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In most business settings, time is measured by hours and days — how long will it take to receive a proposal, mockup sheet or important presentation. But in the manufacturing world, time is measured in product cycles. From sourcing materials to testing to packaging, how long will it take to get one product from conception to full completion?
That is the essence of manufacturing cycle time.
Not to be confused with lead time, cycle time is how long it takes to complete a unit of product, from the beginning of the manufacturing process until the product is ready to ship. In this article we will detail how to calculate cycle times, and the ways you can improve it in your organization.
How to calculate cycle time
The manufacturing cycle time is different for every organization and every product run, and it’s important to constantly check on this variable to ensure productivity benchmarks are being met. The formula to determine cycle time is actually fairly simple:
Total amount of goods produced / Time of production = Cycle time
Once a baseline is determined, manufacturers can try a number of different things to decrease cycle time and increase profitability.
How to improve cycle time
There are a number of ways that a manufacturer can decrease cycle time, such as:
Streamline production process as a whole
By identifying and eliminating any bottlenecks or inefficiencies during the production process, manufacturers can reduce cycle time by improving the system as a whole.
Take a detailed look at your operations — are there issues associated with the production layout of your floor? Are there certain tasks that could be automated or otherwise simplified? Is there an opportunity for you to implement lean manufacturing principles? Evaluating your operations is a great way to identify inefficiencies in your organization.
The key is to reduce the time required in order to increase overall capacity, all while ensuring that nothing gets missed, as shortcuts can lead to quality control issues and dissatisfied customers.
Improve equipment and systems
Is your equipment up to date? Or are you using outdated machinery and legacy technologies?
The more outdated the equipment a manufacturer works with, the greater opportunity for preventable delays in operation. Take an assessment of physical equipment and the software your businesses utilizes on a daily basis. If you find that your systems are more than five or ten years old, it may be time to set aside profits to update your manufacturing facility.
Invest in employee training
Well-trained employees are more likely to work efficiently, produce high-quality results and create ways to optimize operations.
Develop a culture of employee development and make sure they feel comfortable giving suggestions. Doing so can increase morale — leading to higher retention rates, a growing concern of manufacturers — and improve the quality of operations as a whole. The more high-quality employees a manufacturer has, the more efficient the business will run.
Manufacturers should take an even deeper look at operations, utilizing analytics to alert them to any inefficiencies in the process.
On the surface, production could seem to be running smoothly, but perhaps there is an area of production, for example, that is taking 20% longer than expected. Create and gather data points wherever possible, because you never know what inefficiencies may be lurking under a normal-looking production cycle.
At USC Consulting Group, we can help your manufacturing business decrease manufacturing cycle time and increase efficiency and productivity. Contact us to find out more.
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After 50+ years in the operations management consulting business, USC has become skilled detectives at finding hidden opportunities in our clients’ operations. Here’s the evidence on how we uncover more throughput and production in your operations:
The key to doing more with your existing assets is uncovering opportunities for efficiency and increased productivity. Things you might not even see that are right under your nose.
- Excessive cycle time
- Excessive machine changeover time
- Operational bottlenecks
That’s where our expertise comes in. We often find them by looking at issues that are accepted in the workplace as “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
We discover breakthroughs by asking questions.
- Where is the bottleneck?
- Is it technical?
- Is it tactical?
If it’s about technology, or your assets, maybe it’s time to bring in the engineers to improve on your machines’ functions.
If it’s tactical, we analyze your processes to find areas of improvement.
Follow the footsteps in the accompanying infographic as Detective Payne points out the areas of interests you want to focus your magnifying glass on.
If you’d like to catch the “thief” stealing efficiency in your operations, contact us today. We’ll put our expert detective work to use for you.
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If you’re in the metals industry, you don’t need us to tell you what your challenges are. You’re living them every day, whether it’s your supply chain, the ability to keep up with increasing demand, operating inefficiencies or COVID turning the world upside down. While these may be common, across-the-board challenges, no two companies in the metals industry are being affected by the same issues in exactly the same way.
That’s why we are not a cookie-cutter consulting firm.
When companies come to us, 9 times out of 10, they already have a pretty good idea of the challenges across their company workflows. Most are looking to us to help break bottlenecks in their operation, find ways we can help them do more with what they have, and many times, do more with less.
We roll up our sleeves and work with you to find the hidden opportunities within your operation that will allow you to minimize or eliminate bottlenecks leading to greater efficiency.
Download our eBook Challenges for the Metals Industry: How USC Consulting Group Can Help to learn the strategies USC is applying to help our clients overcome obstacles, like:
- COVID-19 safety protocol challenges
- Supply chain disruptions
- Demand management decisions
- Excessive cycle time or time for changeovers
- Fluctuating inventory
- Supplier uncertainty
We will help you find hidden opportunities to bolster your operational efficiency.
