Manufacturing Focus: Our Weekly Feature Article on Topics Related to Manufacturing Management  
  -June 9, 2008 -  

Supply Chain News: Mobility on the Factory Floor Can Power Lean, Six Sigma Strategies


ARC’S Ralph Rio Says Mobile Technologies in Manufacturing Should Cause Companies to Rethink Processes in the Value Stream



SCDigest Editorial Staff

SCDigest Says:

While thousands of companies have used the tools of Lean such as Value Stream Mapping to re-engineer business process, rarely did those analyses well-consider the possibilities of mobile, connected workers.

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Compared with logistics and distribution processes, mobile wireless networks have long lagged on the factory floor.

That is rapidly starting to change, offering manufacturers a number of opportunities to drive process improvements and cost savings – especially in Lean and Six Sigma programs.

“Mobility on the factory floor will enable manufacturers to build new business processes and optimize existing ones,” Ralph Rio, an analyst at ARC Advisory Group, recently told Supply Chain Digest.

Rio recently authored a report on Business Process Mobility for Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma, in which he says that “Business Process Mobility” has three key advantages for manufacturing:

  • Business processes become more inclusive and responsive (real-time)
  • Lean Manufacturing has new capabilities to remove waste
  • Six Sigma’s DMAIC process gains access to more data for analysis

Re-Engineering Processes with Mobile Applications

While thousands of companies have used the tools of Lean such as Value Stream Mapping to re-engineer business process, rarely did those analyses well-consider the possibilities of mobile, connected workers.

“Most Lean business processes were designed with static workers in mind,” Rio said. “But today, direct labor costs often represent a small percent of total manufacturing costs. Indirect labor costs for many companies are becoming even greater – and many of the workers in the indirect pool are mobile.”

In addition to the opportunities for using mobility for Lean, Rio says it can also provide real advantages for companies embracing Six Sigma programs.

“Within a Six Sigma program, examine the measurement and analysis phases of your DMAIC process,” Rio wrote. “Manual data collection becomes polluted with data entry errors that often exceed the real defect rate. Wireless technology improves data collection quantity and quality for the Six Sigma project teams.”

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Source: ARC Advisory Group

Rio sees three general areas where increase use of mobility can improve manufacturing operations:

  1. Improved Real-Time Visibility: There is often a delay between when events or changes occur on the factory floor and when they are known by systems. For example, quality issues with incoming materials often require multiple steps and paper-based forms that are subsequently keyed into business applications. With mobile wireless terminals, receiving data (including pictures of damaged goods) could be collected in real-time in a single step.
  2. Business Process Optimization: Think “out of the box,” and re-design manufacturing processes that fully consider the possibilities for mobile communication and data collection. For example, rather than collect data and return to a central point for further instructions, maintenance personnel might be able to get real-time instructions based on intelligence from the maintenance management system.
  3. Leveraging Mobile Sensors: It’s not only operators that can be “mobilized” – so can assets and tools. For example, Rio envisions a scenario in which mobile “crash carts” (similar to the auto diagnostic computers at car repair shops) are taken to areas of equipment and connected for instant diagnostics.

Rio says Toyota’s sprawling automotive plant in Georgetown, KY is increasingly using mobile applications.

“To support these activities, Toyota makes production status visible in real-time to all personnel by posting key performance indicators (KPIs) on Andon boards or other types of plant floor displays,’ Rio says. “This status can also be sent to people’s wireless Blackberry devices.”

It’s finally the time for manufacturers to take a hard look at the opportunities for mobility, Rio says.

“The pain isn’t always obvious,” Rio said. “But the potential benefits are significant.

Do you believe that there is a great opportunity for increased use of mobile technologies in manufacturing? Where do you see the key applications? Have Lean initiatives often not well-considered mobile opportunities when doing value stream mapping? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.

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