As manufacturing gets more complex and demand keeps changing, every business is looking for the next greatest manufacturing solutions. But sometimes these “solutions” only make manufacturing more complex and less intuitive. What the industry needs are solutions that work smarter, not harder.
With this in mind, let’s explore some intelligent yet simple manufacturing solutions to 4 common assembly line issues.
Problem 1: Imbalanced Production Line
An imbalanced production line can have detrimental effects on your business, from unwanted idle time due to waiting and low worker morale due to disproportionate workloads. Finding a simple yet effective manufacturing solution to continuously balance your assembly line is crucial within the ever-evolving sphere of manufacturing.
Manufacturing Solution 1: Balancing Your Line in 3 Steps
1. Create a process map and workstation sequence
For this step, you’ll need to break down every product into their smaller tasks.
For instance, imagine you are building an engine piece by piece. The workstations will need to assemble the pistons, the fuel injectors, crankshaft, and others in a specific sequence. You probably do not want the fuel lines to be installed before the fuel injectors on your engines.
Map out an efficient operation that addresses each task sequentially. You can use a Precedence Diagram to visually break down the assembly project into the individual tasks and sub-assemblies. The nodes on the diagram represent workstations and tasks while the arrows represent the production flow. This is a simple yet effective way to create a network diagram, or structure, of a balanced and sequential assembly line.
Sequential process mapping is especially useful for products with more than one variation, meaning that not every finished product goes through the same sequence. You could have some products that will move from stations 1, 5, 8, 9, 12, 14 while others will move through stations 2, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14.
Then shape your production environment to allow for these sequences and others.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve broken down the process into its procedures and subassemblies, create digital guidebooks to direct workers on the right way to perform every task.
2. Understand your Takt Time and Cycle Time
First, you’ll want to find out how quickly you’ll need to produce your product to keep up with demand. This is called takt time.
Then take this number and compare it with each workstation's cycle time, which is the amount of time it takes for each workstation to complete its task. You’ll want these numbers to be the same so that you’re not over or under-producing.
Getting these two times to match up is crucial to obtaining an optimized schedule and streamlined operation between workstations.
Pro Tip: Did you know we have in-depth definitions for Takt, Cycle, and Lead times plus the equations to determine each one? Take a look at our Manufacturing Dictionary to find out more about all things manufacturing.
3. Test, test, test & improve
Once you have your network mapped out and your schedule established, you’ll have paved the way to a balanced assembly line. Now, it's time to test your work and make improvements.
If the efforts of continuous improvement have taught us anything, it's that we should never be afraid to test our systems and adjust as needed. Balancing an assembly line is not a one-and-done deal, especially when taking into account the fast-paced shifts in market demand that are experienced today.
Take the time to gather data and test your assembly line. You can calculate your line's efficiency with the following equation.
However, calculating line efficiency is not the only way to know if your assembly line is balanced and working for you. Our work instruction software gathers production data from every action taken on your shop floor. As employees complete their work, VKS is automatically and interactively gathering valuable data that you can use to build custom KPIs and measure success.
Problem 2: Inability to Respond to Changes in Demand
When demand changes, it can be tough to reasonably respond with the correct actions. At any time, you could be overproducing or underproducing at the drop of a hat. And with the incredible uptick of e-commerce in the past decade, demand is becoming more volatile than ever before.
For this reason, the case for mixed-model assembly has never been greater. But mixed model manufacturers need to be responsive to market shifts and move quickly when demand takes a wicked left turn on the highway.
Manufacturing Solution 2: Find and Standardize the Best Changeover Procedures
Continually balancing your production line will go a long way in helping you become flexible and responsive to the market. But now, you need to speed up your line changeover times, effectively moving from one production to another in the least amount of time possible.
There are several methods that you can follow to make changeover fluid and quick.
- Assemble a team: First, assemble a small team of about 4-6 people. Just like a Gemba Walk, you’ll want to gather people from the various silos of your business. Include management, engineers, operators, and work instruction authors to evaluate your current changeover processes and look for areas to improve.
- Create an improved process: Take the information that your team has gathered and create an improvement plan. This needs to address the concerns of the whole team so that certain advantages and disadvantages are taken into consideration for each department.
- Standardize the process: Once a clear best practice has been chosen, make it a standardized process. Give every operator precise instructions that enable the best setup and changeover methods. This is accomplished through tools like work instruction software.
- Rinse and Repeat: Ok maybe don’t rinse, but definitely repeat. Just like our previous manufacturing solution for market shifts, improving changeover is not a one-and-done deal. It needs to evolve and improve just as the industry and market improve.
