Though the UK seems to have no shortage of continuous improvement managers and six sigma specialists, who obviously know a thing or two about reducing variation and improving efficiencies, evidence of sustained improvement is not as common as might be expected.
Most food and drink manufacturers seem to recognise that asking their supermarket customers to accept a price increase is an uphill struggle, especially when they are in the midst of their own ‘high street wars’, in their efforts to sustain/regain market share. Yet raw material prices continue to increase as do labour and energy costs, so sustained beneficial change is inevitable and for some, more urgent than they might realise.
Fortunately, more and more companies are realising that the most viable option, to sustain their competitive edge without compromising quality standards, is to focus inwardly to reduce overall operating costs and wastage.
Whilst the need for such internal focus is becoming more generally accepted it is still very easy to do badly. Hence the well reported statistic that some 70% or more of computerised performance improvement initiatives fail to achieve their objectives or, in some cases, to improve performance at all. Sadly, this fact also acts as a disincentive to some companies who would invest, but are immobilised by the prospect that they might get it wrong and thereby simply add cost rather than profit to their bottom line.
One problem is that so many companies are still heavily dependent upon paper recording, though it is easy to see why. Paper recording costs little to put in place and additional paper based checks are both cheap and easy to deploy. The trouble is that they are not very effective and not necessarily reliable.
The real problems start when the company wants to turn all that recorded data into something usable to improve performance. By the time that’s done, assuming the manual records are a true representation of performance, production has moved onto a new day with a new set of problems and the priorities naturally change with the new day. Yet within these silos of paper records, often dating back several years, there is probably the answer to most production and technical problems, but it is virtually unusable because it’s not real time and it’s not geared to drive performance improvement.
Without a vision and a well thought out management information strategy, even those who start to minimise paper often get it wrong as they end up with piecemeal computerisation where raw materials usage will be in one system, weight/volume/portion control in another, downtime and line efficiency records in another, coding and label verification in another, quality records in another and so on, none of which communicate with each other, and few of which automatically prioritise and distribute information to drive a call for action. ERP systems, whether SAP, Oracle or Navision, will all claim to cope with end to end performance in real time, but are often little more than financial management systems with a few extra bits and pieces added into the mix.
Real performance improvement and lasting change, however, need to be driven by a fully integrated information management system which collects all aspects of factory floor data within a single real time system requiring the minimum of operator input. This single ‘one stop shop’ should also analyse, prioritise and distribute powerful information, such as Top Losses, directly to the desk tops, Tablets or Smart Phones of those personnel who can make best use of it to drive and sustain performance improvement.
A bi-directional link between the factory floor MIS/MES and the ERP system, and possibly other legacy systems, completes the fully integrated picture to ensure that not only end to end financial data is known (through ERP) but also the reasons why the end to end performance failed to achieve expectations. This is where the integrated MIS/MES system plays can play a pivotal role.
Taking this a stage further, the very best factory floor systems will not simply display top losses and hope that someone takes appropriate actions. They will also prompt performance improvement plans deploying even more Lean Manufacturing tools and techniques such as 5 Why, Root Cause Analysis, Fishbone Diagrams, Short Interval Control and, just as importantly, a Time Line Administrator to keep improvements on track and updated.
This holistic solution-based performance-driven system has been available from Harford for many years and is being continually developed to keep pace with the rapid changes within this fast moving and volatile market place.
Prospective clients often ask us for the names of our biggest competitors. Well, there are really only two, both of which are given to us by prospective clients:
One of our clients was recently asked how much he had spent with Harford Control on his Lean journey to date. His reply was “Around £130,000 but, compared to the £millions it has helped us to save, it’s just Nickels and Dimes”
Roy Green Harford Control, December 2016.