I believe that the pursuit of process excellence is quite a complex and in most cases a very unique endeavor, however the way in which it is approached can be simplified. Process excellence in manufacturing is greatly influenced by the level of knowledge the plant/factory possesses, pertaining to the way in which the process works and the way in which seemingly separate and independent activities eventually add to the value of the end product. Today, I am going to present a simple three step ladder for achieving world-class levels of process performance and the role IT applications can play in the better execution of these steps from an economic and ease of operation perspective.
THE LADDER OF PROCESS EXCELLENCE-FIRST STEP: KNOW WHAT.
The first step involves establishing what exactly is done in your process, this can be done through a WIP profile or a WBS i.e. a Work Breakdown Structure or any means which would help understand how various activities performed in the process deliver value at the end, in the form of a finished product. This stage requires the formation and careful documentation of SOP or Standard Operating Procedures for each value adding activity. To complete this step a close involvement and contribution of the process owners is mandatory. The step gets completed when a comprehensive, written account of the process (as-is), is established and linked to the way in which each activity contributes to the bottom-line. Here the objective is to understand the status quo of the process and quantify the activities in terms of their contribution to the economic profits attained.
THE LADDER OF PROCESS EXCELLENCE-SECOND STEP: KNOW HOW.
This involves careful scrutiny of each activity to understand which Process Metrics translate to value in terms of customer satisfaction, Quality, Throughput etc., the metrics can range from Efficiency to CpK to OEE to any metric which, when influenced can effect the bottom line directly or indirectly. It is at this stage improvements can be pursued through TQM, Quality Management Systems, SPC modules. The know-how results from the derivative knowledge attained through these improvement efforts would help process owners understand how the process reacts under various circumstances and contingencies. This step aims to chalk-out the pain points of the process and analyze the root causes for all of them. This step will help deal with all common issues which occur on a day to day basis and will help form an action plan to deal with these recurrent causes, by either eliminating or avoiding the root causes of the issues.
THE LADDER OF PROCESS EXCELLENCE-THIRD STEP: KNOW WHY.
This step involves ramping up the the pursuit of process excellence by looking at process wide improvement through interdepartmental and cross-functional collaboration. It is not uncommon to begin implementation of Lean, Six-Sigma, JIT and other such complex strategies, techniques and tools. The aim here is to reduce process anomalies to the extent where errors can only occur due to contingent issues or non-assignable causes, which are beyond the control and reasonable comprehension of the process owners. By the end of this stage process owners should know exactly why issues happen in their process, and should be able to control or mitigate them before happening or escalating.It is at this juncture that the IT applications like the MES which have the capability to integrate the process become very important. Through these applications the cumbersome task of obtaining, maintaining and analyzing process data, becomes automated, this helps faster decision making, leading to early detection and prevention of issues and errors. Due to the collaborative and flexible nature of these applications a granular view of each and every process activity can be obtained. The ‘Know Why’ step is the most crucial for the manufacturing process, as only when a process knows exactly why events occur in the way they do, there can be positive momentum for continued improvement and positive and profitable change.
For processes which do not face continued pressure from market forces and technological developments, the ladder is quite linear and process excellence can be realized when the third step is reached and maintained. But for manufacturing processes which face turbulent market and technological forces, the ladder becomes circular, as due to the constant change, the level at which each activity and process element is located might be different. This condition calls for continued monitoring of each facet of the process and evident and constant effort should be made to reach the third step for all process activities. The pursuit of Operational Excellence, especially in complex processes is benefited by MES applications, as they make transition from one step to the other, seamless and thereby less painful. So if you think your process needs improvement or if your process is already mature and seemingly profitable, analyze it against the steps mentioned above and decide if its capable of pursuing excellence, if so don’t forget the importance of IT and specifically the MES.