Continuous improvement – the future for Australian manufacturers

Continuous improvement a strong way forward

In recent times, Australian manufacturers have faced the challenges of a high Australian dollar, intense competition, increasing interdependence of global supply chains, and shifting patterns of consumption and investment. To continue competing successfully — both domestically and globally — manufacturers must be dynamic, innovative and world-class in their performance and productivity.

As tempting as it sounds, most manufacturers know that becoming more efficient and productive is not a quick fix. It has to be done through organisational change and continuous improvement. 

And it’s not really about working harder and faster either; it’s about being innovative and optimising your resources.

A great example is food manufacturers: they need to deliver outstanding value to their customers in what is a dynamic and global business environment, yet have to continuously look for ways to be more cost competitive by being innovative and focusing on “lean”.

Lean: what it is, what it isn’t

There are lots of misconceptions about “lean”.

The main one is that a company has to cut costs by reducing waste so they use fewer resources on the factory floor. Really, “lean” is a system — and a proven one at that — which covers your entire organisation, and is all about enabling a faster flow of value to the customer by removing bottlenecks and reducing any non-value adding wastes.

In lean organisations, every single person is focused on identifying and eliminating sources of waste and inefficiency. They look at the world through their customers’ eyes. They understand the concept of “flow” and the power of sharing information within the organisation.

The pillars of lean

The two basic pillars of “lean” are continuous improvement, and workforce engagement — getting everyone in your company on board with the idea of being lean.

“Continuous improvement” is a cycle of improving processes. It’s looking at the way things are done and evaluating if they can be done better. By doing this, a company eliminates unnecessary (read wasteful here) activities, spending and resources.

Lean businesses continually reduce their response cycle-times, their production times, their costs, the space they need for production and errors.

Continuous improvement is based on ideas such as “go and see” — as in literally go and have a look at what the problem is, don’t just stand on the line and guess. It’s checking things out at the source.

It’s also about “asking why” — why do we do things that way? Find a better way, then standardise it and repeat it forever. Stop to fix issues when they arise — don’t just leave it for later. And even simple visual management, which can reveal problems (just make sure after this you get someone (you?) to fix them).

The ‘black hole’

But implementing lean in the packaging area can be challenging, basically because in-depth real-time visibility is generally non-existent.

In the classic manufacturing environment, ERP and SCADA systems extend to the production floor, while WMS systems cover the warehouse.

So what’s covering the packaging area? Nothing, it’s a “black hole”.

Because of that lack of data capture and automation, it’s very hard to improve processes, and find the wastage — let alone quantify it. Clearly, what you can’t see and measure, you can’t manage and improve.

However, this is where integrating and networking your coding and labelling equipment comes in. Using software such as iDSnet Manager, gives you this real-time visibility in the packaging area.

Take this typical scenario: a line has stopped, yet no one knows (precisely) why the unplanned stoppage occurred, how long it went for, or even when the line started again.

Yet if you capture this data over time, it will reveal patterns about which processes need improving or which equipment needs attention. And knowledge of both these will help the faster flow of value to your customers.

Next time I’ll cover how integrating and networking software fixes the data “black hole” in your packaging hall.

Mark Dingley

Mark Dingley

General Manager, Operations at Matthews Australasia
Mark Dingley is Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and heads operations at Matthews Australasia. With 18+ years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with industry associations in developing and implementing standards & best practice, Mark is able to assist manufacturers with a range of issues from getting real-time visibility of their production line, improving automation, establishing quality assurance using machine vision to selecting the best fit technology for coding and labelling applications. Mark Dingley's LinkedIn Profile
Mark Dingley

by Mark Dingley

Mark Dingley is Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and heads operations at Matthews Australasia. With 18+ years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with industry associations in developing and implementing standards & best practice, Mark is able to assist manufacturers with a range of issues from getting real-time visibility of their production line, improving automation, establishing quality assurance using machine vision to selecting the best fit technology for coding and labelling applications. Mark Dingley's LinkedIn Profile

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