Simple Tips for Reducing Manufacturing Lead Times
Lengthy manufacturing lead times are not only a major headache for any busy engineer but also a direct threat to the success of a business overall. While this may seem like a problem only newbie’s to entrepreneurship would face, even Fortune 500 companies are guilty of the mistakes that lead to long lead times; they are just making so much revenue that it does not matter on a grand scale. Regardless, no matter the size of the company, time wasted is money wasted.
Review Your Suppliers
Consolidation of the services one uses is second nature in this technological era and is something you probably do not give any thought to most of the time. For example: if you have a photo you would like to post on social media and realize that your favorite photo-editing application also allows shape-cropping, deleting an application you had previously downloaded for purpose of shape-cropping alone would make sense. This same logic is important to apply to your business. It seems intuitive that the first step to reducing manufacturing lead times woul d be l earning about more about your manufacturers, namely:
- How many suppliers you have
- How reliable these suppliers are
- How often you purchase from each of them
- Whether some overlap and are thus redundant
When is the last time you examined your suppliers? All companies—large or small—require a variety of suppliers, but you are likely using far more than necessary. Surprisingly, most companies do not actually know the number of suppliers they have.
Begin by keeping a database—each purchase from a new supplier should be documented. Once you can see all your suppliers in one place, you can begin to pick and choose the ones that have been most consistently reliable, as well as cease to use redundant suppliers.
Know the Importance of “Divide and Conquer”
Think back to your grade school days. There were probably times when you had to get into groups to complete schoolwork together. Oftentimes teachers would discourage a particular technique referred to as “divide and conquer”: the method of completing work where each
person does a few questions out of the whole, thus getting the work done much faster. In a school setting, this is not the best idea because each pupil only learns a small part of the material, making it not particularly conducive to learning.
Luckily, in the business world, there is no such restriction. Dividing and conquering is an incredibly useful strategy. It is tempting, especially in a field like engineering which involves creativity, to get employees together as a group to brainstorm throughout the entirety of a project and work cooperatively on the same portions. However, this wastes valuable time.
What “Divide and Conquer” is NOT:
Do not get dividing and conquering confused with assigning individual employees multiple tasks at once. This may seem like a good idea at first glance, indicating a possibility for more productivity, but it is not the case. Multitasking in humans often gets a bad rap in psychology, and for good reason. Trying to complete more than one activity at a time causes the quality of both activities to suffer—even up to a 40% decrease in productivity—which factors directly into the next tip.
Get it Right the First Time
There is nothing worse than completing days of work and then hitting a roadblock as small as an issue of file compatibility, lack of communication between two applications, or even the embarrassing realization that what was supposed to be a professional email is riddled with grammatical errors. In engineering, getting work done right the first time is imperative—not just for reducing lead times by avoiding the pitfalls of exasperating troubleshooting, but for safety reasons as well. While the worst thing that may happen to a software engineer is fixing thousands of lines of broken code, a mistake by an electrical engineer could be devastating beyond just the scope of one’s business.
What are some easy ways to accomplish this?
- It is a well-known trick in the writing industry to read your manuscript aloud to check for errors, but a tactic that can be even more useful is reading backward, sentence by sentence. Without the natural flow of writing, your brain is far less likely to be able to fill in the gaps where you are missing words. While this may not seem particularly relevant to engineering, well-written proposals are integral to an appearance of professionalism. You can find a basic guide to English grammar here.
- Make sure all your applications are up to date and read the user guides or manuals. It is that simple, yet not done nearly enough. Though it may seem extremely appealing to jump right into that new 3D modeling application and learn as you go, learning through trial and error is simply wasting time, and it will come back to bite you later.
Automate Your Engineering
This is the single most important thing you can do to lessen manufacturing lead times. Your CAD or PLM application’s task of neatly organizing your materials following design, thereby avoiding the cost of lost time, is almost completely negated when the process of migrating your files to an ERP is not truly automated.
Why is automation so crucial?
There is a misconception that systems used to manually export CAD files to ERP will always effectively convert data. In actuality, most current applications on the market for migrating CAD or PLM files to ERP do not use smart algorithms, resulting in errors such as the ERP application regarding an engineering bill of materials as though it always is the same as the manufacturing BOM. If this is not taken into consideration, both time and money is being wasted by having to fix miscalculations manually, which goes completely against the philosophy of getting things right the first time.
Thus, you need software that is both fully automated and accurate. The only product on the market that currently meets these criteria is CADTALK, an application which utilizes artificial intelligence to transform the data from CAD or PLM design applications into accurate data within ERP systems, drastically reducing the amount of data you have to enter manually. Using automation of this variety is the most valuable thing that you can do for your business, reducing your engineering to manufacturing hand-off time by up to 80%.
Testing Your Results
Once you have implemented the above strategies to shorten your manufacturing lead times, all that is left to do is calculate your new lead times to see the level of improvement.