Two basic tools to identify problems in a manufacturing industry

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence”, said once Vince Lombardi, one of the best American coach. How does this apply to the manufacturing world?

No manufacturing Company is perfect. There’s always areas to improve and problems that need to be solved. However, sometimes companies face multiple issues and it’s difficult for them to find the roots of the problem in order to find a possible solution. Some of these problems involve quality, inventory, process variation, waste, etc. There are many tools that help both, companies and consultants, to identify the main problems in order for them to plan a solution. Here are two basic tools, easy to use, that will help you identify problems and opportunities in your company.

There’s always areas to improve and problems that need to be solved. However, sometimes companies face multiple issues and it’s difficult for them to find the roots of the problem in order to find a possible solution. Some of these problems involve quality, inventory, process variation, waste, etc. There are many tools that help both, companies and consultants, to identify the main problems in order for them to plan a solution. Here are two basic tools, easy to use, that will help you identify problems and opportunities in your company.

Process Mapping

Process in the manufacturing industry can be complex and difficult to visualize. This might blur our vision to see problems or unnecessary work that is being done. This is why process mapping is a very useful tool to identify problems and/or optimize a process. This tool consists of a visual description of all the activities in a process in the order they are done. There are specific symbols that represent decisions, steps, inputs and outputs. Here are the six symbols that are frequently used in mapping a manufacturing process:

After completing the process map, it will be easier to identify in which stage of the process an improvement can be done, which are unnecessary steps, what activities might be missing, where are problems occurring, etc.

Example: Process of waking up to go to work

Cause and effect Diagram

Also known as the Ishikawa diagram or the fishbone diagram. This diagram helps you organize your ideas related to the possible causes of the problem. First, you draw a horizontal line and at the end of it write the main issue. Then each branch that comes out of that line will be a category. The categories might vary, however, the main categories used are: Methods, equipment, manpower, materials, measurement, and environment. All the possible causes of the problem are written in the category they fit in. Sub-branches may be added too.

Asking questions like why does this happen? Will help you get more ideas of what might be causing the problem. Brainstorming with other people or asking questions directly to people that might be involved can be very helpful in finding the cause. After creating your diagram you’ll have a clearer vision of what’s happening and what are the issues you need to attack first.

Example:

To sum up, these are tools that can guide you in the identification of problems by visualizing and analyzing processes. They are useful and mostly successful, however, it’s always good to compliment them with other resources in order to get better results. After the problem and its causes are identified, the next step is finding one or several potential solutions to it. Finally, it is crucial to document everything that is done, learn from your problems/errors and think about procedures that will help you prevent similar problems in the future.

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