Pro Tip: Use VKS to eliminate process variations. Integrate agility into your entire operation with well-laid-out plans that workers follow with confidence.
Problem 3: Lean Manufacturing is not Everything It Promised To Be
Lean manufacturing and all its subsets like Kaizen, JIT, Lean Six Sigma, and DMAIC are
intelligent manufacturing strategies. But sometimes these strategies don’t work the way we want them to.
We discussed in How to Build Manufacturing Strategies That Actually Work that two factors most often cause Lean to have diminishing returns.
- Companies focus on the manufacturing operation and forget about the customer.
- Companies understand the Lean Theory but forget about the structure and skills necessary for success.
However, there is a third reason why Lean may not be working.
Too often, companies fail to gather the right information, and therefore, are not able to make informed decisions or apply the best manufacturing solutions. As much as we need to focus on action, we need to have a clear source of knowledge informing our future actions.
This is an easy fix.
Manufacturing Solution 3: Data is Your Best Friend
Lean manufacturing is a knowledge-driven practice. It is about going into a situation with key knowledge and insight and using that knowledge to your advantage. Often, companies will have a good understanding of what Lean is without the faintest idea about how it’s properly implemented or the sources of knowledge that are required for it to succeed.
Take waste reduction, for example, a mainstay of Lean methodologies. Businesses have been trying to reduce their waste levels way before the introduction of Lean. But after World War II, Toyota took waste reduction further with their TPS (Toyota Production System). This was accomplished by gaining a keen understanding of their operation and looking at it in a unique and powerful structure.
So how do you first gain a keen understanding of your operation so that Lean methodologies are efficacious?
Data is your best friend.
Let’s return to our engine assembly line example with the addition of the line using work instruction software to gather valuable process data. As each worker completes tasks at their workstation, VKS prompts users at opportune times to enter in key production info and feedback while it also autonomously tracks time, inventory usage, and other custom KPIs.
This way, as workers are working through the numerous stages of engine assembly, your team gains a macro and micro view of the operation in real-time. Gain a precise view of which parts were used, how long did individual tasks take, who built the engine, and more. And with VKS ToolConnect and smart tools, automatically track and monitor the exact torque used for every nut and bolt.
This level of valuable insight and knowledge hone the edge of your Lean methodologies, helping you cut waste to the bone.
Pro Tip: Use VKS Smart Forms to gather key production data while using our Rule Engine to automate actions based on Smart Form data.
Problem 4: Lack of Fully Integrated Systems
Nowadays, the case for integrated manufacturing systems has been made time and time again. Integrated systems communicate with people and other business platforms to create a smart ecosystem of fast-moving information and smart decision-making.
So why then, are some companies lagging behind and not fully integrating their systems? There is a reason for this.
Even though we know integration is a good thing, it doesn’t mean it's necessarily easy.
Manufacturing Solution 4: Simplify the Process
Finding the right software doesn’t have to be complicated, nor do you need advanced training to know what you need. Try these 2 steps to evaluate how you can fully integrate your business platforms with your operation.
Take a look at your business requirements and review them against your current capabilities.
A good place to start is by evaluating your employees’ actions on your assembly line. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are your employees handwriting notes?
- Is it simple for them to access key information?
- Are there process workarounds that are hurting their productivity?
- How are your employees solving their everyday problems?
Since your workers are the lifeblood of your company, reviewing their challenges will provide you with a powerful view of your current capabilities. Once this is accomplished, you can review which integrated manufacturing system will solve these issues.
Look for new systems and measure the cost.
Now that you see some issues in your production line, you can begin looking for new systems that will resolve these issues directly.
You’ll want to find software that addresses the specific needs of your business while also saving money. There’s not much reason to install a new system if the manufacturing solution costs more than letting the original problem persist.
Pro Tip: To evaluate how much money your business will save with a fully integrated work instruction software, try our ROI calculator.
You must scrutinize how a new system will integrate with your current software. Ask yourself these questions:
- Will the systems be able to communicate with my current and future software?
- What should these systems share and communicate?
- Is integration made simple?
At VKS, our API enables complete integration with your databases, ERPs, and any manufacturing or business intelligence software. Our team is there to help you determine what factors need to be communicated and the best ways to accomplish integration for your business.
Knowledge: The Manufacturing Solution that Works
At the end of the day, we could go on endlessly with various manufacturing challenges that plague the industry. But a key manufacturing solution that keeps coming up is knowledge.
With the right data, information, and best practices, your team of workers, managers, and industry leaders are ready to take on any challenge with intelligence. Are you ready to seize opportunity and knowledge?