5 Best Practices To Improve Manufacturing Throughput
Throughput rates are an indicator of factory performance. A key goal for any manufacturing operation is the ability to manage and improve throughput rates. Not only does it signal overall plant efficiency, but it also demonstrates whether your factory can keep up with customer demand.
At the end of the day, manufacturing is all about numbers. And failing to meet your throughput targets has a ripple effect on other areas within your operations and across your supply chain. That could mean missed customer deliveries, less profits, or disruptions to production planning, inventory control and purchasing. Regardless of what that may be, these disruptions introduce inefficiencies, such as: delayed response times, low to no traceability, tribal knowledge and missed continuous improvement opportunities. While many companies still rely on manually reporting data, others are adopting connected worker technology solutions to improve production throughput.
What Is Throughput?
Throughput is defined as the time it takes a product to pass through certain manufacturing processes – on a machine by machine basis. It only looks at completed items, not work in progress, and is often understood as the rate at which work is done. Why is this important? Because low throughput directly impacts your bottom line.
Throughput is a well-known manufacturing KPI, and a lean metric that allows you to evaluate process performance. It can also be thought of as a productivity metric, because it represents the productivity level of your team. It’s an important thing to track because it ultimately shows the impact of your team’s workflow on total business performance. Diving into throughput can help you drive critical business decisions, such as expanding work capacity or speeding up production.
Address Bottlenecks Impacting Manufacturing Throughput
It can be tricky to piece together the puzzle to understand whether your operations are operating at the optimal capacity. Without data and insight into your operations, it’s difficult to discern if you’re still relying on paper-based SOPs and manually capturing information. This makes it even more challenging to get to the bottom of what’s affecting your throughput levels or why it might be low.
Bottlenecks can easily throw your production flow out of alignment and slow down the rate at which work is completed. Here are some examples of common bottlenecks that you might come across in your manufacturing operations, both from machines and due to human error:
- Line imbalances or differences in equipment capacity
- Improper planning, particularly when it comes to supply chain forecasting
- Having the wrong settings on equipment feeds
- Inappropriate staffing at workstations
- Out-of-date maintenance on equipment
- Equipment that runs too slow or stops frequently – leading to unplanned downtime
- Imbalance product mix
- Higher than anticipated yield losses
- Workers that lack the proper training leading to inefficiencies in production, errors and downtime
- Paper-based standard operating procedures (SOPs) that are out of date and not followed properly by workers
As a plant manager, you have access to connected worker tools and technology that provide more visibility – and more data – on what your workers are doing, and get a better understanding of how your people affect your throughput rate.
This allows you to recognize, examine and eliminate bottlenecks that aren’t there by design on your production floor. You can identify steps within the manufacturing process where throughput dips below expectations. These are likely going to be bottlenecks in your flow. How exactly do you address why throughput is low? Keep reading to learn more.
5 Ways To Improve Manufacturing Throughput
1. Improve Employee Training
The frontline workers on your production lines have a big impact on product quality and manufacturing cycle efficiency. When you’re struggling for talent, you need a way to make sure everyone who comes to the line is prepared – it needs to be easy, seamless and effective. If your team is not adequately trained on how to do their job, they’ll likely struggle to help identify improvements. What’s even worse, employees that aren’t trained properly are at risk of creating delays or issues that lead to unplanned downtime (check out these interesting stats on downtime) and lower throughput rates, because they don’t understand the entirety of the production process.
By educating and providing proper training for frontline workers, it can help your team make changes that might save time downstream or reduce process and setup times. They’re aware of the big picture and are more likely to provide feedback on ways to improve their work station and eliminate non-value added steps. With connected worker technology, they’ll get just-in-time digital content and learning. And because SOPs are digitized, every step is accurately followed and information is readily available via a mobile device or tablet. You can also empower experienced workers to share their best practices to help close the manufacturing skills gap.
2. Improve Your Workflows Using Data From the Frontlines
Ensuring your team is properly educated and has access to digital and interactive procedures is an important first step. What’s equally critical as a plant or operations manager is capturing data to improve existing workflows, and the only way to effectively do that is by creating an environment that allows for collaboration so employees feel comfortable communicating ideas and process improvements. If you don’t have two-way communication with your team, you’re missing out on valuable insight and observations. Your frontline workers are so closely connected with work execution and they’re your best asset to help you drive process improvements to SOPs and workflows.
