November 20

How to Increase Production of a Product: 5 Steps to Getting Results

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I get a number of people each month ask, “I know the principles of lean, but how do i apply it to increase production of a product of mine?” I thought i’d write a comprehensive guide to show you the exact steps.

The Quick Answer – How to increase production of a product?  This can be achieved in 5 steps:

  1. Understand how many products you need to produce daily, to achieve customer demand. Identify the target build rate, called Takt time. (Available time in the day / amount to be built daily). 
  2. Identify all the steps needed to build the product and the average time it takes for each step to be completed.
  3. Identify how many people you need to process the product. Do this by taking the total time to build (Steps 2)  and divide it by the Takt time (Step 1)
  4. Balance the new operations – redesign the build process to support the number of people for the process (obtained in Step 3)
  5. Create an optimised layout to support this new way of working

In order to put the above steps in place, you’ll need to drill down in a little more detail, to understand exactly how to do it. Here’s the detail.

How to Increase Production of a Product? It’s All About Standard Work

The most efficient and productive processes are those that are designed around the following 3 areas:

  1. The optimum number of people to process what’s needed
  2. The optimum standard and repeatable process 
  3. The minimum amount of work-in-progress to support build

In lean, this is often referred to as standard work. If you get this mix right, your processes will be highly standardised and be able to produce more with less resource.

In fact the above 3 factors that go into standard work, means that you can improve your capacity hugely.

An assembly team in a large aerospace company, assembled fuel pumps. They had to produce 40 ship sets per week. The team of 4 people worked excessive over time, but couldn’t get anywhere near 100% on time delivery each week. After implementing their standard work project, they managed 100% on time every week and with only 2 people in the assembly process.

Step 1: Understand Customer Consumption

Your production should start and end with the customer in mind. This means that you must look at what your customers value, and then build processes to deliver this value every time. It’s an important principle of lean.

When identifying what your customers see as value, some obvious questions are:

  • What type of service do they want?
  • What are their expectations of the product you’re providing?
  • How many do they want each day or week?
  • How fast do they want it once they place the order?

In improving your current processes to make more products in the same amount of time, we’re more interested in the last two questions. We must understand exactly, how often they place orders on us and what the lead time is until they receive their order.

Firstly, we need to know the number of orders or the consumption rate. Once we have this, we’ll be able to build our processes to support this pace. 

For instance, if my business manufactures doors, I can calculate the number of doors I would typically need to build. Now, this may vary, but I’m looking for averages, here.

Let’s suppose that on average, we expect our customers to order around 40 doors per day, within the next year. This equates to a 100% growth from last year. We can find our consumption rate by dividing the time our business is available by the total doors per day. In this case its: 480 mins / 40 = 12 minutes. Our Production pace must support a door every 12 minutes.

Another term for our consumption rate is called Takt. It means drum beat. And it’s what we need to know in order to redesign our manufacturing processes to support our new output targets.

How do you get your Takt Time?

Assuming you’re looking at growing your product sales, the current output is not enough. Here’s how to understand your numbers quickly:

  1. Identify the typical targeted sales per year for your product, based on your growth plans
  2. Work backwards to identify the rough estimate of units to be sold in a year.
  3. Divide this number by 48 weeks (taking into account Christmas and holidays)
  4. Now divide this weekly number by 5 days a week. If you run your business over 7 days, then divide it by 7.
  5. Once you have your daily target, take the hours your business is open in minutes, and divide by the daily quantity.

Here’s an example:

how to increase production of a product: Understand Takt Time

This is your takt time. In our example, to process 5 per day, and with the availability of our factory at 456 minutes per day, we need to build a product every 91 minutes.

We’ll take this information on to the next stage.

Step 2: Now Map Your Build Process

This is an extremely important step. We have our consumption rate (Takt time). We now need to analyse our current processes, to see a number of things:

  • To see the exact build sequence – what are the actual steps involved in making your product?
  • To understand the wasteful activities – We’ll be optimising our processes later, so we need to see the waste, before we do anything else
  • Identify how long each activity takes to process, on average – We can then use this information to identify the total build time (often called the total cycle time)

This stage takes a bit of time to do, but don’t rush it. It involves physically going to where the work is being done and observing the steps and taking note of the average timings.

If you guess these timings, you won’t get a great result from the entire project. You have to be sure about what exactly gets done and how long it all takes.

How do you Map your Processes?