If you are experiencing any of these challenges in your operations and would like to consult with our team about your specific issues, contact us today.
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What do you do when your demand is greater than your ability to meet it? This is one of the big issues some of our clients in the metals industry are facing these days as increased demand is matching or exceeding what is believed to be their capacity. Facing that situation, what can be done other than turning down sales?
Our customers who are dealing with demand management problems tend to come to us when they’re mired in what they believe is a lesser-of-two-evils choice. An option can be to increase capacity by investing in new capital assets but this involves investing millions of dollars and will demand be there given the long lead time for those assets. A possible second option is to increase capacity by expanding the hours of operation either by hiring additional staff or through overtime. Again, this leads to an increase in costs, especially if hiring additional staff also has a lead time as employees are hired and trained. So they come to us looking for a third option: Doing more with the assets they already have.
At USC Consulting Group, that’s our wheelhouse. It’s what we’ve been doing for companies for over 50 years.
We’re not about telling our clients to throw out machinery that’s working pretty well, open their wallets, and upgrade to state-of-the-art technology. Most of the time, that’s a huge expense that’s just not necessary. Instead, we do the hard work of rolling up our sleeves and finding hidden opportunities for improvements with your current assets. It’s about doing more with what you have and overcoming demand management problems.
What are hidden opportunities, exactly? They are efficiencies in your operation that you’re not aware of. We find them by first listening to you describe your issues, bottlenecks and stumbling blocks. Then, we look at your existing management operating system and standard work procedures like a detective, looking for ways to kick your efficiency up a notch. We find the opportunities that you may not see. Nine times out of ten, we find them by looking at issues that are generally accepted as “just the way things are.” A few examples:
- Excessive cycle time. Cycle time to produce a part could be reduced by redistributing the work between cycles so that more of the activities take place in parallel vs. in series.
- Excessive time for changeovers on a machine. There are activities that could be started and even completed before the changeover starts.
We start the process of finding hidden opportunities by finding the answers to a few questions.
- Where is the problem?
- Is it technical or tactical?
- Is it feasible?
If it’s technical, maybe it’s time to bring in the engineers to improve on your machines’ functions. If it’s tactical, we look at your processes, the way you’re using those machines, to find those hidden efficiencies.
We also take a hard look at the feasibility of your goal. If you’re producing 900 tons per day and the demand is 1,100, can we reasonably get you there? Sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes we can split the difference and get you close to the goal. Sometimes we can hit that goal and then some.
Why frontline buy-in is essential
At times, our recommendations for new efficiencies in your time-tested processes might ruffle some feathers, especially those of your crews on the frontlines, men and women who are doing those jobs for a living. That’s why we involve them from the beginning. We don’t swoop in at the end of our process and hand them a playbook on how to do their jobs better. Instead, they help us write that playbook. Your frontline employees’ buy-in is crucial to the success of any changes you want to make.
Frankly, working with your frontline employees makes our job easier, too. They give us the lowdown on what’s happening in your operation. We hear what’s going right, and at times, what’s going wrong. They often can see what the problems are, but not know how to fix them. We can get the single source of truth from your frontlines and implement plans to fix the issues and improve productivity. It’s crucial to finding where efficiencies can happen.
To read more about how crucial frontline buy-in is to the process, read our blog, Why Getting Buy-in from Frontline Employees is Key.
At USCCG, we pride ourselves in finding hidden opportunities for efficiencies that will help smooth out bottlenecks and allow our customers to meet growing demand with their current assets. Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more.
For a deeper look at demand management problems and other challenges and how we find hidden opportunities in Metals manufacturing operations, download our free eBook: “Challenges For The Metals Industry: How USC Consulting Group Can Help”
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The driving drum beat in the popular rock tune “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac is reminiscent of production’s TAKT time drum beat set by customer demand. When a company’s demand or supply is disrupted, the disorganized supply chain might sound like a band without a beat. Disruptions such as COVID-19 reinforce that disrupting events occur more frequently, tend to last longer, and result in greater loss than most companies assess during traditional risk assessments. Disruptions make abundantly clear the need for accelerated information for rapid responses, resiliency, and optionality in the supply chain.
If recent global disruptions are affecting your company’s typically steady supply chain drum beat, there are strategies that can help you get back on pace. Pairing over 50 years of experience with analytical data from recent research, USC Consulting Group has compiled the below infographic with five tried-and-true techniques for supply chain optimization to mend your operations and improve your processes to be as efficient as possible.
- Enhance transparency by leveraging intelligent data to more effectively forecast shortages.
- Use strategic sourcing by partnering with multiple suppliers to ensure a consistent flow of products.
