For many manufacturers, improving productivity means utilizing automation, robots, or new technology. However, improving assembly productivity doesn’t always mean new tech and high price tags. In many cases, it’s more cost-effective and ultimately more efficient to start simple. Let’s take a look at a few simple tips to improve assembly productivity.
6 Simple Tips to Improve Assembly Productivity
1. Assess the Process
It’s difficult to improve your assembly productivity if you don’t know where to start. A process assessment can help show where improvements can be made easily, and where significant space for improvement exists. This will help you hone in on the right areas, and make the most of your time and energy.
Start by assessing the maximum potential for your process, or the overall equipment effectiveness. If each process ran perfectly, with no delays, downtime, or defects, how many units could you possibly produce?
Of course, 100% effectiveness is nearly impossible, but this number can show which processes could benefit most from improvements. For example, say one part of your assembly process could take about 15 seconds to complete, and could hypothetically produce 240 units an hour, but it’s taking between 18 and 20 seconds, producing about 190 units an hour. Another process could take 20 seconds to complete, and could hypothetically produce 180 units an hour, but it’s taking 30 seconds to complete, and about every 20th part has a defect. The second process needs more attention, even though it naturally takes longer to complete. Why? It’s farther away from the ideal, defects are eating into production time further, and these two processes can’t integrate effectively without forming a bottleneck.
2. Address Bottlenecks
The previous example showed, in simple terms, how a bottleneck can impact production. Ultimately, your overall production is only as efficient as its slowest process. Addressing bottlenecks first is most likely to improve assembly productivity the most.
Sometimes, the bottleneck might simply be caused by inefficiencies; a machine is taking too long, isn’t outfitted for the job, or a worker isn’t aware of a faster way to complete the task. In other cases, the bottleneck might simply be caused by the process itself; the process simply takes longer, and it’s holding up production. Understanding the process first can show you the best way to improve it.
If the machine is holding the process back, upgrades or refurbishment can be a cost-effective solution. For example, in factory presses, force and distance monitoring technology can reduce defects, show whether or not the machine completed the process accurately, and reduce unexpected downtime. Or, the machine might simply be outdated, or in need of repairs, causing it to lag or produce more defects than usual.
In cases where the process simply takes longer than previous processes in the assembly line, dividing the time-consuming process can help streamline production. For example, if a process that’s currently taking 30 seconds can be divided into two, 15-second processes, the components can move swiftly between the processes, and on to the next, without significant slow-downs.
3. Streamline and Simplify
In some cases, splitting processes can be helpful to improve assembly productivity overall. However, combining processes and reducing transitions and handling can also help to improve productivity.
When the timing makes sense, consider how you might combine processes, reduce parts, or reduce the variety of parts to reduce overall time and complexity. For example, rotary indexing on factory presses can allow operators to adjust the position of a part quickly to complete multiple jobs faster. Or, making small changes to your design may help you reduce some variety in smaller parts, such as screws, bolts, or other fasteners.
Take a look at this 10-ton air-over-oil force and distance monitoring press, built and configured to perform 10 unique pressing operations to build out 10 different subassemblies.
4. Encourage Communication
To better understand processes, and how to improve them, it’s helpful to talk with the workers who are closest to these processes. Workers may have realistic and efficient ways to improve processes substantially, but no avenue to actually enact change. Encourage employees to communicate their ideas, and provide open channels for employees to submit them.
In addition, provide some reward for employees who submit actionable ideas. If employees think that speeding up a process will cause them to be let go or replaced, rather than rewarded, they’re unlikely to submit any ideas.
5. Provide Ongoing Education
As previously mentioned, some slow-downs or inefficiencies start with a lack of understanding or education. Employees might simply misunderstand the fastest or easiest way to complete a job, or they might not yet have the skills to complete the job quickly. Ongoing education can help solve this problem, and give employees a sense of advancement.
Educational advancement can also help to prevent costly delays in adopting new technology. For example, for workers to effectively use presses upgraded with force and distance monitoring or similar technology, they’ll need to have some understanding of industrial computers.
There are many ways to provide educational opportunities, as well as mentorship opportunities, for employees. Set aside time for senior employees to train new employees. In addition, provide opportunities for employees to learn new skills, if they choose, and perhaps incentives for completed training that will benefit production.
6. Keep Employees Informed
If employees are worried about being replaced by automation, they may not feel comfortable sharing their insights, or they’re unsure of the future direction of the company, it will be difficult to get insights from the factory floor. Keeping employees informed about what’s happening in the company, as well as your mission and goals, can help to encourage more participation and communication.
Take a close look at your processes, and consider what areas might benefit from improvements to assembly productivity. Consider how you might improve communication with employees, who might be able to offer you different perspectives on process improvements. With careful consideration and inclusion of different viewpoints, you can get a wide view of productivity, and then hone in on specific, efficient changes.