Digital technologies enable transformation opportunities waiting in plain sight  

Manufacturing operations often consist of repetitive processes. We often find opportunities in those operations. However, often we overlook the opportunities presented in some repetitive processes. Here are just a few examples to assess in your own organization. 

Parts Availability: In companies with customized products, ensuring availability and rapid delivery of repair parts is often a key focus. This is particularly true because of the high margins associated with these proprietary parts. In addition, company reputation is often negatively impacted if customers can’t operate the expensive products they purchased. Therefore, knowing the status of individual parts and being able to direct management attention to accelerate production and delivery is often material to the economic health of the business. We recently helped a client reduce replacement part production planning delays by ~95% through lean transformation powered by digital technology. 

Materials Ordering: In many organizations, ordering raw materials is still a manual process. With one of our clients, we found that they were dedicating an extra 4 hours per week to rigorously evaluate on-hand raw materials in relation to the upcoming schedule.  We partnered with the client to design a Digital workflow technology to address the issue. The client can now evaluate their material needs in seconds every week instead of hours.

Labor Optimization: In most organizations, labor strategy is defined quarterly through the S&OP process. This is particularly true in cyclical organizations, where this plan determines the number of employees required for each production area to produce the expected output per day. If this information is not optimized or incorrect the cost impacts can be catastrophic.  We have helped our clients use predictive analytics to move from quarterly to weekly S&OP planning, optimizing the employees required to produce the target outputs at a significantly lower cost.

Parts Scheduling: In integrated manufacturing areas, it is difficult to determine the optimal changeover cycle. Too many changeovers create obsolescence risk, while too few changeovers create a customer shortage risk. Determining what order to move from product to product can heavily impact changeover time. Developing the rules and workflows to enable the most efficient changeover strategy can be more impactful than focusing on changeover reduction on the shop floor.  We are working with our clients to leverage cost effective IoT sensors and Analytics to analyze and revolutionize the changeover process.

We would love to hear from you about how technology has helped be more cost effective.

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Building front-line Leaders: A 4-part series - Part 4

We work with clients that have great insights and know which ideas can produce meaning benefits. However, many of our clients lack the front-line capabilities to turn those insights and ideas into proven results. We are sharing four approaches we have seen successful in a 4-part series. This is Part 4 of 4:

Share intentions: There is an old saying, “we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions”. Intent is so important. We believe great leaders are always explicit about their intentions, so people know what they are expected to accomplish. We have seen employees rise to meet their leader’s intentions more often than rising to carry out orders. To see what this approach looks like at a macro level, check out this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqmdLcyES_Q

We would love to hear what your favorite approaches are to build capabilities in front line leaders.

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Building front-line Leaders: A 4-part series - Part 3

We work with clients that have great insights and know which ideas can produce meaning benefits. However, many of our clients lack the front-line capabilities to turn those insights and ideas into proven results. We are sharing four approaches we have seen successful in a 4-part series. This is Part 3 of 4.

Escalate consistently: As leaders we typically have a high intensity level. We are seeking results, but that intensity can be off-putting to front-line leaders and line employees. Compliance is important, but what we are seeking is more than compliance, it is commitment to execution. Instead, try to build a soft culture with a hard performance edge. Always start with a low level of intensity and slowly increase that intensity until the job or project is complete. One of our former client CEOs used a very effective approach to escalate consistently. He told everyone on his team he used the following steps to get results: Stimulate, Motivate, Escalate, Dictate, and Eliminate. This approach was very effective and it is an easy way to remember how to escalate to get proven results. We would love to hear what your favorite approaches are to build capabilities in front line leaders.

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Building front-line Leaders: A 4-part series - Part 2

We work with clients that have great insights and know which ideas can produce meaning benefits. However, many of our clients lack the front-line capabilities to turn those insights and ideas into proven results. We are sharing four approaches we have seen successful in a 4-part series. This is Part 2 of 4:

Train later: Often leaders (and consultants) like to train client employees on new topics ad nauseam and then ask them to implement items based on what they have been taught. Ultimately, 90% of what is taught is not retained. It has been proven that adults learn from doing, not being told what to do. Instead of training employees first, start by setting expectations with employees that have short time horizons. Apply pressure that requires the employees to utilize the information provided to meet expectations. Typically, the group will initially struggle to get the desired results. So, work with them to refine the process until they are successful and achieve the expectation. This approach will yield much higher employee learning retention than training them first and it will ensure expectations will continue to be met in the future.

At FOUR40 Partners, we always seek new ways to help our clients validate meaningful results, while strengthening company culture. We would love to hear what your favorite approaches are to build capabilities in front line leaders.

