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Viewpoints: Throughput in Three Steps

By Andrew M. Huckey, CMfgE
Project Engineer
N. Charleston, SC

Throughput must be in the forefront of any manufacturer’s mind. Increasing the quantity of quality products delivered is paramount to creating capacity for more sales. On the shop floor, support teams of liaison, manufacturing, and industrial engineers, along with quality assurance technicians, allow mechanics and operators to continue adding value. 

Oftentimes, the pressures to produce to takt are great, and teams can easily lose focus of three important principles of maximizing throughput:

-Prioritizing tasks
-Eliminating multitasking
-Reducing work in process (WIP)

Support teams often struggle in prioritizing tasks. Establishing priorities keeps everyone on task and focused on increasing throughput. One of the best methods of setting priorities is the Nominal Group Technique.

The Nominal Group Technique (NGT) begins with gathering the team and brainstorming all the required tasks to maximize production, writing each on a board. Then every teammate ranks the importance of each item. You then average the results and sort the tasks to determine priority. 

Each morning, frame the day’s challenges in the context of the priority scheme. If necessary, adjust the daily assignments to maximize output. Then, promote and advertise the team’s list, creating a visual reminder. For example, you can print a large copy and post it in the workcell. This aids in focusing the team throughout the day. Having completed this goal, your team can easily move on to the second step of eliminating multitasking.

Studies have shown that multitasking reduces performance. Because today’s manufacturing environment is managed by text mail, instant messages, and e-mail, often we feel pressure to multitask and in some cases it is unavoidable. As a result we lose focus and switch tasks often, which decreases our output. By cultivating a discipline of eliminating distraction, you can maximize your team’s throughput.

If you have completed the first step as prescribed, reading and answering e-mail is not on your priority list. Why? E-mail throughput isn’t important. What matters is expediting a supplied part, completing an emergent tool request, or providing an engineering disposition to the shop floor.

Support teams are valuable because of their ability to facilitate production operations, not their knack for answering e-mails. Teams create value only when they actively provide technical solutions to production. Multitasking degrades the speed and quality of these outputs. Imagine your team focusing on priorities that bolster the shop floor, rather than checking e-mail every few minutes. Set aside time specifically for e-mail, or check it on the hour. Encourage your team to focus on priorities.

Other distractions include meetings, telephone calls, and cubicle chatter. Ask yourself which distractions you could manage more efficiently throughout the workday in order to curb or eliminate multitasking. Now that your team can intently focus on priorities, the final step to maximizing throughput is to reduce WIP.

Production facility demands are many and support teams are pressured to start multiple jobs at once. In turn, this creates an environment of high WIP. High WIP lengthens cycle times, increases inventory, and hurts throughput. Reducing WIP impacts value stream output in two ways.

First, reducing WIP level loads your team and allows operations to learn support functions’ true throughput capacity. Early stages of WIP reduction activities can be challenging. This is because there is an expectation that all needs must be fulfilled in order to improve throughput. Reducing WIP creates a forcing function, whereby support and production crews rally behind the throughput priority list.

The second effect of WIP reduction is a shared understanding of what creates value for the shop. When operations’ demands are framed around set priorities and technical support groups are allowed to focus, output improves. Though tasks are not worked simultaneously, the overall cycle time of prioritized items is dramatically shortened, increasing  throughput.

Throughput transformations can take weeks—in special cases mere days. But no matter how long it takes, have confidence that these steps will drive value in any production system. Practice them with your teams, unleash their productivity, and maximize your customer deliveries. ME

This article first appeared in the October 2012 issue of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for a PDF of the original article.

Published Date : 10/1/2012

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