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3 Examples in Which We Implemented Flexible Manufacturing

February 1, 2017

 by Renaud Anjoran

Do your customers ask for shorter production cycles, to allow them to replenish their inventory faster? Do you want to manufacture Just In Time? That’s something Lean manufacturing consulting firms are often asked to do. To give you a feel for the type of work we usually do with our clients, let us describe 3 examples.

1. A consumer goods manufacturer

consumer goods manufacturing

One urgency was better inventory control. Some components and semi-finished goods had stayed in the warehouse and parts of the workshop for many months, sometimes several years. Excessive inventory is a major impediment to flexible manufacturing.

We helped the factory set up a part tracking system. Every part was stored at a unique address and was easy to find in the computer system. This way it became possible to see what proportion of ‘aged inventory’ was in the warehouse.

The next step was to force re-use of the old inventory (when appropriate). Along with a few other measures, the factory was able to reduce inventory by 50% in just a few months.

Another way we helped this company implement flexible manufacturing was through the use of a planning system. They already had an ERP but they didn’t use the production planning module.

One key objective of the production planning system we helped them put in place was the ability to make multiple changes on the lines in a quick fashion. In any given day, they were able to switch several times from one SKU to another.

This was a key approach in order to reduce the bad habit of batch & queue processing.

Webinar - How can flexible manufacturing cut lead times in half

2. An auto part factory

This factory was accumulating an ever larger amount of work-in-process inventory because of two bottlenecks. The capacity of their entire system was constrained, just like traffic accumulates behind an accident that blocks half the way on a road. It was causing serious shipment delays. They couldn’t deliver what their customers ordered!

flow is constrained

We helped them identify the cause of their lack of ‘flow’ and they got to work on elevating the capacity of the two bottlenecks.

Another issue was a disconnected flow of materials. We helped them connect sub-assemblies to the main assembly line.

main assembly line

We also helped them integrate assembly, testing, inspection, and packaging in one uninterrupted line.

assembly line

You can read more about this in our case study here.

3. An oil & gas equipment manufacturer

Just like in the two previous examples, we started by reducing inventory. Not only does it cost a lot of money, but it makes the manufacturing flow slower and more rigid.

We helped this company negotiate new agreements with the suppliers of a few key components. The ‘traditional’ workflow looked like this:

  1. Supplier delivers to central warehouse, in a quantity often too large
  2. Central warehouse has to bring the parts to a workshop for cutting just what is needed, and then bring it to the workshop when they will have to be assembled
  3. The remainder is brought back to the warehouse and kept, often for years

The new workflow was much more straightforward:

  1. Supplier cuts just what is needed (the orders are smaller, in exchange for a slightly higher unit price)
  2. Supplier delivers directly to the workshop when the parts will have to be assembled
  3. Those parts are stored at POU (point of use) inside the workshop and wait a few days until they are used

As you can see, we often have to adapt to very different situations and develop countermeasures that make sense for each individual factory. It does not always follow a linear sequence.

Have you implemented the same types of changes in a manufacturing facility? Any tips on what worked and what didn’t? Leave a comment below! 

Webinar - How can flexible manufacturing cut lead times in half

Topics: Management/Turnaround, Process Improvement

Renaud Anjoran

Renaud Anjoran

15 years experience in China.
Partner, China Manufacturing Consultants.
Worked with hundreds of factories in China.
Certifications: ASQ CQE & CRE; ISO 9001 & 14001 lead auditor.
Author of well-read blog, Quality Inspection Tips.

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