From my time working with manufacturing businesses I have identified seven common ideas that can help most factory based businesses improve. If you are spending too much time running around and not achieving your targets then the following ideas may be just what you are looking for.

Manage the incoming workload

One of the single greatest improvements I have seen manufacturers make to their delivery performance (and hence reduce unnecessary overtime) is to manage the capacity of their business. Involve relevant people in the business and take time to understanding the capacity of your business and the effect new orders have on it so that you can 'throttle' your activities properly. Finding a way to do this in your business is essential.

Create effective routines

A business system is a series of processes linked together. Some processes deal with purchasing, some with sales and others with production itself. Each process brings with it the need for consistency and discipline. Creating the habits to run these processes like clockwork isn't always the easiest thing to do. Designing routines that your business can adhere to makes this much easier and really reduces the level of fire-fighting on ad-hoc issues. Make these routines visible and easy to perform to get the maximum benefit for your business.

Hold a 'Sunrise' meeting

To put your effective routines into practice why not piggy back it onto a start of day team meeting? Such meetings are referred to as 'Sunrise' meetings (as they should happen near to the start of the day / shift). A very short meeting, five to ten minutes, using a standardised agenda can help focus your team which in turn can improve their productivity. This type of meeting also helps to identify problems which you, as the manager, can deal with so that your team can concentrate on doing their jobs to the best of their ability.

Use process KPIs

Many business KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are output measures - they tell you what has already happened. Process KPIs tell you what is happening. They tell you about how things are going during the process, when you still have time to do something about the end result. Tying this kind of information into your Sunrise meeting is a great way to bolster the right kinds of behaviours and achieve your business objectives.

Ensure your MRPII system is configured correctly

Most factories use some kind of MRPII (Manufacturing Resources Planning) system to help them plan the work through the business. Properly configured MRPII systems can really help to minimise stock levels, reduce administration and deliver your products on time. Configured badly your MRPII system will leave you fighting the suggestions it makes, producing the wrong quantities and delivering late. Take the time out to check the basics; lead times, replenishment rules, routings and work centre capacities.

Adopt a simple CI approach

Most CI (Continuous Improvement) efforts stop before they become continuous. It takes time to get the hang of generating ideas, testing them and then implementing them before you see significant change in your business. If you recognise this then choose an idea generation method you like and tag this kind of activity onto an existing meeting. Once a week is a good time to meet to create new ideas, provide feedback and congratulate yourselves on the results.

Manage change proactively

Rarely does an improvement idea work perfectly first time. If you find yourself scratching your head then remember PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act). Look at the results, find the insights you need and then plan another attempt. Keep going until you hit the result you want, even if you have to change course slightly. Don't let a great improvement opportunity slip away from you.

Regaining control of your manufacturing business can be simple, especially if you use the ideas described above. For many businesses this can lead to improved profit and winning new business based on their superior delivery capability. Do you think the ideas are worth a try?

Article by Giles Johnston of Smartspeed Consulting Ltd.

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