Tapping into real-world information can have a big impact on your throughput efforts. Manual tasks introduce a level of risk from human errors with high production and supply chain costs, compromise to quality and time involved. Ideally you want to strive for production quality and consistency by eliminating unpredictable risks.
3. Improve Safety on Your Shop Floor
One of the biggest challenges to manufacturing throughput is lost time due to safety incidents. When one of your workers gets injured on the production floor, work comes to a standstill almost immediately. A safety incident can have extended consequences, such as:
- OSHA citations and fines
- The loss of a skilled worker
- Damage to production equipment
- Worker’s compensation claims
- Floor closures due to the investigation into the incident
- Increased insurance costs
Most organizations have safety programs in place. But when examined closely, there are inefficiencies that work against the safety program. A consistent example is how long it takes to react to specific problems, like a near miss or a trending behavior. Without the instant visibility into what happened and all the variables that surround it, the risk is not mitigated.
And when an accident does occur, it can result in a line being down for hours or even days at a time, drastically impacting throughput. Production is lost because of the accident itself, which may continue to be impacted by damaged equipment, lower team morale and rejected product. Time and throughput are also negatively affected following the investigation of the accident.
Here, again, is where having data on what is actually happening on the factory floor can help you identify where safety and compliance issues are impacting production.
Connected worker technology can provide this data-driven visibility, so you can react faster, mitigate risks proactively, and ultimately improve your throughput.
4. Automate the Collection of Data
One of the most critical ways to increase throughput is by implementing the automatic collection of data, particularly data on the tasks being performed by frontline workers on the factory floor. Having this data provides a more holistic view into the actual production process. Start by identifying what data is being collected and why. When the focus is on capturing accurate data, remember – garbage in, garbage out. If you’re collecting bad, inadequate or old data, you can’t expect a value-added outcome.
Relying on traditional paper-based procedures and capturing data on paper can result in pencil-whipping, human errors in data recorded, and slow reaction times. For example, if someone finds a defect on a production line, that gets captured on paper, gets input into an Excel dashboard, and then gets sent to the quality person, who then alerts the production manager. Not only is there room for error in the data being captured, but there are a lot of hand-offs and time wasted. With digital, connected worker technology, you are able to capture data throughout every step of the manufacturing process and shorten the reaction time. Efficiency comes from the granularity of data and the ability to receive near real-time updates in analytics dashboards – to identify potential issues or trends in processes and to notify the appropriate team member immediately.
Plant and operations managers now can leverage easy-to-use digital tools to identify problem areas and find solutions to help improve throughput rates. Managers can catch poor-quality products, identify bottlenecks, update process procedures and monitor manufacturing waste. On top of that, your line operators can monitor their individual performance, check work completion progress and identify and flag issues as they occur. Using real-time feedback, operators can message a remote expert or correct line feeds and speeds to ensure throughput rates on track. This lets operators, technicians, quality analysts and more keep to share the information with the people in systems who need it, while promoting accountability.
5. Regular Equipment Maintenance and Downtime
A manufacturing best practice that goes a long way is ensuring your equipment is regularly maintained. If a piece of equipment breaks down, this can dramatically affect downtime, which then leads to inefficiencies and waste. This can easily be avoided if you take a proactive approach.
Finding better ways to document and track maintenance is a step in the right direction. Now you have more tools, like connected worker platforms, that enable maintenance teams to update digital SOPs in real-time and in response to changing conditions, which helps reduce technician error and improve maintenance traceability. It enables even small, incremental changes to be made on the floor, resulting in a culture of continuous improvement where every worker is empowered to make a positive difference.
Throughput is one of the most important performance measures in manufacturing. Technology like Connected Worker® by Parsable empowers your frontline workers with the tools and resources to get their jobs done efficiently and maintain productivity while keeping throughput rates at an optimal level. Digital tools are no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have, enabling your entire team to finally overcome systemic barriers to productivity and continuous improvement.