How to Speed Up Manufacturing for SMBs

If you’re running a small or medium-sized manufacturing business, you know that efficient production is the key to profitability and growth, but those efficiencies are not always easy to create or uncover. For those owners and operators that need to improve their manufacturing processes, let’s explore some strategies to help you accelerate manufacturing at your SMB.

Having an agile and streamlined manufacturing process is critical for SMBs. It allows you to minimize costs, reduce inventory levels, increase throughput, and respond quickly to customer demands. An optimized process gives you a competitive advantage to grow your business profitably.

Implementing Value Stream Mapping

One of the most powerful approaches is adopting lean manufacturing techniques focused on eliminating waste and maximizing value-added activities. Start by value stream mapping your processes to identify any non-value-adding steps, inefficiencies, or bottlenecks. Value stream mapping is a lean manufacturing technique used to analyze and visualize the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a customer.

The key steps in value stream mapping include:

  1. Identifying the specific product or product family to be mapped.
  2. Creating a current state map that diagrams every step involved in the process from receiving the customer order to delivering the product. This includes material flows, information flows, cycle times, changeover times, inventories, etc.
  3. By analyzing the current state map, you identify any non-value added activities, inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and areas of waste or overburden.
  4. A future state map is then created showing the ideal lean process flow with these wastes removed or minimized.
  5. An implementation plan lays out the specific kaizen activities and workflow redesigns required to achieve the future state.

Value stream mapping provides a powerful visual tool to see the entire production process and where time and resource wastes are occurring. It exposes opportunities for implementing lean techniques like continuous flow, pull systems, lot size reductions, and other improvements. This exercise can be repeated as needed to continually improve your manufacturing systems.

Leveraging Inventory Management Software and Barcoding

Beyond improving your manufacturing processes, having the right inventory management processes and software in place is crucial for streamlining operations. An integrated inventory and manufacturing solution provides visibility into stock levels, locations, and status across your entire facility and supply chain. These systems provide the necessary backbone to implement additional warehouse tools like Barcode Scanning and barcode printer technology, which eliminate manual entry errors while automating traceability of each inventory movement.

Many inventory management systems also include barcoded work order routing, allowing you to automatically build pick lists and distribute components straight to production lines through scanning. As units are produced, serialized barcodes can capture all the traceability data.

Beyond inventory control, manufacturing-focused businesses can also provide a B2B focused Sales Portal that optimizes inventory purchasing and replenishment based on your production schedule and forecasted demand. It synchronizes your supply levels with your make levels, while providing customers with 24hr access to your product line.

For SMBs, investing in a comprehensive barcoded inventory/manufacturing solution pays big dividends. It reduces labor costs through automated inventory transactions. It minimizes stockouts, overstock, and obsolescence issues. And it enhances inventory accuracy and turn rates.

Optimizing Plant Layout and Material Flow

Your facility layout can substantially impact efficiency. Consider cellular manufacturing where work cells are organized by product family. Arrange machinery, tools, and equipment to facilitate continuous flow with minimal handling or travel. Utilize point-of-use component stores and kitting areas to position materials exactly where they’re needed. 

Invest in upgraded material handling equipment like conveyor systems, automatic guided vehicles (AGVs), or mobile robotics to move items quickly. Leverage workflow analytics to uncover and resolve constraints, bottlenecks, or imbalances in your production lines.

Optimizing material and process flows reduces waste and lead times. Improving line balancing and minimizing travel/handling cuts costs. Effective layouts boost productivity, increase space utilization, and enhance workplace safety as well. For SMBs, these steps stretch your plant capacity and resources further.

Effective Production Planning and Scheduling

Accurate demand forecasting lets you coordinate materials and capacity more effectively. Sales and operations planning (S&OP) helps align your entire organization on realistic production targets. Apply advanced scheduling techniques like Theory of Constraints, load balancing, and production leveling.

Monitor and control WIP (work-in-process) levels closely. Too much leads to bloated inventory; too little causes starvation further down. Find that sweet spot! The right production planning and scheduling maximize asset utilization while responding to variability.

Proper scheduling is mission critical for SMB manufacturers with limited resources. It ensures on-time delivery, maximizes output, and optimizes capacity usage. Being able to meet demand, respond quickly to changes, and stay lean on WIP provides a huge competitive advantage.

Continuous Improvement Initiatives

Achieving and sustaining manufacturing excellence requires developing a culture centered around continuous improvement. This means constantly analyzing your processes, collecting data, and searching for ways to enhance efficiency, quality, and productivity.

A powerful way to drive rapid improvements is through kaizen events. These are intensive sessions where a focused team works to overhaul a specific process or workflow over the course of several days. By intently analyzing and rethinking the current approach, steps can be combined, redundancies eliminated, and new streamlined methods implemented quickly.

Kaizen blitz takes this one step further by targeting very specific work areas, product lines, or problem processes for hyper-focused bursts of improvement effort over an even shorter timeframe. These concentrated events promote out-of-the-box thinking to solve persistent bottlenecks or inefficiencies.

However, continuous improvement can’t be achieved by a few teams or initiatives alone. It requires engaging your entire workforce to identify issues and opportunities, while also finding third-party Inventory Experts as needed to provide the outside knowledge base that your organization may be missing. Bringing together employee ability and outside resources empowers your frontline staff to drive innovation from within and creates a culture that actually values each member.

For smaller manufacturers, tapping into this tribal knowledge is invaluable. With potentially tighter budgets and skilled labor constraints than larger competitors, you need to maximize the creative thinking of your workforce. An engaged culture of continuous improvement leverages your employees’ insights to keep streamlining processes, reducing costs, and enhancing quality over time.

Takeaway

Accelerating manufacturing processes for an SMB requires a multi-pronged approach. Leverage lean fundamentals to drive out waste. Judiciously apply affordable technologies and automation to increase production capacity. Optimize layouts, material handling, and physical flows. Implement sophisticated scheduling and planning. Engage your team in rapid continuous improvement efforts.  

With strategic investments, strong leadership, and an empowered workforce, you can dramatically speed up manufacturing at your SMB. The gains from these best practices show up in reduced costs, increased output, enhanced quality, and improved customer responsiveness – all providing that competitive edge to succeed and grow.