and life span.

4 Suggestions to Improving Production Line Efficiencies

  1. Measure your setup time. This should be a key metric in batch-driven processes; however, if your organization is not establishing goals and monitoring setup time, how much cost is incurred may surprise you.
  2. Mimic NASCAR. A certain company occasionally stops production to hold a contest, putting together “pit crews” to see who can set up a machine the fastest. The winning team’s time becomes the new goal. Winners get bragging rights, or even a prize!
  3. Think Japanese. Manufacturers in Japan are known for their efficiency and their ability to continually change as necessary for the betterment of the organization. One of the techniques they use is Kaizen. Consider assembling a diverse team that cuts across disciplines to spend a few days tackling a process improvement problem.  For example, one certain company had a team reconfigure work and storage areas to see where improvements could be made.  Their improvement suggestions reduced setup time from six hours to 40 minutes!
  4. Consider another Japanese method. Japanese industrial engineer Shigeo Shingo developed the Single Minute Exchange of Dies (“SMED”) process for Toyota as an essential component of just-in-time manufacturing. He maintained that most approaches to reducing setup time limit their success by focusing on improving employee skills rather than on making changes in the process which in turn lower the amount of skill needed.

Lean Material Stocking

Instead of trying to trim retooling time, try eliminating it with a lean material stocking system.

An established principle of time management is to handle each piece of paper just once. It’s rare to achieve that efficiency, but aiming for it makes you think about unnecessary steps. Applying that principle to parts and maintenance, compare these two scenarios of the typical route from delivery to production:

Before the lean method:

  • Shipment arrives.
  • Parts are stocked until needed for production.
  • Parts are assembled into kits and sent to production.
  • The parts are ready for production when needed.

After the lean method:

  • Shipment arrives.
  • Parts are sorted and sent to carts holding bins labeled for each part number.
  • When production is ready, the cart is moved to the job.

What the lean material stock system does:

  • Eliminates the labor-intensive steps of storing, locating and retrieving materials, and assembling kits.
  • Provides visual inventory control, because by looking at a bin, you can see if a part is in short supply.
  • Offers just-in-time capabilities. Almost as soon as materials are received, they are ready to be used in production.

The best changeover is no changeover.” Look at ways that products can be redesigned or retooled to share more of the same parts. Moreover, if you’re constantly running small batches of similar products, you might be able to avoid changeover by taking some processes offline.

Content provided by Andrew J. Usery, Shareholder for accounting and advisory services and an industry leader of LBMC’s manufacturing/distribution segment.