Increase the line productivity

  • Print

Increase the line productivity from 12000 to 17000+ pcs per week with no investment?  It’s possible!  Here is how I managed to do it.

by G. Toscano - Q4M General Manager

Increase the line productivity In 2007 my company had a major problem: an important customer, for whom we were sole source, was getting very nervous: instead of the 17000 pcs per week that we had committed we could only deliver around 12000 pcs. With the obvious consequence that our products was the bottle neck of our customer’s production.

The relationships were progressively and quickly deteriorating, sometime also affecting the involved people. So I was asked to take care of this issue, also because I didn’t know this customer and my reputation was not “compromised”.The situation was really complicated: our Tunisian factory, in which the above mentioned production line was located, was going to close within one year (the production would have been transferred to China) and, in the name of the absolute transparency, this decision had been already communicated to the employees. Which implied lot of de-motivation from employees side and unwillingness to invest from company side.  The only favourable element was that I had a lot of freedom id deciding what to do.

Initially my attention was concentrated on the personnel; we moved a new supervisor from another line and I tried to deeply involve him in the project. With him, we identified couple of “champions” on the line, whose role was to provide positive examples in order to pull the rest of the team toward a more constructive behaviour. In a following phase we also introduced a “Productivity bonus” to be assigned to all the employees of the line every week in which the weekly targets were achieved; if, instead, they were missed nobody took the bonus. Of course, the targets were quite low in the beginning and gradually increased with the progressive solution of the various failure causes. The criteria for the targets was always to make them aggressive but achievable. Otherwise we would have obtained the opposite effect.

Meanwhile we had started a very detailed rejects analysis and root causes identification. This crucial work gave us the basic knowledge to start up improvement actions in different areas:

  • Problems related to incoming materials have been addressed working directly with the suppliers and, in same cases, reviewing the parts technical specifications.
  • Problems related to the reliability of the production equipment’s have been tackled working on the preventative maintenance program. In the most critical cases we called in the engineers of the equipment’s manufacturers to perform a deep maintenance and calibration program and to train our technicians.
  • Problems related to the ability of the line operators have been approached performing a number of quantified observations on the output of the single operator: we discovered that someone had a productivity much lower than others. Some operators have then been moved to different positions where their performance was better or, at least, not a bottle neck.
  • Problems related to the final test: sometime good products were rejected. Actions have then been taken both on the hardware (mainly the contacts) and on the software to optimize the test programs.
  • Problems due to human errors have been minimized introducing Pokka Yoke solutions whenever it was possible; otherwise we have introduced visual and audio aids to reduce the risk of errors.

When a first solid improvement had been already achieved, we focused our attention on the ergonomics of the work and on the balance of the individual tasks.A Kaizen work shop was then performed; the time required to run each elementary action has been recorded; any action that didn’t add any value identified; the lay-out of the line and the materials flow carefully studied.The outcome was a number of optimisation proposals about line lay-out, tasks per operator, work flow in each station, material flow and so forth.  Many of them have been accepted and implemented; others have been rejected because too much expensive or in conflict with other needs or because the implementation schedule was too long versus the project schedule.

All this work has determined a progressive increase of productivity, achieved by reducing the failure rates, increasing the equipment’s up time and the operators hourly output.

I started working on this project in Wk 15. In Wk 37 we already had an internal target to produce 17000 pcs per week: in some weeks we made it, in other weeks we missed it. We kept working on the failures removing their root causes.In week 44 we confirmed to the customer to be able to consistently deliver no less than 17000 pcs per week. And we made it.

In less than 7 months, in a very unfavourable environment, we had increase the line output of 40% with almost no investment. 

But my objective was not only that one: I also had to re-build our customer’s confidence in our company. To achieve this result I used the simplest method: since the beginning I involved in the work that we were performing the person that our customer had designated to follow up our project. Explaining in details what I was going to do, inviting him often in our factory, sharing all the results with him and listening to his suggestions; that in many case proved to be very useful.

By doing so I have got a very important ally, who helped me a lot also when we had to let his colleagues understanding that we needed some time but that we were really working hard, as the intermediate results could demonstrate. Now that company is one of our most loyal customer. And I have a new friend, who left this comment on my LinkedIn profile:
“The best Partner I ever had for working together between supplier and customer. A person of 100% integrity, at least a good friend”.

Linkedin profileLinkedin