How to improve production efficiency in manufacturing

Car production line with robotic welding machines

If your processes hold you back, you can develop the best product in the world and still struggle to keep afloat.

Manufacturing is the constant battle of increasing output and driving down the cost while retaining the high quality of the product for customers. Improving your production efficiency is the key. Read on to learn more about manufacturing efficiency and strategies to look into to remove bottlenecks and boost operations.

Manufacturing productivity vs. Efficiency

Everyone is always talking about boosting the productivity and efficiency of your manufacturing operations. But do you know there is a difference between these two concepts? Before we start going deeper into how to improve your efficiency, let´s define both terms.

Manufacturing productivity

When we talk about manufacturing productivity, we consider solely the number of products made. So, for example:

Last week the output of your manufacturing line was 600 units.

This week, you produced 700 units.

Thus, your productivity increased.

We look at quantity, not quality. While you produce more in less time, it is perfectly possible that the number of defected products increased as well – this is why we look into manufacturing efficiency.

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Manufacturing efficiency

When we talk about manufacturing efficiency, we care about increasing the effectiveness and quality of the work. Its focus is broader and tries to reduce the number of defects and minimize overall risk, so your work is efficient in the long run.

Efficiency can be influenced by many variables, including investment into higher quality material so there would be less breakage or better onboardings to help workers carry out tasks quicker.

The production efficiency is often measured by the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)– a metric in percentages that calculate the time you produce only good products with zero downtime at the lowest average total cost.

It is an excellent metric for eliminating unnecessary waste, identifying errors, and comparing your performance with the competition.

While the ideal score would be 100%, manufacturers usually operate somewhere between 60-85%. To learn more about OEE and how to calculate it, you can read one of our blogs on this topic.

How to boost efficiency in manufacturing?

You don’t have to focus on just productivity or efficiency. By improving manufacturing efficiency the right way, your productivity will follow.

Have a look at your data

Have a look at your data graphic with magnifying glass and graph

First and foremost, before doing anything else, you should analyse data to see where your processes break down and can be improved. You can look for patterns in which a process sometimes takes longer than usual or start with the cost-intensive ones. Maybe some workers make too many unnecessary steps, or a machine needs different settings.

You should consider all parts of your process, including workforce, equipment, materials, and methodology. Based on your findings, you can determine what steps to take next to eliminate bottlenecks and reach maximum efficiency.

Standardize Work

A simple graphic with notebook planner and text: standardize work

Did you know that more than 80% of errors on manufacturing sites are human errors? Standardization defines the best, most efficient way of performing a task.

With clear guidelines, you always know how processes will unwind and minimize human errors and downtimes. Its effects come a long way in lowering costs and improving product quality because its key component is consistency in results.

No matter how many experiences a worker has, they will meet the quality standards because they are guided through each step by a checklist or SOPs.

Train employees and capture knowledge

A simple graphic with open book and lightning bulb

There is always a new process, equipment, or a role to be filled – just as improvement, learning should be continuous. You should ensure that your onboarding and re-skilling processes are as efficient as possible.

Active, hands-on experiences are proven to have a greater effect than passive classroom learning. Try to use technology in your favour, whether it be digitalizing those heavy and complicated paper manuals or creating interactive employee training using augmented reality.

It also may be worth looking into a solid knowledge management software. As the silver tsunami washes through the industry and workers retire, many manufacturers deal with skill shortages. Capture the know-how of your senior professionals, turn their tribal knowledge into institutional, and share it with others.

Encourage collaboration culture

A simple graphic with 3 persons emphasizing collaboration

The topic of employee satisfaction is now popular more than ever, however, asking for feedback is not a new idea. Open communication has always been a vital part of company culture and employee engagement. Reporting inaccurate or outdated practices and receiving insight from people who daily perform them can be invaluable for identifying bottlenecks.

The ways to collect feedback are getting more sophisticated, too. There are mobile collaboration platforms where workers can leave feedback and interact with each other and help solve issues in real-time. This can drive employee satisfaction just as much as your efficiency.

Rearrange workplace layout

A simple graphic with 3 packages on a production line

Proximity is one of the essential factors based on which we make our decisions. When designing your layout, you should keep in mind that the goal is to reduce unnecessary movement to a minimum.

Do your workers have to walk to the other side of the facility to find manuals or documents? Is the storage for tools and materials too far away from where they are being used? Excessive walking or moving can disrupt employees´ productivity several times per day.

The same goes for the product – if there is a way to strategically rearrange the layout to shorten the product´s journey around the factory, do it. While it seems obvious, even Honda managed to increase their efficiency by 10% by upgrading their assembly line layout.

Keep a good maintenance schedule

Keep a good maintenance schedule tip

Workers can´t do their job, the machine requires fixing, and the production is on hold. Planned downtime for maintenance will cost you much less than unexpected downtime due to broken parts.

It may seem like a hassle to keep up with regular maintenance, but it will pay off. Find the best least-hectic time and set up a preventive maintenance schedule.

It may also be worth training more than one of your operators in maintenance and troubleshooting – you can schedule a maintenance but can´t make sure they won’t call in sick.