Processes that bring efficiency to high-volume manufacturing help custom companies, too.
Once, manufacturers that build highly customized products to order looked at lean, with its roots in automotive manufacturing, and said it wouldn't work for them. Now, though, leaders in high-mix, low-volume industries are proving that lean processes can be put to good use.
One key to success is an IT system that links the supply chain with the manufacturing process. Speeding up back office functions with instant order acknowledgement and automated electronic purchase orders prevents long waits before production starts. Having suppliers deliver parts in build order, and in right-sized containers, reduces time and waste. Then, an emphasis on preventive maintenance keeps uptime high.
Conveyor production at Dorner Manufacturing Corp., in Hartland, Wis., requires different configurations for each customer. Beginning in the design phase, manufacturing works with engineering directly. The communication consistently reduces the number of parts in an assembly design and the number of operations needed in every process. Just questioning the number of holes to be drilled in a part makes a difference. Standardizing parts like brackets across all designs instead of making new drawings for every order also leads to simplified processes. The company levels production by using slow times to make a few weeks' supply of standard parts.
At Dorner, creating modular designs with similar subassemblies allowed the company to move from a functional plant layout to specific product family cells that combine machining, fabrication and assembly. Adjustable fixtures and cross-trained operators adapt cells to different product configurations as demand requires.
Take a fresh look at your business to put lean principles to work. Reducing processing time from order to production and introducing standardized components are just two of the tools you can use in a build-to-order environment.
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