Parsable Blog

Manufacturing Waste Leads to Missed Continuous Improvement Opportunities

Anisha Padamshi

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In our last post, we shared how a reliance on tribal knowledge – information and best practices that reside in the minds of experienced employees, are not known by others, and are not documented – leads to information gaps and a serious expertise crisis.

Manufacturing environments are afflicted with a number of inadequacies in their traditional operations, specifically: 

  • Delayed response times as a result of broken workflows.
  • Low to no traceability, contributing to pencil whipping and poor compliance. 
  • Inherent tribal knowledge, as a result of lack of information gaps and poor standardization.
  • Missed continuous improvement opportunities to better operational inefficiencies and reduce waste.

This last post, in our four part series, looks at your inability to capture critical data points, which leads to missed opportunities to improve operations – and the effect on your business operations.  

What is Continuous Improvement?

Continuous improvement, also known as continual improvement, “is the ongoing improvement of products, services or processes through incremental and breakthrough improvements. These efforts can seek ‘incremental’ improvement over time or ‘breakthrough’ improvement all at once.”

Successful manufacturers embrace and implement continuous improvement activities to enhance operations and provide a structured approach for business improvement projects. Among the most commonly used tools for continuous improvement is the four-step quality assurance process – Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA). Companies that are dedicated to continuous improvement, based on the PDCA model, rely on data to inform change. And business problems are often defined in terms of waste, delays and re-work. Problems need to be quantified with actual data to help your team understand and prioritize how to drive improvement. 

The Seven Types of Waste in Lean Manufacturing

You may think you are a lean manufacturing operation, but if you are still using paper forms, checklists, work instructions or standard operating procedures (SOPs) – you can not call yourself lean.

You are actively using a tool that contributes to a significant portion of non-value added activities that has a ripple effect throughout your operation. Lean manufacturing at its core is synonymous with removing waste. Waste is any action or step in a process that does not add value. 

The original seven wastes were developed by Taiichi Ohno, considered the father of the Toyota Production System (TPS), and became the foundation for lean manufacturing in the U.S. The seven wastes are:

  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting
  • Overproduction
  • Over-Processing
  • Defects

An eighth waste, non-utilized talent was later introduced.

Over-Processing, Waiting and Motion

We are going to focus on the three types of waste in this article. If you are using paper, you are actually introducing motion, over-processing and waiting, and we will look into that in greater detail below. 

Over-Processing

Over-Processing refers to doing more work, adding more components or having additional steps that do not bring any additional value, or it brings more value than required. 

In manufacturing, this could mean using higher precision equipment than necessary, adding extra features to a product that no one will use, running more analysis than needed, using components with capacities beyond what is required – over-engineering the process.

Think now about the data operators are required to capture information through audits, inspections, checklists and more. This data is captured on paper, but in order for it to be usable somebody has to then take the time to input it into a system. That becomes an extra processing step that does not actually add any value to the data itself – extra processing that can easily be eliminated.

Waiting

The most easily recognizable waste is waiting. Whenever goods, tasks or humans are not moving, this is when the waiting occurs. This can include: workers waiting on equipment or material, or idle equipment waiting to be fixed or waiting for a sign-off. Waiting, more often than not, can cause an imbalance at production stations and results in excess inventory and overproduction. 

On the manufacturing floor, this could mean waiting for materials to arrive, a breakdown to be resolved, an inspection to occur, or a previous process to complete a batch of material prior to movement – and the list goes on.

As work is being executed on the factory floor, or a worker is waiting on another teammate before they can take action, this is waste as a result of the lack of a truly connected workflow, which ties directly to delays in response. A delayed response is a breakdown in a workflow caused by a gap between one task being completed and the next task being initiated. This gap often plagues the production floor in many ways such as the delay between when an operator raises a tag and when maintenance fixes the machine or a supervisor identifies a problem to correct during a gemba walk and the eventual resolution. 

The non-value-added activities that the people responsible for completing tasks must take to carry out these disconnected workflows contributes to a sizable amount of waste.

Some useful tips to counteract waiting include: making sure your digital workflow processes ensure continuous flow and eliminate the manual activities required to support the workflow, leveling out the workload by using SOPs, and building out a team of multi-skilled workers that can quickly pivot based on work demands.

Motion 

This includes the unnecessary movement of people, equipment or machinery, including: walking, lifting, reaching, bending, moving and stretching. Any task that requires excessive motion should be redesigned to improve and maximize the efficiency of workers – and more importantly, to improve worker health and safety. 

Manufacturing motion waste can include repetitive movements that do not add any value to the customer. This includes heavy objects placed on low or high shelves, searching for tools and equipment, walking across your workspace to retrieve components or use machines, or readjusting a component after it is installed. 

A straightforward countermeasure to motion is to make sure the workspace is well organized. You can eliminate unnecessary motion by placing equipment, tools and material near your production workspace, putting them in locations that will reduce stretching or straining. 

Have you considered the extra motion required by the operators to not only access information such as one-point lessons or work instructions, but to also capture data through inspections, audits and checklists? Excess motion can look like:

  • Walking from the machine (like a corrugator) to the station in between the lines to get the inspection sheet.
  • Walking back to the machine with the inspection sheet.
  • Performing an inspection and logging the details while completing the inspection.
  • Noting areas of concern.
  • Returning to the station.
  • Inputting the results of the inspection into the appropriate system(s) of record.
  • Filling out any tags as a result of the inspection.
  • Placing tags on the appropriate spots on the line.
  • Returning to the station to get the materials needed for the next task.
  • And, repeat.

A straightforward countermeasure to make sure what is needed is within reach, is to make sure the information that is needed – the data that must be collected or the information operators need like work instructions and SOPs – is accessible on the go through devices like smartphones and tablets. 

A Missing Piece

Fine-tuning your approach to lean with digital tools is just one aspect of improving your operations.

The data that your frontline workers are capturing manually fails to provide you with other essential data points necessary to unlock new continuous improvement opportunities based on how work is getting done.

You are missing the systematic capture of how the frontline performs assigned tasks. 

By bringing the who, what, when and where together with the how, you can identify the why and drive sustainable change as a result. These data points, which are not captured through the current tools, are what is missing from your continuous improvement initiatives.

Connected Worker™ Technology Can Help Drive Continuous Improvement

Parsable’s Connected Worker Platform empowers workers to access the information they need – like one-point lessons, work instructions, audits, checklists, inspections and more – from the convenience of a mobile app. Your frontline workers can report near-misses or access the most up-to-date version of the work instruction for a CIL, which reduces excess motion required to quickly find and use those resources. 

As tasks are completed and logged within the app, notifications can be sent automatically to other people involved in the workflow to begin the next task in the workflow, reducing wait times between tasks. All the while, operators and mechanics capture required information, while the app automatically notes critical details such as who did what and when, eliminating the over-processing of data that occurs with the paper-to-digital transcription process used by many. 

And, since Parsable is a cloud-based platform, the captured data is immediately available through the Parsable Admin portal, which empowers you to leverage real-time dashboards to monitor day-to-day operations. 

Your workers can now be connected to the people, information and systems with which they need to work. You are now connected to the data you need to monitor, respond and improve.