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Building front-line leaders: A 4-part series - Part 1

We often work with clients that have great insights and know which ideas can produce meaning benefits. However, many of our clients lack the front-line capabilities to turn those insights and ideas into proven results. We have identified four practical approaches to improve these leadership capabilities. We will be sharing them in a 4-part series. This is Part 1 of 4:

Book Club: With many of our clients, we started a “book club.” We suggest a book to read and meet with the front-line leaders 15 – 30 minutes a week to discuss a chapter of the book that is relevant to leadership. We have observed that this indirect method of capability building yields proven improvements in leadership capabilities. The secret to making the technique effective is getting the leaders involved and leading. We ask one participant to lead the group through each discussion. To ensure they are prepared to lead, the leaders typically study enough to be confident in their ability to lead the conversation. Leading the conversation helps them develop peer leadership skills. Our two favorite books to leverage for Book Club are Dale Carnegie’s time tested “How to Win Friends and Influence People” or Ed Ruggero’s “Leaders Compass.”

At FOUR40 Partners, we always seek new ways to help our clients validate meaningful results, while strengthening company culture. We would love to hear what your favorite approaches are to build capabilities in front line leaders.

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A micro transformation initiative can result in macro benefits

One of our recent clients had a production line whose throughput was suffering and they suspected it may be caused by a single process. About 20% of their products went through this one process, where a hole was placed in the side of the product being manufactured.

As a part of our Ideation diagnostic, we used high speed cameras to assess the process and revealed 3 ideas that we implemented:

  1. We moved the location of the activation buttons from a place that required a distinctive motion to one that was in line with natural motions,

  2. We changed a gear ratio for the machine allowing a faster stroke time and

  3. We changed the manner that parts were delivered to the machine.

Sometimes a breakpoint that totally changes a production line can be measured in less than 1 second. In this case, we were transforming something as simple as the position of the activation buttons. One of our client team members thought it was a waste of time, because they would only achieve a savings of 1/2 of one second per product. Once the change was implemented and validated, the throughput results desired were achieved. 

FOUR40 Partners partnered with our client to take a small idea to a validated annual benefit of $350K and an ROI for this simple initiative of 12x.

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Simple solutions create a large benefits.

In a disassembly operation, throughput is typically the dominant lever. Most disassembly operations have a lot of workers on one large line. In this example, our client had 20+ workers on one line, working on one common belt per work shift.

FOUR40 Partners begins each project with a diagnosis of our clients operation, called the Ideation phase of the project. During Ideation, we assessed the workers before, during, and after each work shift. We identified missing disciplines that led to losses of 5 - 10 minutes every time a shift or break started and ended. We partnered with the Manufacturing Manger on a simple solution to save time. We simply connected a $5 clock to the belt motor. When the line stopped, the clock switched on. When the line started again, the clock switched off. The clock ran through each shift and between, aggregating the time that the belt and consequently the line was not in operation, making the downtime visible to all workers. This lead to a validated decrease of 80% of the down time. This same solution was implemented in 5 additional lines.

FOUR40 Partners partnered with our client to take the idea to a validated annual benefit of $675K and an ROI for this simple initiative of 22.5x.

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Initial areas of focus series: The #1 area of focus for a diagnostic

We are frequently asked questions like "What is the first thing you look for when walking through a manufacturing organization?" While there is no silver bullet, for light industrial, converting type operations there is one thing that towers among other options. That one item is Labor Efficiency. There are a few reasons behind this:

- Labor utilization is a reflective of both the creativity and the discipline of the leadership of the organization.

- It ties to other levers as well. For those not efficiently using labor, they typically also have leakages in throughput as well.

- We typically see a reasonable correlation between effective labor utilization and morale in the organization. We can talk about the reasons why in a later blog post.

When conducting an initial diagnostic for a client we analyze Labor Efficiency using a simple method. We simply count the number of people that are doing manual work on your product or process versus those that are not. This calculation is a good initial estimate of proposed labor redeployment. If you are taking this approach, make sure you don’t confuse movement with work. Often, people will be active or moving, but not always completing manual work on your product or process.

The following is a recent example we encountered:

Our client had 22 workers on a manufacturing line per shift. During our initial assessment, we observed that only 9 workers were physically working on the product. After this assessment, we met with the supervisors and managers and asked them to see if they would attempt to reduce labor on the line without negatively impacting production. A week later, they had decreased their line labor by 6 workers per shift. We then partnered with the client on a standard lean analytics approach called line balancing analysis. This approach analytically demonstrated how imbalanced the distribution of work remained among line workers. We estimated that we could reduce the number of workers on the line to 6. To deliver those results, we changed the equipment layout and retrained their workforce. Less than three months later, we validated the implementation results, transitioning from 22 to 6 line workers per shift.