Cycle Time for Success

President's Message

Cycle Time for Success

Build the entire design/production process around meeting the customer’s top priority.

In our business, it’s important to focus on what we actually do. Some think that we take field operations and move them to the more controlled environment of a plant. But we know it’s much more than that. I contend that component manufacturers (CMs) have to approach the entire process of making components as true manufacturers, with the customer’s top priority driving every step along the way.

Component manufacturing has improved incrementally with the advancement of automated equipment over the years. These advancements transformed businesses from long-run production shops to one-off custom job shops. This evolution requires CMs to concentrate on different priorities in the plant.

In the past, long production runs focused on reducing setup through batching, mainly because cutting and assembly setups took so long. Times certainly have changed. Equipment manufacturers decreased setup time with the adoption of computer numeric controlling (CNC) of component saws, linear saws, laser projection systems and automated jigging. These are great tools, but CMs only see the benefits if the plant’s focus shifts to match customers’ demands.

In my opinion, the new driver is cycle time, the amount of time required to process a production order from start to finish. Think about it, how many times does a field measurement or last-minute design change impact the ability to get components to customers when they need them? The key to compressing cycle time is changing the way work flows through the plant. The entire process is built around meeting the customer’s top priority. Since that need is ever changing, effective communication is essential. We have dedicated full-time customer service staff that communicates with customers every day to get an accurate read as to when they will need their product. Once you know the real need, you can look at the plant and find out how long it takes to get an order through and think about ways to compress that schedule. It’s a time to examine paradigms such as batch size and, in particular, how material flows through the plant.

Work-in-process inventory is the enemy of reduced cycle time. This adversary includes pulled lumber before cutting, cut lumber before assembly, and manufactured inventory before delivery. For example, a customer orders two of the same houses with a delivery of five days apart. The old paradigm would suggest that the CM manufacture both houses at the same time to save on setup cost. The new paradigm proposes that the houses be built separately right before they are delivered, meeting customer needs with a “just in time” mentality as efficiently as possible.

Another important factor in compressing cycle time lies in plant layout. In some plants, chords are cut on one saw and webs are cut on another, sometimes in separate buildings and far away from where the trusses are assembled. The distance the material travels along with the varying speeds at which the two saws cut can lengthen the entire process. Sorting parts to different locations consumes time as well.

In our plant, we chose to use the concept of rapid material movement to attack cycle time. Each production line has its own saw that cuts both chords and webs. When the order completes cutting, all the parts are together and ready for assembly in one spot. The saws are very close to where assembly occurs, minimizing the distance the material travels. The material moves in a straight line through the process.

Automated equipment focused on reducing setup won’t show the expected return on investment if the lumber doesn’t get to the right place at the right time. What good does it do to have a saw that will set up in seconds or a jig that will change quickly with automation if the proper parts are not there at the right time? Go out and watch your production and see how many times the saws are not cutting because the proper material hasn’t arrived yet or assembly stations are not producing because the cut parts and plates are not there.

Last but not least, in order to be more responsive to customers, we have to develop a culture that embraces the opportunity to perform:

• If a CM is used to telling customers that the lead time is two weeks, how does that team respond to an opportunity that requires a quicker turnaround?

• When an urgent request comes in, is it viewed as a pain-in-the-neck rush job?

• Is the salesperson looked down upon because he or she created an uncomfortable situation in design or in the plant?

• Can any CM afford to let the sale go somewhere else?

We will talk about this subject in further detail at the lean manufacturing panel discussion at BCMC. I hope to see you there and hear your ideas on responding to customers, and I will be glad to share mine.

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