Are Your Work Cells Optimized?

Managing production and productivity at a manufacturing company is no cakewalk. Custom orders, seasonality, and the introduction of new products invariably mean more work cells. And many companies get caught in the trap of increasing floor space without optimizing existing cells. Merkur’s industrialization experts have put together a list of 5 questions to help you determine whether your cells are optimized.

1-How’s your OEE?

Do you know how the OEE of your work cells is looking? If the answer is yes, then you know it should be a steady line on your dashboard. See-sawing all over the place is a telltale sign that the work cell’s process isn’t under control. We recommend looking into material flows, planned and unplanned downtime, and troubleshooting.

For HR, dig into your turnover and absentee rates and any OHS issues you may have. It’s hard to keep up operational efficiency when you’re dealing with unresolved HR issues.

2-What’s your value added/non-value added ratio?

It can’t be repeated enough: Lean culture aims to eliminate material and workforce waste. These types of waste don’t factor into your OEE, so exclusive reliance on this indicator is misleading. Your OEE could be off the charts, but it won’t tell you whether operators are efficient or if they’re adding value to your final product.

When Lean is applied to operators, inventory, cell layout, work area square footage, or even robot trajectories, the objective is always the same: eliminate waste by optimizing time and space. Doing so requires identifying value-added (VA) and non-value-added (NVA) actions and taking steps to eliminate the latter.

Merkur’s consultants can help you identify NVA tasks and get your floor Lean.

3-Is the process robust and reliable enough to meet your needs?

Manufacturing methods are crucial for cell optimization. If the quality of your finished products depends on your operators, you need to take action starting now. Your equipment and templates have to be consistent with the level of quality you expect. All too often they’re not optimal, and operators have to go above and beyond the call of duty. A careful needs analysis can help you set up the tooling and equipment you need without breaking the bank.

It’s also important to analyze the overall process. Processes can be unpredictable during SMEDs or squeeze suppliers with overly tight tolerances.

In terms of product design, it’s a good idea to work with manufacturing engineering experts to make sure the manufacturing process is fully optimized (DfX).

4-Have you considered automation?

Automating all or part of a work cell considerably reduces quality issues and improves speed. It also reduces human error and addresses training, recruitment, ergonomics, and absenteeism issues.

A company’s target level of automation is often dictated by its strategic objectives. Technological improvements of this kind benefit all companies, but require significant commitments from senior management in terms of time and resources. In our experience, these types of projects have been very profitable for our customers.

5-Are you collecting, sorting, and leveraging your machine data?

Even if you’ve taken steps to address the previous questions, it’s no guarantee of profitability. The positive impacts of Lean implementation and factory automation are well documented, but many companies neglect the important task of collecting and organizing data raw data from their machines.

Several technologies are available to help companies collect, organize, and distribute data to the right people in real time. Machine sensors help production teams keep their planning on track by assessing cell performance in real time. Corrections can be made quickly, significantly reducing reject rates and poor quality and driving productivity upward.

Although questions two and three are key to identifying your needs, cells are only fully optimized when the data they produce is accessible in real time. If things go awry and your OEE is all over the map, you have to be proactive and intervene quickly.

That’s why Merkur is a valuable partner for work cell optimization.

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