For a more detailed plan, you can follow the guide I wrote on how to conduct time observations

  1. Walk the process. While you go, map the detailed steps. If it’s an assembly process, split the activities down into detail that captures walking, searching and setting steps. If it’s multiple processes, you’ll have to map each one in a detailed way.
  2. Now document the chart based on the sequence of activities. You’ll be using this to add timings.
  3. Spend time to observe the team processing the tasks. Capture the time it takes to process one unit, not the entire batch. Keep adding different timings to get a well rounded average for each step.
  4. Once you have enough observations, get the average timings for each activity.
  5. For each step then define if it’s a value added activity or non value added one. We want to identify the NVA, so we can remove as much wasteful activities as possible, when it comes to redesigning the processes, later.
Time Observation Chart - improved state

The above is an example time observations chart. Here’s what each column means:

  • Column 1: the sequence number
  • Column 2: the activity
  • Columns 3 – 12: these are the times observed. 
  • Column 13: The average time it takes the team for each activity
  • Column 14: Whether the task is value added or non value added (wasteful)

Step 3: Identify the Optimum Number of Operators Needed

Now we have:

  • Our target customer consumption rate (takt time)
  • A detailed breakdown of the process steps to produce your product
  • Average time to build (total cycle time)

The next thing to do is identify how many operators are needed to build to the takt time. 

This calculation is achieved through simply dividing the total cycle time (the total time it takes to produce the product) by the takt time.

What does this Mean? 

There’s no point having too many people to run a process. If this happens, you get some operations overloaded with work because they’re running too slow… and other processes waiting around because they’re a lot faster.

In other words, there’s an imbalance of activities.

We need to balance operations, so everyone has an equal load of work. We also need to understand how many people we need in order to get this balance and optimise our productivity.

The answer to this comes from knowing how long a process takes. When we know this, we can accurately calculate how many people we’ll need.

Here’ an example: If we need to make 5 doors a day, and our total cycle time is 165 minutes, it means we need 1.8 operators (156 minutes cycle time / 91 minutes takt).

Number-of-Operators-Calculation

In our example, we can’t use 0.8 of an operator. We have to use a full operator, so we’ll be planning the process with 2 people in mind.

We now have the following:

  • Customer demand and Takt
  • The build process and timings
  • The number of operators needed to achieve the customer demand, based on how long it takes to build.

We now have to design our manufacturing process.

Step 4: Balance Activities

Just like a child that smashes apart their Lego model, to piece it back together and make something better, this is what we do with our processes.

Your teams currently produce your product to the existing way of working. The thing is, because they do it this way, it may not be optimised to achieve your new output levels.

Equally, it may not be designed for the optimum number of operators.

In relation to this, what we’re trying to do in lean is to create processes that get repeated exactly the same way. This means that everyone works to the same takt, and they know exactly what to do and how.

Design for Continuous Flow

We design our build processes on one piece flow. This means processing one unit at a time. There are many benefits of this, including throughput, quality, agility, less WIP, quicker lead times and reduced cost.

We don’t try to build batches into our process, because batches are a form of waste.

For now, we’ll crack on with this stage, based on flow.

This is done by a term called balancing. 

Balancing consists of assigning activities to each operator, in line with the takt time. The idea being that each operator has roughly the same amount of work activity (in terms of time)… and therefore they’re balanced. 

While one operator is getting on with one part of the build process, the other is doing theirs in tandem, and so on. When the unit is completed and passed on, they repeat the same activities again, until all items are completed.

This is where your process gets really lean, and where you can massively increase production capacity. And it’s created by nothing more than a graph, whereby activities are stacked on top of each other for each operator.

Here’s an example of an Operator Balance Chart:

Operator Balance Chart Example

Notice the following:

  • Each operator has its own column (in this example, operators 1 -4)
  • Work is simply stacked on top of each other and below the red Takt Line to ensure they can build to the production pace.

Defining who does what activities can be a bit of trial and error. You’ll move a number of tasks around, until you get the best balance.

Any gap between the red takt line and the operators’ activities represents a little bit of waste and waiting time. So, the more gaps, the more you need to improve your processes to remove these gaps.

There will always be some gaps and imbalance, but your goal is to try and balance all activities just before the takt line, for optimum efficiency and productivity.

How do you Balance your Processes?

