Streamlined production processes are vital to manufacturing companies’ success. Yet there’s still a lot of room for improvement within many organizations.
This article shares tips, strategies, and tactics to optimize your production processes.
But why even bother to improve your production processes?
Before we start discussing how to improve production processes, let’s take a closer look at why it’s so important to optimize these processes in the first place:
- Continuous improvement eliminates inefficient ways of working to achieve higher productivity, at both an individual and an organizational level. By analyzing your processes regularly and thoroughly, you’ll learn to spot and resolve bottlenecks more quickly, predict future problems, and streamline workflows accordingly.
- What’s more, you’ll be able to get your products to market faster!
- And it may even help you improve product quality. Thorough testing also has repercussions for other key product characteristics, such as performance, life span, user-friendliness, and safety.
- Add all these benefits together and chances are you’ll also achieve higher customer satisfaction and loyalty levels, turnover, and profitability. After all, satisfied customers make more repeat purchases!
- Conversely, inefficient production processes are detrimental to employee morale because there’s nothing quite as frustrating and demoralizing as having your hard work undone by clunky, ineffective workflows.
- When you improve your production processes and adopt above-average working standards and operating procedures, you’ll often gain a competitive advantage and help your organization stand out from the crowd.
10 tips for improving your production processes
You can optimize your production processes in any one of several ways. Take advantage of the following tips and tricks!
1. Analyze your current workflows
You can only go from A to B if you know where A is to begin with. Take a close look at your workflows from three perspectives.
- Personnel – Are the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time? Have you clearly defined SMART objectives for your production processes – are they specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-related?
- Processes – When did you last map out and evaluate your processes? Where are the bottlenecks and obstacles?
- Tools & technology – Is all your machinery and equipment in good condition? Are you using the most relevant technology to meet your business-critical requirements? And how easily can you alter your production processes?
2. Modernize your processes and technologies
Once you’ve mapped your current workflows, it’s time to determine whether you should modernize or improve your processes and technologies. Could you automate certain processes? Could you use new software to improve planning, inventory control, or monitoring? Could you replace or upgrade your equipment and machinery?
If you’re considering adopting new technologies or equipment, don’t forget to look long and hard at ‘total cost of ownership’ (TCO) – would a change actually reduce your TCO?
3. Pay particular attention to planned maintenance
One of the main causes of poorly performing production processes is a lack of planned maintenance. Neglecting maintenance is dire for your business because broken or worn-out machinery costs far more to put right than a brief production shutdown to perform maintenance.
You can beef up your planned maintenance program by taking the measures we’ve listed below:
- Train all your operators and maintenance technicians well so that they can respond quickly and effectively when a problem arises.
- Set fixed dates and times at regular intervals for your planned maintenance.
- Observe and listen closely to shop-floor personnel to determine the best times to schedule your planned maintenance – their hands-on, day-to-day experience is invaluable in this respect.
- Don’t postpone maintenance for too long – the longer you wait, the worse any hidden problems become.
Tip: Read our article, ‘So, what is TPM?’ – about Total Productive Maintenance and how it could help your organization.
4. Train your staff
When you optimize your production processes, don’t forget to bring your staff up to speed. The better they can operate and maintain your machinery and equipment, the less likely it is that production will come to a sudden standstill.
Offer your personnel the opportunity to learn new skills and schedule training sessions any time you install a new piece of equipment. Keep close track of a need for refresher or retraining courses.
5. Keep your workplace neat and tidy
A neat and tidy workplace is an important precondition for optimal production processes. Tidy up any mess, as well as any spare parts and unused tools that you’ve left lying around. Lay out workstations as efficiently as possible so that tools are easy to find and close at hand. Try to minimize the distance between machinery and essential tooling as much as possible.
6. Keep well stocked
It’s about finding a balance between too little and too much inventory! Make sure you know exactly what you have in stock and where it is. But what’s the solution? Use modern software that tracks inventory levels, predicts material requirements, and automatically notifies you when you have too much or too little.
Strategies for optimizing your production processes
You can adopt any one of several strategies to help improve your production processes. We’ll be discussing four such strategies: Continuous Improvement, Performance Support, Workforce Planning, and Training Within Industry.
7. Continuous improvement
Continuous improvement, a.k.a. Kaizen, is one of the pillars of the Lean method. It aims to improve productivity, quality, costs, and turnaround times gradually and iteratively, rather than as a one-time, large-scale transformation.
What’s more, continuous improvement implies that optimizing processes is never-ending and relies on employees themselves to make these iterative changes and improvements.
This is why it’s important to provide training and coaching, for example in the form of on‑the‑job training.
Continuous improvement comprises three main phases:
- Gather suggestions – identify and summarize the problems
- Implement suggestions – resolve the problems identified above using the suggestions gathered
- Monitor and learn – evaluate how effective the improvements have been
(This also allows you to determine which suggestions for improvement work and whether teams are progressing at different rates or to varying degrees.)
8. Performance support
Performance support is a method for improving production processes based on practical learning. It involves creating ‘learning moments’ tailored to the practical requirements of staff on the shop floor.
Performance support comprises five moments of need:
- New – a need to learn something new or acquire new skills
- More – a need to learn more about a specific topic or way of working
- Practice – a need to put certain information, skills, or procedures into practice
- Change – a need to keep abreast of change(s)
- Solve – a need to overcome and solve problems
9. Workforce planning
Workforce planning aligns an organization’s priorities and requirements to those of its available personnel. It primarily addresses factors such as:
- scope – do you currently have a lot of job openings?
- mix – do you have the mix of skills in-house you’ll need today and tomorrow?
- costs – do you have a healthy balance between your labor costs and your organization’s requirements?
- flexibility – is your workforce agile and flexible enough to respond to changing market conditions?
Workforce planning makes it easier to optimize your operating costs, gives you greater control over staff turnover, pinpoints potential skills gaps, and helps you establish the right training and education programs.
10. Training Within Industry
Training Within Industry (TWI) originated in the USA at the United States Department of War as part of the war effort (1940-45). Its aim was to safeguard the provision of services to sectors of industry vital to the war effort, which had lost personnel to the armed forces. There was a severe shortage of skilled personnel because of the war and there was an acute need to train new staff quickly and affordably.
TWI proved a huge success and, after the war, spread around the world to help many organizations looking to optimize their production processes.
The TWI method standardizes work processes within a framework comprising four modules: job instruction, job methods, job relations and program development. This enables new staff to become productive sooner. What’s more, TWI also provides you a greater insight into operational and process-related improvements.
Additional tip – use skills management software to find suitable replacements faster!
AG5’s software is ideal for saving time and money when improving your production processes because you can see at a glance who can do what and who can’t. This means you can be certain you’ll always have the right people in the right place and be able to arrange replacement staff quickly and easily.
Besides being able to retrieve knowledge and skills-related information with a few mouse clicks, you’ll be able to edit and update this centrally stored information remotely – anytime, anywhere, anyplace.
Watch our explainer video to see how it works …
Download our free Excel template to get to grips with skills management today.
Spreadsheets are a great start, but they soon become highly complex and error-prone, which is why we recommend an alternative for the longer term. AG5’s software is just such an alternative.
You’ll discover that there are numerous methods and strategies available for you to optimize your production processes, in terms of how you structure the processes themselves, train your staff, and maintain your machinery and equipment. Pick the best methodology for your organization and get your production processes firing on all cylinders!
And don’t forget! Read our article, ‘So, what is TPM?’ – about Total Productive Maintenance and how it could help your organization.