For decades, the focus in manufacturing has been on building a leaner organization. Manufacturers must contend with increasing labor and parts costs, overseas competition, and consistent customer demand for lower prices. They carefully study all manufacturing components to ensure that costs are as low as possible while still maintaining the ability to deliver a quality end product in a timely fashion.
Lean manufacturing improves productivity while sustaining customer satisfaction. Introducing automation at appropriate points in the manufacturing process can help achieve these goals. In addition to improved quality, the benefits of automation include less waste, reduced operator error, decreased response time, increased operational effectiveness, and improved decision-making.
Six areas where automation can support the leaner manufacturing process include:
- Work-In-Process (WIP) Inventory Optimization: One factor in keeping costs down is minimizing inventory during production. Automation here helps to insure that a sufficient quantity of raw materials is available to meet demand, without having an excess of supplies or partially finished products that increase costs, without contributing to the bottom line.
- Scheduling and Dispatch: If one part of the manufacturing process fails the others fall, like a domino effect. Dispatch must make sure raw materials are brought in at precisely the right moment, and that shipping options are available as soon as the manufacturing process is complete. Automation can control all of these areas so that the entire process runs smoothly.
- Supplier Quality Management: If a necessary part from a supplier is sub-par or unavailable, it can affect both end quality and production schedules. Automation looks at the quality and quantity of parts coming in from suppliers, as well as their delivery schedules.
- Manufacturing Process Planning: Management utilizes automation to understand the various manufacturing processes that go into producing a final product, determine which can occur simultaneously and which must be completed in a linear fashion, and develop a schedule that will produce the product in the least amount of time possible.
- Engineering Change Orders:Change can wreak havoc if not controlled properly. Automation can be used to help all aspects of the operation understand the impact of the change on inventory, production scheduling, quality control, and delivery.
- Statistical Process Control (SPC): Automation is an effective method for utilizing statistical analyses to monitor and control a manufacturing process so that it operates at its maximum potential.
In trying to address all these areas, some manufacturers make the problem worse by instituting many automation strategies, but Manufacturing 20/20 brings all the data from various elements into one location, so that strategic decisions can be made based on reliable information. Multiple processes converge under its one umbrella, enabling managers from various teams and work sites to easily access information and collaborate on production and distribution decisions. The results include better inventory management, consistent quality control, improved return on investment (ROI), smoother business operations, and the ability to quickly respond to changing market demands. Automation leads to a manufacturing process that is nimble, flexible and lean.