Production Line Optimization in 3 Steps

By CIOReview | Friday, August 2, 2019

While making widgets or food, The plant needs to achieve balance in maintenance and production to get high-quality products out the exit.

FREMONT, CA: Two things that require a production engineer’s attention throughout the year are maintenance and integration. One is to support the department of maintenance engineering, and the other is to introduce new products to the packaging line. This method of segmented planning can be very confusing and often blind production engineers. How can the production engineer organize this attention-craving, competitive tasks for achieving an effective workflow?

The utilization of data drives will assist in making sound decisions and in prioritizing problems on a day-to-day basis. The data found in the plant and from the packaging line inflicts a broader picture as to what is happening, helping the production engineer to recognize what needs to be done to support maintenance quickly.

Prioritizing these tasks can be done in 3 main ways by the production engineer, they are sorting measurements, considering the safety of the plant, and quantifying soft costs.

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Sort Those Measurements:

Production engineers can utilize a Pareto chart to sort through the data and determine what needs to be executed first by prioritizing the actionable items. The purpose of the chart is to highlight the essential elements among a broad set of unstructured factors. The combinations of bars and lines on the same graph as visuals assist the understanding of the tasks at hand.

Although at first glance, the solution may appear to be quite simple, Production engineers need to prioritize that which matters the most. Does it need to be carried out by incident? Or by the minutes? Or even concoct another measure? Often, engineers need to dig deeper.

Considering downtime as an example, a plant can have events such as micro-stops, which occur maybe 100 times but cause downtime of only 30 seconds. There are also events like an equipment failure that happens once or twice a month and wastes a whole hour. Neither of these is visible in the Pareto chart and many times needs the support of real-time data through a productivity solution for enhanced determination of the occurrences.

It does not end here; Production managers must also consider the reject rates and false rejects. If the product is bad, time is wasted on manufacturing it. Even in case of system rejects due to an error, the resources are wasted. In both scenarios, the result will be to conduct significant rework or scrap the product itself again wasting time and costing the company the excess money.

Safety Planning While Turning a Profit:

Besides sorting measurements, another concern is safety planning. Plant managers and employees would agree on the safety-first norm. When looked upon the issues, specifically as a part of failure mode effect analysis (FMAE), numerable ways for line failure due to unsafe conditions can be identified. It is an endless cycle that eats out all of the time at hand for the production manager if they do not recognize and deal with it.

To account for the same, production engineers need to rehash their plant’s risks, giving it a thought in advance about the safety enhancements to be made. Simultaneously, the costs should always be kept at the back of the head. There is a fine line between production not being profitable and also not affording to be unsafe. This is why the production engineers need to quantify soft costs as follows:

Learn To Quantify Soft Costs:

 In the case of effecting a change in the overall business, soft costs need to be quantified. The plant managers, specifically those who work at smaller plants, can improve the process by quantifying the soft costs as well. Risks, bad products, and labor must account for soft costs as well.

Usually, time studies are implemented in big plants to determine whether the labor should be considered as hard cost rather than soft cost. Smaller factories don’t have the time or resources to carry out the process. As a result of which, small plants may not know what their labor charges truly cost. The production engineers are caught in the middle and result in mismanaging the list of problems and priorities. Product managers cannot help it, if the data quality is bad, or non-existent, the effectiveness of their work will be as effective as the quality of data obtained. 

Can the production engineers fix this? Yes, with a unique skill that Japanese call as “Gemba Walk.” The term hails from the Japanese word “gembutsu,” meaning the real thing, reminding people to sharpen their sight. On Gemba walks, Production engineers walk the facility and experience themselves the problems existing with the line and employees working in the plant. It helps them better identify problems or issues within the production line when they have identified them themselves.

When a plant manager goes for a walk, it is essential for them to notice problems early and enquire why it is happening, quantify them, and fix them. These walks present an opportunity for the manager to observe how the systems function, communicate with the operators to learn more on the day-to-day works of the plant and examine the issues they face working on the line.

Production managers can also depend on real-time data generated to determine whether the performance of the line has been up to mark. It can be used to project the underlying issues or the root cause of line stoppages.

A job as the production engineers involves maintaining the delicate balance between several priorities. Use cases are ensuring the plant is up and running smoothly without any hiccups, productivity of the line, innovation of new products, and rollout. The production managers must utilize tools that assist them in deep diving into the data for better understanding issues related to the plant.