Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Features Industry Watch Opinion
Making up for lost time


March 25, 2014
By Paul Hogendoorn


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There are many instances when our processes regularly lose production time — before shift end, before and after breaks, or as a result of extra setup or maintenance time, adjustment time and time waiting for parts. All of this is lost time that has to be made up or accounted for.

Sometimes we overcomplicate things related to productivity and profitability. We add systems, employ specialists, devise calculations and spend a lot of time estimating and benchmarking, not to mention adding expensive software, IT infrastructure and the people to deploy and manage those things. And, in some cases, all of this expensive activity results in even more lost time.

Many company leaders understand and ascribe to the credo that “you have to spend money to make money,” but they are also quick to recite an even more common mantra — “time is money.” Regular readers of this column have often heard me recite one of my favourite mantras — “you can’t improve what you don’t measure.” This rings instantly true for most, but many still get stalled by the mere thought of the time and expense involved in putting in a measurement system. When I encounter people stuck in the middle, I suggest taking a few baby steps. Savings realized and profits improved from these initial efforts then get re-invested into the next step, and so on. At the same time, the confidence to invest in more significant productivity improvement measurements grows.

A good example of baby steps is measuring the time of the first part produced by a person, machine or process, and the time of the last part produced. I observed this first hand at a local manufacturing facility, where a critical machine routinely produced its first part around 7:30 am and its last part at around 4:40 pm. The regular shift was from 7 am to 5 pm. With normal breaks and typical production interruptions, the machine was running for an average of six hours and 10 minutes per day, producing just over 900 parts. We installed a simple productivity monitor on the machine, and after a week, the average machine running time increased to six hours and 45 minutes a day, and production increased to over 1,100 parts. They now routinely exceed 1,300 parts per day!

The keys to success with a baby step like this are simple: the measurement has to be automatic and done in real time without operator intervention; and the resultant information has to be shared as a tool with the operator.

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Sustainable productivity gains can be very easily achieved without spending too much time or money. Identifying lost time is the first step. After identifying all the different ways that time is lost, it becomes a matter finding the biggest causes of lost time and the easiest ones to resolve.

As business leaders, we need to continually make time for productivity improvement.  It will improve the bottom line today, and help assure continued success tomorrow. It’s too critical a task to ignore.

Paul Hogendoorn (paulh@getfreepoint.com) recently launched FreePoint Technologies, developing and delivering productivity measurement tools for manufacturing companies.

This column originally appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.