Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) is what every manufacturer dreams of. Here’s how one manufacturer of plastic parts and components, from disposable packaging to high-end medical parts for MRI equipment, is using QRM to achieve significant lead-time reduction.
It started in 2009, when Nicolet Plastics of Mountain, WI, observed that the major multi-national firms were increasingly moving their high volume, minimally complex molded business offshore to avoid rising costs at home. The company also observed that although the high-volume business was leaving, the low- to moderate-volume business was not. Management recognized the marketplace’s focus on long-run production optimization offered an untapped opportunity in the low- to moderate-volume market. To remain competitive, the firm elected to exploit its strength in excellence at complexity and turn market weaknesses into opportunities. It began looking for manufacturing philosophies that supported the needs of short-run, complex-part customers.
That is when Nicolet Plastics discovered a solution right in its own backyard. Quick Response Manufacturing is a consortium between the manufacturing industry and the engineering school at the University of Wisconsin. It was developed and published by founding director, Rajan Suri, who defines the program as the pursuit of the reduction of lead time in all aspects of a company’s operation, embracing a relentless emphasis on time reduction that has a long-term impact on every aspect of the company
For Nicolet Plastics, the key to making the QRM program work was two-fold: Company-wide acceptance of operational change and the business and manufacturing tools found in EnterpriseIQ, a manufacturing ERP and MES system from IQMS . Before embarking on this new initiative, Nicolet Plastics established a few goals:
• Reduce total order to delivery time of parts by 14 days (from 21 days to 7 days)
• Reduce finished goods inventory
• Be able to respond to unexpected changes in demand without a degradation of service
• Develop a cross-trained workforce for flexibility, including the creation of a cross functional quick response office cell
• Reduce last shot (last good piece) to first shot time (first good piece) by 50 percent
Step one was to ignore job titles and employee categories by defining the talents and skills required for an ideal shift on the production floor. A skills matrix was built, including both soft skills (interpersonal, ability to succeed in a team environment) and hard skills (technical abilities, intelligence), including gaps between the target skills mix and the actual. With this thought process in mind, Nicolet Plastics immediately saw crossover. An employee previously defined as an operator might also be able to clean out a hopper, a skill that crossed over into materials handling. Once defined, Nicolet Plastics evaluated its employees in terms of skill levels through written and practical testing to determine competency levels and establish training necessary to create an ideal shift.
A credentialing program was established in house and employees were rewarded for technical abilities and willingness to learn new production and process-related skills.
New pay ranges were defined for each skill level, so as employees progressed in their ability to handle more complex issues, value to the company increased and so did wages. To date, 120-plus hours per employee have been logged over a three year period, equivalent to a week of training for every employee since this initiative began.
Once the new employee roles were defined and established, Nicolet began tackling the individual QRM initiatives. The first was to change its accounting mindset: Because standard costing is not a key tenant of lean accounting, Nicolet Plastics decided to track actual costs instead. The challenge was to get employees thinking in terms of time and not in terms of overhead absorption. It is not reasonable to assume that all of a company’s costs will increase as production volume increases, but that is exactly what standard cost accounting assumes. Nicolet Plastics now tracks actual costs through the proactive tools in IQMS’ RealTime™ Process Monitoring system, as well as detailed exception reporting, for a proactive value add/value stream approach.
The second initiative was to reduce batch sizes. Due to the nature of low volume customers, Nicolet Plastics typically handles as many as 90 to 100 mold changes per week. QRM practices slicing time by sharing resources (in this case, presses) with competing target market segments (long and short runs) without creating backlogs and queues. In order to cut time, Nicolet Plastics schedules its long jobs that can run unattended over the weekend in what is referred to as a “swim lane.” This prevents short jobs from getting backlogged or delayed behind a long-running job (we all understand how frustrating it is to wait in the express lane behind someone at the grocery store who clearly has more than 10 items in his cart!).
Nicolet Plastics achieves this unattended lights-out weekend production with the help of IQMS’ RealTime™ Production Monitoring system that supports machine management in real time. All aspects of Nicolet Plastics’ production (total parts created, production time, downtime, rejects and parts remaining) are tracked immediately and applied to the order, while simultaneously updating the schedule. Work center performance can be viewed from any computer on the network and even remotely, for improved efficiency, visibility, and productivity.
If RealTime detects that there is a problem with an unattended swim lane, like a press has stopped running, Nicolet Plastics uses the EnterpriseIQ business activity monitoring feature, IQAlert, to generate an automated message (text, email or voice message) to the on-call press technician. The technician only needs to come to work if an exception occurs.
With the critical component of properly handling customers’ needs top of mind, Nicolet Plastics next focused on managing job complexity. Nicolet Plastics was previously supporting hundreds of different materials and thousands of mold/insert combinations. Variability is the essence of complexity, so Nicolet Plastics had to focus on eliminating dysfunctional variability, such as excessive inventory, ineffective systems and rework. Using the rich data in EnterpriseIQ, Nicolet Plastics evaluated the top 80 percent of its customers, items and materials to identify target groups. The tools in EnterpriseIQ allowed Nicolet Plastics to “weed the garden” (eliminate non-strategic variability) and come up with a resulting mix that remains very complex, but more focused.
Following the initiative above, Nicolet Plastics addressed its wide variety of custom resins and materials required to run jobs, specifically the challenge: How do you reduce lead times when the material lead time may be longer than your total desired time for the whole order? Using its new data about key materials from the step above, Nicolet Plastics was able to designate “house” materials. Using EnterpriseIQ’s user-defined fields and rich MRP reporting tools, Nicolet Plastics identified daily usage, appropriate reorder points while establishing a purchasing plan to ensure sufficient stocks of key house materials.
Read the full article here >>