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How production flow impacts your process improvement strategy

redcontainers24646344.jpgManufacturing plants often work with process improvement strategies to reduce errors, accidents, and waste. Many companies engage in production flow or mass production. Production flow refers to mass amounts of products being produced by large machines on assembly lines. Car manufacturers are often thought of when you hear the word `production flow'. This is usually due to the Ford Model T car that was produced using mass production in the early 1900's.

Companies implement production flow to save on labor costs. Employees that hand-produce products are much slower than the machines and they are prone to problems like burnout, boredom, and injuries. The machines only require one person to operate them (usually) and all they need to do it flip the switch and check the conveyer belts to make sure the production flow system is working properly.

Even with the cost advantage of production flow, there can be problems that literally shut down production for several weeks. If you work with a printing company and a single sheet of paper gets on the ink rolls, it could take days to get the rolls cleaned and re-assembled.

Implementing process improvement can help to reduce some of the human and mechanical errors that occur within production flow. The main disadvantage companies run into with flow production is that there is so much machinery that it becomes quite difficult to alter the production process. Six Sigma and lean manufacturing both consider this a waste because you there may be times when a machine is not in use because it take too long to set it up.

Several mass production machines come with warning systems that inform the worker that a problem is occurring and it needs to be rectified. This will allow you enough time to move the product to another assembly line while you fix the problem. However even with this system in place, it could be too late to fix the problem. Regular maintenance is one of the only ways to avoid expensive repairs.

If you use flow production, you will need to hire employees to stay on for nights and weekends. Production flow allows for a high number of products to be produced with little manual labor. The reduction of nonproductive efforts yields tremendous benefits to several companies. A good example of how production flow cuts costs is to think of a seamstress. She must make all the clothes she sells by hand, this requires her getting various fabrics and other tools together and then spend time assembling them. In flow production, each worker would repeat the same task or a few related tasks and use the same tools each time. This will provide near to identical results each time. The worker on the assembly line spends very little or no time finding all the necessary tools and this cuts the time it takes one seamstress to make one jacket literally in half. Now, this scenario cannot be applied to other types of flow production. Again, the use of machinery drastically reduces the probability of human error and variation.

As you use your Six Sigma or lean manufacturing process, take a look at the production flow of your equipment. Can you create a new flow chart that will alter the existing process and make it work better? How do the assembly lines feed into one another? Is there a way to cut out one of the lines to increase productivity? The goal of process improvement will correspond with production flow and look for ways to reduce cycle time variations and produce a steady flow of materials. Always consider the different employees that operate the equipment because they may be causing some additional problems like product variation.

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