- Identify opportunities to automate certain work processes, diminishing cycle time and enhancing throughput.
- Coordinate and collaborate with channel partners to enhance communication.
- Maintain a regularly occurring maintenance schedule to reduce the effects of equipment breakdowns on production.
Supply chain optimization is our specialty at USC Consulting Group. We can make sure your operations Don’t Stop and your Silver Springs are humming like a Songbird. You can Go Your Own Way, but then we may not be able to stop making Fleetwood Mac references and all of your Dreams may not come true. Contact us today to ensure that you’re Never Going Back Again to a broken supply chain and instead keep your driving drum beat steady.
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The worldwide metal marketplace is changing. Numerous economic forces — most notably, dwindling economic stimulus packages, expiring automotive manufacturing subsidies, and tightening monetary policies — are hamstringing the once-booming space, according to research from PNC Financial Services Group. Virtually all parties within the sector are therefore bracing for sluggish growth over the next year, particularly American metals producers. Metal service centers are among those likely to experience a stalemate stemming from this hesitant outlook. While small and medium manufacturers managed to stay strong during the first quarter of 2019 — 87 percent of U.S. firms in these categories reported positive outlooks, per data from the National Association of Manufacturers — the worrying developments mentioned above make process optimization essential for metal service centers intent on not only meeting their margins but also thriving.
These unique entities can take numerous pathways to operational improvement. However, some select methodologies stand out among the crowd. Here are three of those strategies, along with additional insight into how metal service centers can use them to catalyze shop floor optimization and organizational success.
Cycle time reduction
Highly functioning metal service centers often maintain diverse inventories. This is an effective approach, laying the groundwork for multiple revenue streams and reducing financial risk to the business. That said, operational diversification can create problems, especially where cycle time is concerned. With so many different materials to work through, some metal service centers attempt to tackle workloads as quickly as possible without much preparation or baseline metrics for how long certain tasks should take. This causes production ambiguity, mucks up operations, and drags down service quality. Fortunately, there is a relatively simple solution to this common shop floor faux pas — it all comes down to process tracking and improvement.
Metal service centers must monitor their workflows and develop minimum job completion thresholds. Coil slitting and coil cutting require different time expenditures. By assigning specific values to these and other mission-critical activities and developing fleshed-out process frameworks, metal service centers can then figure out production capacity across multiple units of time — shifts, weeks, months, quarters, and years — identify and address wastage and cut cycle times. Even the smallest reductions can create a ripple affect across the shop floor, generate real return on investment, and better position the business for success now and in the future.
Conversion cost reduction
The material that comes through the doors of most metal service centers is not ready for consumption. Production teams must convert the raw metal into transportable and useable formats — most roll the material into industry-standard coils. Reformatting rigid metal necessitates considerable manufacturing power and prowess, which is why the expenses associated with this activity, called conversion costs, eat up significant portions of metal service centers’ budgets. The typical roll forming setup, an essential part of the conversion process for most of these firms, costs anywhere from $200,000 to $2 million up front, according to Dahlstrom Roll Forming. This amount, combined with ancillary fees related to machine maintenance, can weigh heavy on the bottom line.
Reducing and containing these expenses is critical to operational optimization, but how can metal service centers achieve this goal? Generating as much ROI on roll forming equipment as possible is among the most effective methods. Most forward-thinking companies in the niche do this by running high volumes and offsetting the cost of installation and maintenance. Tactical equipment deployment is another effective methodology for cutting conversion costs. Metal service centers do not necessarily need multiple roll forming lines to process diverse arrays of material, as most alloys have similar physical profiles and can therefore run through a single machine with slight adjustments. Together, these tweaks can build the foundation for major conversion cost reduction and catalyze shop floor optimization.
Effective inventory management
Metal service centers typically serve small or medium manufacturers that cannot forge productive and cost-effective relationships with massive materials providers due to various variables. These more compact manufacturing firms navigate mercurial terrain, weathering alternating production booms and slumps. They need operational partners that can support them in these situations and every scenario in between. Metal service centers typically fit the bill because they offer holistic services — most notably, easy-to-access inventories, per Manufacturing.net. For this reason, inventory management ranks among the most critical functionalities for modern metal service centers, as those that cannot keep essential supplies in stock are unable to effectively meet customers’ needs. That said, there is another side to this particular issue. Overstocking products can be similarly damaging to the budget, for unclaimed products take up valuable space and eventually become obsolete if unused. Striking a balance here is critical and should be the centerpiece in any process optimization program.