Here’s how you can create your operator balance chart:

  1. Draw an operator balance chart on flip chart paper. Create your Y axis to show the time.
  2. Take note of the takt time from step 1. Draw this as a line on the chart.
  3. Now create columns to represent the number of operators needed from step 3
  4. Take all of your process activities from step 2 and remove the clear wasteful activities like preparing for the job, getting labels, etc. These should be done by someone else and supplied to the lines, so the operators don’t stop and mess around with them.
  5. Use post it notes to build your operator balance chart, assigning actions to each operator as you go
  6. Keep assigning activities until all operators are loaded. Ensure that the activities don’t go beyond the takt line.
  7. Sanitise your results. Do they make sense? Do you need a kanban point in between operators to keep the line flowing? How many in process kanban points do you need to ensure all operators are processing one unit?
  8. If happy, trial it with the team and see how you get on.

Here’s an example of this activity:

In this example:

  • The red blocks are machine run times. These can be cycling whilst the operator is getting on with other activities at the same time
  • The yellow post-its are the operator activities
  • The blue star bursts are just ideas that must be actioned to achieve this balance
  • You can’t see it in this chart, but kanbans were designed to separate each operator’s processes, which allowed each operator to keep working on a unit, in tandem.  

Step 5: Standardise Layout (& Flow)

We’ve made a lot of progress so far. 

  • We’ve understood how fast we need to work to supply our customers with what they want (takt time).
  • Understood the number of operators needed
  • Created a new sequence of work to deliver to this drumbeat (Operator balancing).

We now need to lock in the process and agree the new layout.

As part of flow, there’s no point walking excessively, whilst moving equipment and products around, because our layout doesn’t support flow.

As we’ve defined, we’re trying to make one piece flow, which means we want to make one and move it on.

For this to work, we have to bring processes and work-space together, so we can physically flow without wating time and movement.

This means ensuring what we need is close and that our process stations are close, too. You may have heard of the term cellular manufacturing. This is the reason why.  Lean layouts come in a number of shapes and sizes, but they all focus on eliminating the process wastes.

The most common layouts are:

  • The flow-line approach (A simple straight line, where operators pass work to each-other in a straight line. This is often found in automotive assembly lines)
  • The U-shape cell (Often seen as a cell), where work goes in one end and flows around the cell, going out the other end. This flow looks like a U shape.

Each one has its benefits. The key message is to try different layouts to drive waste out of your operations… all in view of being able to make one, move it on, and repeat effortlessly.

How do i Create a Flow Layout?

  1. Take a floor plan of your factory. Ensure it’s to scale and as big as possible
  2. Now make cut outs of all the equipment, benches and machines needed (to scale)
  3. Move all the equipment and benches around to support flow and the processes each operator will perform (from step 4)
  4. Create a number of ideas and iterations until you’ve agreed the layout

It’s simple in its approach, but very powerful. Just by moving items around and identifying different ideas, you’ll be able to design a layout to support flow. 

The image above was a third draft layout that enabled the team to process 50% more output than before our lean project.

Here’s another example, created on Excel, after we’d drafted a few ideas on paper:

Here’s what this diagram shows:

  • Operator 1 builds one housing assembly and then adds the reservoir build to the product. He/she repeats this process for every unit built.
  • Operator 2 at the same time, completes the caps build and then adds it to the transfer block build. They repeat for every unit.
  • You’ll notice kanban trolleys between processes. They house one unit of each completed build, and are then passed to the next step to ensure the process is supplied at the right time.
  • The above layout was created from the operator balancing process.

The Benefits of the 5 Step Process to Improve Production of a Product

This 5 step process is the exact sequence i take my clients though to achieve a snap-shot of the following:

  • Doubling productivity and allowing the business to realise another £3 million in sales, without adding any additional labour
  • Improve output in an existing factory, to support 60% growth, without having to move to a bigger facility
  • Reduce the cost of an Aerospace assembly line by $100,000. (This wasn’t used to make people redundant. Lean shouldn’t be used this way. The excess labour was moved to another area in the business)
  • Increase an assembly line’s output by 50% with no extra labour
  • Increase output of a complete value stream to achieve 100% on time delivery and less cost in the process.

Recommended Reading

The book i would swear by, that allowed me to understand this concept (called standard work) and implement it in business is called Standard Work for the Shopfloor. This book literally showed me exactly what to do and how to implement the concepts in this article, so i could us it again, and again. I now do this for clients, too.


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