We recently engaged with a company that wanted to take the journey towards improving operations.

We will describe this company as primarily a job shop but with repeat products, +/-70 production resources, and a product process flow of between 9 – 15 processes per part number for the sector they operate in. Demand mix changes result in floating bottlenecks.

As they had yet to start on their journey there was some confusion and uncertainty about what to do first.

Multiple Solutions, One Problem

There were many vendors advocating their solution as either “the solution” or at least the starting point of the journey towards improved operations. Ideas presented were to implement OEE, use the ERP MES solution, use a Best-of-Breed scheduling solution, use Lean, use TOC, grouping machines, implementing an MES solution, and many others.

While most of these solutions will provide value to the company, one of the key problem areas for the company is a lack of systems use knowledge and maturity. Basically, they don’t know or fully understand the technologies or their benefits. Also, critically, the workforce is not familiar with the concepts, tools or their use.

Realising this issue means recognising that the organisation needs time to acquire knowledge of and master technology and that rushing the process can overwhelm the organisation and result in implementation failure.

Overcoming the challenge

With this in mind, while there is no correct answer to this question of what to implement first, my recommendation was the following:

Implement production scheduling

Implement Basic shop floor tracking together with a scheduling solution.

  • This allows the company to understand where in the process any job is and (if reasonable routing data exists) to simulate the mix load across resources to determine possible bottlenecks, potential late deliveries, etc.
  • It also starts the company on the journey of increasing their system use maturity.
  • Tracking will also highlight missing routing information.

Manage bottlenecks

Use the scheduling output to identify bottlenecks and then

  • Confirm system run rates.
  • Implement bottleneck management methods e.g.
    • ensure a pre-production buffer exists,
    • work during lunch and tea breaks
    • focus maintenance.
    • Focus on and reduce setup times.
    • Etc.
  • implement OEE on critical machines to maximise uptime.

Improve the layout.

Review feedback from the tracking solution together with forecast demand to review resource positioning, to minimise travel distances.

Upgrade the factory systems to a comprehensive MES solution to access capabilities to

  • Manage using SPC (where appropriate)
  • Integrate and extend OEE to additional machines.
  • Incorporate QC activities.

Data analytics

Start using the data to better understand and manage the operation by using technologies such as

  • BI
  • Machine Learning etc.

What are your thoughts around selecting an implementation sequence at a small manufacturing company classified as a job shop?