What exactly can metal service centers do to facilitate an effective and balanced inventory management? Sussing out baseline inventory conditions is the ideal first step. This might involve finding answers to key operational questions, such as, “How much inventory do I have?” Or, “How often does my inventory turn over?” By exploring these and other issues, the businesses in this niche can figure out their actual inventory needs and pare down their stores to ensure that there are enough products for contracted customers but not so many that widespread wastage will occur.
There is no denying that metal service centers must do all they can to comport with marketplace conditions, and that could entail pursuing some of the process optimizations mentioned above.
Is your metal service center interested in staving off external marketplace forces through process optimization? Consider connecting with USC Consulting Group today. We have been collaborating with organizations across all industries for more than five decades, deploying our seasoned operational experts who offer actionable shop floor solutions that boost efficiency and productivity and bolster the bottom line. Contact us now to learn more about our experience and how we can help your company find success in the metals industry, no matter the conditions.
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American metal manufacturers are moving forward with operational optimization efforts and seeing considerable results. In fact, labor productivity in the space increased by more than 3 percent in 2017, according to research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
U.S. metal manufacturers can achieve further gains by turning their attention to cycle times. A surprisingly large number of businesses overlook them. In 2016, 45 percent of manufacturers operated without cycle time targets for new product lines, according to analysts at IndustryWeek. Enterprises in the U.S. market that want to compete strategically and see further growth must address this critical variable. But how? Let’s take a look at three surefire methods to reduce cycle time in metals manufacturing.
1. Effective maintenance programs
Cycle times suffer when mission-critical assets go down unexpectedly. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence across all industries, according to the market research agency Vanson Bourne. More than 80 percent of businesses have experienced at least one instance of unexpected downtime over the last three years, and 45 percent said they were unable to deliver to customers on time as a result. Metal manufacturers that want to meaningfully reduce cycle time must put into place maintenance programs that prevent operational disruptions linked to machine dysfunction.
Predictive maintenance initiatives are the ideal solution that more than half of manufacturing firms have adopted, according to a study from Plant Engineering. Advanced shop floor analytics platforms support these innovative strategies, providing maintenance teams and other operational stakeholders with up-to-the-minute machine performance data. With this information flow available, firms can monitor their equipment and address small mechanical hiccups before they turn into downtime-causing disasters. In the end, assets that operate unimpeded reduce cycle time.
2. Real-time analytics
The big data revolution has catalyzed change across numerous industries, including the manufacturing space. More than 80 percent of U.S. manufacturers leverage enterprise analytics solutions, according to researchers from IQMS. These systems give businesses the power to oversee the entire supply chain, from the product development to last-mile delivery. This wide-reaching insight is priceless, especially in today’s fast-paced economy.
Real-time analytics are, of course, ideal for metal manufacturers that intend to cut back their cycle times. It allows them to pinpoint sluggish shop floor components and institute end-to-end improvement. Traditional methods for collecting data pale in comparison to modern data gathering strategies used in the manufacturing space today. Older approaches centered on fragmented sources, from which analysts must pick and choose insights for further processing. By the time these steps have been completed, the resulting information is likely no longer viable. Conversely, shop floor intelligence programs with real-time analytics solutions at their cores give manufacturers the power to access key data as sensors collect it, and make operational adjustments, leading to productivity and output gains.
3. Improved OEE practices
As mentioned above, machine health and cycle time go hand in hand. However, while predictive maintenance strategies can keep assets up and running, they embody only one variable of the equipment usage equation. In addition to ensuring that shop floor machines are running as designed, metal manufacturers must search for ways to optimize their performance and get as much out of these assets as possible. Strong overall equipment effectiveness initiatives support such improvement efforts.
According to Ellis New, senior management consultant and business practice leader at Productivity Inc., ideal OEE strategies take into account six salient production variables known to reduce equipment effectiveness:
- Equipment failure
- Machine setup and adjustment
- Idling and minor stoppages
- Slow operation speeds
- Process defects
- Depressed yield
Metal manufacturers can leverage advanced data collection tools or more traditional methods to find accurate readings for each of these items. With these metrics, firms can calculate their availability, performance and quality rates, which, when multiplied, reveal the overall OEE percentage. Operational teams can increase the figure by making changes to production lines to boost asset performance. Some manufacturers go beyond OEE best practices and leverage a newer strategy called high-performance machining, Better MRO reported. This entails building all-encompassing equipment management workflows with cutting-edge hardware and software components meant to bolster productivity and output.
Businesses in the metals manufacturing space can drastically reduce cycle time and experience considerable growth by embracing these practices. However, few should attempt to implement these and other large-scale fixes without assistance from knowledgeable partners with proven expertise and valuable perspective. Here at USC Consulting Group, we offer metal manufacturers the opportunity to improve their production processes and lay the groundwork for continued success.
If you’re interested in learning more about our work in the metals industry, contact us today for more information.