Improving manufacturing efficiency

Materials World magazine
1 Nov 2008

With industries the world over feeling the double pinch from the economic downturn and increased energy prices, now is the time to introduce cost-saving measures. But such actions do not necessarily have to involve a decrease in operational efficiency, say experts from UK firm Picme Ltd.

Picme, which is based in Manchester, specialises in improving manufacturing performance across a range of industries. ‘The problems are all the same,’ says Roy Coldwell, Director of Operations.

Measured approach

Measuring your performance correctly is key, advises Quality Improvement Engineer Sarah Grindrod. ‘There are many formats for gathering information and data. A lot of industries, such as aluminium, do not always tell the correct story. They think they have the right data, but when we look at the details, we realise they have been measuring the wrong thing.’

Coldwell agrees, ‘A company may think its overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is 90%, but when you look at it, you may find it is actually 60%. So that means there is a lot more improvement that can be made’.

A manufacturer’s OEE includes the availability of equipment and how often it is turned on and off (broken equipment still uses energy), whether it is running to its maximum performance at all times – a lower-performing machine still uses the same amount of energy as high performers, and the quality of the products it creates – partly finished products that are thrown away are a waste of energy. 'A fourth element we look at with chemicals is yield,’ says Grindrod. ‘Is the reaction converting the raw material to the finished product as it should be?’

Another issue is waste, specifically growing waste disposal costs. ‘People get used to waste processing, and they don’t challenge it because they are comfortable with it, until it becomes too expensive. So now you have companies trying to make energy efficiency changes that they should have made 20 years ago. Companies need to make improvements in the good times as well as the bad,’ says Coldwell.

One of the best ways to impart a waste efficient mentality throughout the company is through training. ‘You often have waste-reduction awareness at management level, because they are looking at the accounts, but the guys on the shopfloor might not think the same. They do not know all the costs, and only see the occasional poster on the wall. You have to get business improvement thinking embedded in the whole organisation,’ advises Coldwell.

Reducing downtime

Picme began working with Lucite International, a manufacturer of acrylic-based products in Southampton, UK, in 2007. ‘The company told us, “we have to shut the plant down to conduct inspections and do the changeover, and it is taking us three weeks. We cannot afford the downtime”. So we went in and reduced the time considerably, saving them about £1m,’ says Coldwell.

The measures included reducing the time it takes to change a pump from four days to 11 hours, and decreasing the cooling tower’s clean up period from nine days to 33 hours.

Closer to hand

Jotun Paints, a provider of protective coatings for the marine and industrial sectors, based in Flixborough, UK, approached Picme to improve its lean operations. The company was receiving smaller and more frequent orders for different coatings, leaving it with stocks which were not in demand.

Picme ran a value stream mapping exercise course with the firm’s employees. To increase changeover speed from one product type to another, small measures were implemented, such as ensuring all raw materials were available and pre-pallatised at each machine before the start of a shift. This allowed a second batch to be started while the first was still finishing.

Operator movement also became more efficient by transforming the filling station’s layout from a straight line to a ‘u’ shape. This cut the worker’s travel distance from 36 to four feet.

Through these steps, Jotun achieved a 30% improvement in output and a 29% increase in stock turns. Where before it produced 15m litres of coatings a day, it can now manufacture 25m litres to meet peak demand.

Damage limitation

Picme has also helped Innovia Films, a specialty films producer in Wigton, UK, to improve performance. Transit damage was costing the company £300,000 a year. Redesigning and strengthening the pallets overcame this problem.

Through continuous improvement training, the company has been also able to increase OEE by 35%, reduce coating waste by 40% and achieve £2m worth of savings.

Changing mindsets

One of the biggest problems holding many companies back is not their operations, but the mindset of their management. ‘It is hard to get managers to agree on what the issues are,’ says Coldwell. ‘They might know energy prices are high and the business is struggling, but one department will want to focus on health while another will say the problem is waste. So you need to tease out common themes and objectives so that everybody is pulling together.’

Further information: Picme Ltd