How to Improve Manufacturing Efficiency

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Realizing gains in your manufacturing efficiency means implementing a mix of fine-tuned adjustments and bold, sweeping changes. Efficiency isn't just on the assembly line. It's mechanical, logistical, economical and procedural. You have to look everywhere and take every variable into account. There's a lot to consider, and acting on the solutions you find takes an open mind, some elbow grease, and the wisdom to spend today in order to save tomorrow.

Raw Materials

Raw materials affect the efficiency of your operation on the basis of their price, quality, consistency and availability. Before you lock in your suppliers, compare what they're offering. Don't necessarily settle for the cheapest goods, either. They can be costlier to process and may hurt your brand. Look at all the factors and make decisions based on your company's long-term strategic interests.

Manufacturing Processes

Efficient manufacturing depends upon a network of solid production processes. To fine-tune this network you must take thousands of variables into account, from your storage and holding practices to the error tolerances in the machinery. That can get overwhelming, even if you have a good mind for the operational fundamentals. Keep learning. Make it a point to tour other companies' facilities. Stay informed on the latest industry advancements in machinery and practices. Consider hiring a reputable engineering consultancy to analyze your methods and report on efficiency changes you can implement.

The Facility

Your facility itself also influences manufacturing efficiency. Factors that can affect efficiency include a proper site layout, adequate space for operations and storage, well-organized pipes and cables, clean air and appropriate HVAC conditions, adequate utility capacity, and fully compliant safety systems. Consultants can help you prioritize facility improvements. When you identify potential efficiencies in your facility, the projected expense or renovation time may discourage you from taking action. Do a cost analysis to find out how much money you'll spend on the renovations and how much you'll save over time. Often, you will discover that an improvement that seems prohibitive in the short term may actually be critical to your long-term success.

Human Labor

Your most fickle resource is also your most valuable: the people who make your factory work. From an efficiency standpoint, strive to avoid employee turnover and injuries, both of which are huge money sinks. Manufacturing work is skilled labor, so treat your employees like the professionals they are. Listen to their feedback when they have ideas about how to improve efficiency -- including their own morale. Pay them competitively so that you can attract and retain the best, and try to be flexible with their needs. Implement ergonomic practices and equipment, especially when it comes to repetitive tasks, and always provide adequate training.

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About the Author

Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.

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