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Ask the Expert - Manufacturing

Automation vs. machinization

Q: What is the difference between automation and machinization?


Safety scores

Q: What types of performance metrics are available for monitoring safety and housekeeping in a manufacturing environment?


Production optimization

Q: Given:

• Five production lines that produce four kinds of trays
• Five tray-sealing machines, three of which can be set up for any tray size
• The merging of the five production lines into a U-shape conveyor, with trays waiting to be sealed, which creates a bottleneck.

How can I approach the problem if I have the resources to remove the U-shape conveyor?


Determining capacity

Q: I am working at a sheet metal HVAC fabrication plant. The majority of jobs are custom fabrications. The company has no idea what it can produce per day in pounds of metal. What is the best way to determine capacity? There is no historical data available for reference.

In the same plant, jobs are scheduled according to customer due date. What is the best way to approach this issue?


24/7 cycle counting

Q: What advice can you give me about cycle counting in an operation that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week?


Color me productive

Q: Where do I find studies on color's effect on productivity and which colors are best?


Splitting the run time

Q: In our factory, each machinist runs two machines at a time. We are discussing whether to split the run time (time standard) in half. Does anyone have experience with this type of factory?


Sew what?

Q: Do you know of any standard data for sewing heavy-duty cloth such as canvas or Cordura?


Labor standards

Q: I am setting labor standards for assembly line processes. Because of the balance of the lines, it will be impossible for the line as a whole to run at 100 percent. I have two questions:

1. What is the typical ratio of theoretical vss. actual efficiency on assembly lines?

2. Should the line standard be set on the sum of the individual workstation standards or should it be set using the total staff hours expended to produce one unit of production?


What's world-class?

Q: I am familiar with lean manufacturing, just-in-time manufacturing, and quick-response manufacturing. Where does world-class manufacturing fit in?


Takt time

Q: What is takt time?


Tracking downtime

Q: I am developing from scratch a system for recording and tracking downtime. There are 14 pieces of equipment in line with various accumulation tables between machines. I've divided the line into six sectors for downtime reporting purposes. These happen to be machines with operations. Reporting on machine efficiency is the easy part. How do I define and report on line efficiency with the accumulation tables between machines? When a machine is down for a short period, it does not necessarily affect downstream equipment.


Formulating turns

Q:  I have been using the following formula to calculate inventory turnover ratio:

Inventory turnover ratio = Annual sales / Average inventory value

Recently, I saw a reference to the following:

Inventory turnover ratio = Cost of goods sold / Average inventory value

Which one should be used and what's the difference between them?


Scanner training

Q: We are in the process of installing a radio-frequency warehouse management system in our parts distribution center. Our product is seasonal and we hire temporary help.

A question came up regarding the amount of time it takes to train someone to use an RF scanner. Any information and suggestions you can give would be appreciated.


Longer shift, less productivity

Q: I am looking to understand the pitfalls of extending the shift of wiring inspectors in an aircraft situation. My gut feeling is that going to 10- or 12-hour shifts will result in a non-linear increase in productive inspection hours. What I mean is, given an 8-hour shift inspecting wire, I expect x linear feet of wire would be inspected. By increasing to a 12-hour shift, my hypothesis is that I should expect less than 1.5x linear feet per period.

My concerns are related to complacency, expectancy, and fatigue. Most articles I have seen on work compression show an increase in productivity but do not specifically address the inspection process. I would rather propose a more radical change that shortens the inspection portioin of the shift to, say, four hours and increase the number of inspectors to provide 24/7 coverage. I would expect by going to four hours, I could get more than 0.5x per period with an increase in accuracy since the inspector would be fresher.


Indirect labor needs

Q: I work for an automaker at a manufacturing facility that produces transmissions. I need to figure out how many indirect labor people we should have in the plant. By indirect labor I mean any hourly personnel whose main job is to support the production of transmissions and not to assemble or machine parts. For example, an electrician or a tool maker would be indirect labor, whereas someone working on the assembly line would be direct labor. Material handling personnel are indirect labor.

We calculate the direct labor content by developing a standardized work plan for every job in the plant. This is purely math-based, with the initial data taken from direct observation; however, the indirect labor plan seems to be based on experience, not data. Is there a data-driven way to compute the quantity of indirect labor required in a plant?


Tuning in to productivity

Q: Does listening to the radio decrease employee performance? I have found studies that indicate listening to instrumental music increases concentration but none about the effect of other types of music. Do you have any insight from human factors, psychological, or managerial points of view?


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