Manufacturers understand the need for continuous improvement. Whether it’s about adapting to improve efficiency or satisfying customer needs, you’ll succeed most when your production processes align with your overall business strategy. Production Line Walks are an effective way for your team to discover missed opportunities, eliminate waste, gain insight into production workflow, support and unite your employees, and foster a culture of continuous improvement. I’ve come to believe in Production Line Walks because they almost always result in clear answers to a common customer goal…
“I want my team to do what we do but better than we do it now.”
I can’t count how many conversations I’ve had where customers echo that wish. I’ve worked with hundreds of manufacturers up and down the supply chain and no two of them have ever been the same, yet every single one has looked to do two things:
- Provide greater value to their customer
- Be as efficient as possible in what they do and how they do it
Taken from the lean management strategy of gemba walks, a Production Line Walk is a literal start-to-finish walk through your production process. You evaluate and observe everything. You see the process. You understand the workflow. You ask questions. You learn. Then you take everything you’ve seen and heard and locate the points where you can improve to make things faster, safer, easier, less costly, and just plain better.
This alone can solve some of your team’s most common production challenges. Here are my top five recommendations to include in your next Production Line Walk:
1. Start Your Production Line Walk with Fresh Eyes and Honesty
If you’re like me, sometimes you can get lost in the day-to-day operations and lose sight of what’s really going on in your business. As your business grows, it can also be easy to unintentionally create two sets of staff — the people who make decisions and the people who really know what’s going on.
You can reset your systems by bringing your team together to ask these questions:
- What are we doing right? What processes of ours align with company objectives?
- Are there challenges that impact our ability to achieve high-quality output? What factors slow processes down?
- What continuous improvement strategies can we put in place to align processes with overall company goals?
Once you’ve taken an honest assessment of where your production is, you can bring in fresh eyes to help implement new ideas. This can be new staff, people from other departments, or other facilities — or give Optimas a call for an honest top-to-bottom review of your processes. Don’t be afraid of what you might find; consider it an opportunity for improvement.
2. Don’t Just Change for the Sake of Change
I know, I know, I just said to be open and honest about opportunities for change. But hear me out — not all change is good, effective or necessary. Are the changes you make moving your business toward your end goal? If yes, make the change. If not, or you’re not sure, maybe it’s not a priority you need to worry about today.
Your Production Line Walks should shine a spotlight on big things that need to be fixed now, smaller changes that could have a big impact (keep reading for more on this), and overall steps to smooth the production lane for decision-makers, facility managers and your workforce.
Consider triaging your challenges. Address the big problems. Fix the smaller things that can’t wait. Then, create a list of what’s left over — the lower priority items that you and your team can look at later. Make a plan to address these during future team meetings and correct them if needed.
3. Use Your Line Walk to Look for Small Changes with Huge Potential
I told you that we’d come back to this.
It’s amazing how often I’ve seen Production Line Walks reveal small, seemingly inconsequential improvement opportunities that could easily go unnoticed. This is where line walks really earn your investment of time and staff resources. These small things can multiply quickly. Results from recent line walk recommendations by Optimas have included:
- Replacing a machined dowel, used 100,000 times a year, with a simpler split dowel reduced the selling price from $5.00/each to $0.40/each
- A change in material led to the removal of a now-unnecessary tank — freeing up floor space and cutting down on both assembly time and energy usage by nearly $3,000/year
- Changing the method for reworking step pin hinges from a process requiring one hour of work to one requiring five minutes
- Reimagining a single piece of hardware into a three-piece system that reduced the cost of product produced in the thousands each year by $10 per unit
- Developing a paint-resistant bolt to replace low-quality bolts — saving the customer added costs and production time
Big changes can definitely lead to success, but so can a lot of little course corrections. Look at tuning your operation and introducing small improvements along the way — they all add up over time.
4. Production Line Walks Can Identify Things to Cut and Things to Add
You may have noticed that not all of the examples I mentioned above involved “cuts” or eliminations. You can only take away so much before you risk hurting product quality and team pride. In fact, adding costs along the way may still reduce overall costs. Sometimes making more work for yourself at Step 2 in the process means that Steps 5, 6 and 7 can be completed in half the time.
As you look for ways to reduce costs and improve efficiency, also consider ways to add something in. Is it another station, another worker, utilizing new technology, or using a stronger material? Not every improvement comes by subtracting waste; sometimes it comes from adding value.
5. Line Walks with Optimas are Better than Line Walks without Optimas
We perform line walks with the mindset of a manufacturer because we are a manufacturer. Optimas engineers have walked the lines for hundreds of manufacturers and now that wealth of experience can be yours.
We’re with you through the whole process. We have the ability and the capability to become the source of changes you want to implement. Whether it’s supplying finished products or prototyping solutions through 3D printing, our engineers are available to close the loop on many of the suggestions we offer your team.
I promise you that a Production Line Walk is worth your time and a line walk with Optimas is your best bet for success. Line walks can be incredibly beneficial to your operations, your supply chain relationships, and your bottom line. If you’re ready to schedule a production line walk at your facility, speak with an Optimas engineering expert today — we’re here to help you Efficiency Up.