In many manufacturing facilities, it’s tempting to simply speed things up in order to boost performance. Just another 1 or 2% increase on that mill, pump, filler or palletizer can seem like easy money. In reality, it just isn’t that simple, and I know from experience. As a manufacturing executive in the packaging material industry, responsible for several plants in North America, my most productive facility was not the one with the highest line or machine speeds — in fact, it wasn’t even close. By any measure of productivity, cost, quality, asset utilization, spoilage, material usage, spare parts, utility usage, etc., speed was not the answer. To use Lean Manufacturing vernacular, it was a clear case of elimination of “mura,” or unevenness, throughout the operation.
In this specific case, many additional factors came into play: automation and line control, operator training, adherence to SOPs, maintenance practices, clear quality standards and the use of statistical process control all contributed to superior performance. Some of the most important outcomes of this comprehensive approach were less obvious, such as high employee satisfaction and empowerment. When line efficiency was consistently 92–94% and we weren’t dealing with the chaos of equipment failure, product rework and disorganization, willing team members were available for continuous process improvement activities and were often involved in higher-level and non-routine activities. They were working from the neck up and contributing to true continuous improvement efforts. Curiously, those activities rarely, if ever, involved increasing equipment speeds. They understood the secret to their success!
Overall equipment effectiveness can impact all aspects of your operation with many less-obvious benefits, including the most important result of all: satisfied customers. If you have any examples of how balance and control, as opposed to speed, has improved OEE at your company, I invite you to share your experience with us here.