Excessive production lead time: how to solve it?

Benjamin Franklin, to whom some sources attribute the phrase "time is money," said that any time that could be spent working was time well spent.

We suppose that if he were with us today, he would have to adapt his reasoning to the new times, since what we are looking for now is not to work more but to work better, that is to say: to do more in less time, consuming less resources and energy and generating less waste.

Translated to the machining industry, the challenge facing companies is the following: How to reduce overall production time while maintaining quality and making better use of the resources available to them?

Manual adjustment of manufacturing part.

Manufacturing lead time, productivity and OEE

In the 1960s and 1970s, the focus of production processes was on cost efficiency. In the 80s on quality and zero defects. Yesterday on speed and delivery times. Today all these factors are still crucial and that is why today OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) is where we put the focus.

The OEE indicator measures the overall effectiveness of production teams and is a compendium of productivity, quality and resource utilization. Having this more integrative approach to productivity makes it easier for shops to make real progress towards effective continuous improvement, avoiding improving some parameters at the expense of others. For example, it prevents us from reducing lead times at the expense of quality.

The trend in industrial production towards shorter and customized production runs requires flexible infrastructure and processes. Being able to produce with reduced times and making the most of resources to do more with less (lean manufacturing) is the essence of OEE.

OEE is one of the most important KPIs in the manufacturing industry and its optimization is a priority for most companies.

What exactly is OEE?

As we said, OEE (which could be translated as Overall Equipment Effectiveness) is a productivity indicator that reflects quality, performance and availability. Although depending on the industry, its interpretation can be nuanced, in general this indicator is calculated as follows.

The quality part indicates the percentage of good parts produced, yield is the ratio of planned to executed cycle time (i.e. how close production has come to what was planned in terms of speed), and availability reflects the frequency and duration of shutdowns.

Improving OEE means reducing the time from the start of a production process to its completion (and delivery to the customer), while maintaining quality and improving resource utilization.

The essence of OEE is to be able to produce in less time and make the best use of resources.

How can this be achieved? Here are some ideas.

5 strategies to reduce lead time in production and thus improve OEE

Engineers on the shop floor viewing real-time data from the manufacturing process.

Reducing lead time in industrial production involves optimizing times at all stages up to the delivery of the order, affecting processes and assets throughout the value chain that we will have to manage intelligently to achieve better results.

1. Optimization of production processes and downtime

Optimizing operations requires evaluating every process involved in production, including the main enemies of productivity: unscheduled stops and rework of defective parts or to complete unfinished activities.

Unscheduled stops can be caused by breakdowns or failures in the internal organization, e.g. lack of certain material or responsible personnel. A machine stop can stop the entire production process, so it is important to keep this point under control.

As a consequence, maintenance plays a very important role, since doing it in an intelligent way will allow you to have the machines working in the periods you have planned. It is also essential to make visible the causes behind these inefficiencies. This way you will be able to look for structural solutions to the underlying problems that generate these unscheduled stops or reprocessing, instead of patching or temporary solutions.

MIC automation platform interface with manufacturing cell OEE data visualization.
Interface of the MIC automation platform with OEE data visualization of the manufacturing cell.

2. See in real time what is happening in the process.

An important part of having control over lead time is having real-time visibility over the processes. We have already talked about the advantages of real-time visibility in our blog, so here we'll highlight just a couple of in our blog, so here we will highlight just a couple of ideas.

  • Having a system that provides information on the time required for each process allows estimating delivery dates and better customer management.
  • This capability also offers greater flexibility when it comes to reorganizing work or introducing last-minute changes, being able to redistribute tasks to meet urgent orders, changes or modifications, etc.

Intelligent automation reduces shop floor lead time and facilitates production planning.

Dynamic management of workshop resources

Closely related to the previous point, having the possibility of "seeing" in real time allows for a more dynamic planning of resources (people, machines, etc.), helping to optimize time.

Being able to have a real-time picture of where you are with respect to production targets and the performance of each machine improves the accuracy of the organization. For example, it allows you to detect and solve inefficiency problems without the need to wait for paper reports the next day.

This is even more important when you have certain assets that are critical to productivity or that can generate bottlenecks. Controlling the efficiency and safety of these assets benefits the entire production line, as a critical machine downtime can impact other processes and machines at other points.

4. Production set-up times and changeovers

As we have already in this interviewit is essential to have setup times in production management. It's something that seems obvious but many organizations still overlook this.

Something that often happens is the following: when preparation times are long, the criterion of many professionals is to change the schedule because it seems more efficient to group jobs that have the same configuration, even if their delivery dates are different. This inevitably affects the delivery dates and therefore the lead time.

5. Facilitating a culture of innovation

Continuous improvement requires some dedication. Teams having a fraction of their time to acquire new skills, such as operating new machines or thinking about how they could improve processes, is what facilitates this continuous improvement and therefore the possibility of improving times in the medium and long term.

For this to happen, there must be an organizational culture that facilitates it, that takes this into account, avoiding loading machines (and workers) 100% or leaving innovation "for when there is free time".

The return that this can bring is undoubtedly very positive for the organization, on the one hand with an increase in productivity that allows to increase profits, and on the other hand with a reduction of both direct costs (defective) and indirect costs (absenteeism and labor unrest).

Benefits of controlling production time

The benefits of controlling and reducing lead time in companies include:

  • Improved inventory management and potential to move towards a "just in time" supply chain model.
  • Improved cash flow, shortening the time between the purchase and sale of products, thus reducing stock costs.
  • Greater flexibility to adapt to market changes.
  • Increased responsiveness and shorter lead times, improving your competitiveness.

At SMARTPM we help you generate more value

As we said at the beginning of this article, reducing lead time means delivering faster thanks to smarter work processes. Low lead times are a great competitive advantage and should be one of the priorities of any organization.

Intelligent automation will allow you to reduce the lead time of your workshop and facilitate your production planning. Do not hesitate to contact our specialists in engineering and process automation.

Header photo: Daniel Smyth-Pexels : Daniel Smyth-Pexels | Photo engineers: ThisIsEngineering-Pexels