Five ways to kick start manufacturing productivity

Productivity growth in the UK today is at its worst since World War II[1]. In fact, the Financial Times states that Britain has ‘lost the ability’ to improve productivity[2] since the 2008-9 financial crisis – and this claim is backed up by figures from the Office for National Statistics that indicate a drop in output of 0.2% in the third quarter of the financial year[3].

Figure 1: Whole-economy labour productivity per hour

Low productivity could be due to a combination of a fall in real wage growth and low levels of investment in plant, amongst other factors; even with the fear of unemployment, productivity can fall if employees perceive that their wages don’t reflect their levels of activity.

Get more from your human capital

Many manufacturing businesses dream of upping productivity levels on the shop floor, especially those that rely heavily on human capital in their production processes or employ temporary labour with highly variable productivity. Boosting productivity has an immediate impact on profits and growth and makes it easier to accurately forecast future outputs and production costs.

Commitment to skills development is one way to improve productivity, while visibility and measurement of employee activity against set benchmarks is also key, but it can take time to up-skill your workforce and to optimise patterns of working. So how can you improve productivity with immediate effect?

Identify underperforming operators and tasks

The problem with relying on figures for average employee productivity is that it allows individuals performing poorly to hide behind their more productive colleagues. Likewise, unless you can pinpoint exactly which tasks are dragging down your overall productivity, you won’t know where to focus your efforts to improve factory performance.

Paper-based time sheets can compound this issue with their lack of accuracy. With effective workforce management software you can measure individuals’ productivity in real-time, enabling you to immediately address the issue with those members of staff. This instant feedback and constant, real-time monitoring will enforce a sense of accountability and motivate staff to increase their output.

Highlight inaccurate benchmarks

If your benchmarks are wrong, your productivity reports will be wrong too. A key indicator of this is when certain lines of production are always exceeding your ‘standard’ costs; either all your workers are under-performing, or the standard is wrong.

Inappropriate benchmarks can be demotivating for staff, and can incentivise undesirable behaviour, such as “cherry-picking” jobs with generous standards rather than the most urgent work. Worse, standard times are often used as the basis for product costing and inaccurate standards can lead to margin erosion (when standards are too low), or uncompetitive pricing (when standards are too high).

Good manufacturing management software can help you to frame your benchmarks correctly by accurately collecting and analysing your data to ascertain workable standards for employees and management to use.

Use spare capacity and remove production bottlenecks

Sometimes low worker productivity levels are due to poor line balancing or excess capacity – operators may not be receiving sufficient tasks into their workflows due to scheduling issues and have to wait for upstream activities to complete.

Production line bottlenecks are easy to spot when you have a simple, linear production line. When you can see where the bottleneck is you can add an extra operator or machine to increase capacity, removing the bottleneck and ensuring a better flow of materials and increased overall productivity.

Figure 2: Identifying bottlenecks by viewing work-in-progress by workcentre

However, identifying the source of production line bottlenecks and spare capacity is much more difficult for factories with shared processes and thousands of different product variants. Simple visual supervision will not always reveal the source of the problem. The only way to identify the issues and optimise production is to automatically collect and report on production at a detailed level. Having access to accurate, real-time reports can help to solve this and enable you to balance production and improve overall productivity.

Identify and enforce best practice

To achieve world-class performance it is necessary to identify best practice and to strive to repeat this every time. To continuously improve you must:

  • Define the optimum workflow
  • Provide operators with the information they need to ensure this is followed on every task
  • Using context sensitive software and touch-screen terminals to guide operators through the defined best-practice will help bring the productivity of all your workforce up to the level of the best performers.

Provide real-time operator feedback

Performance data is crucial, and yet even if armed with all the productivity reports in the world you can’t improve a person’s productivity after the fact. Rather than wait a few days to let a team know they’re underperforming, let them know immediately by providing your workforce with visibility of the targets for their current work and real-time performance data against the targets so they can immediately see areas of low productivity. Providing feedback is one of the most immediate ways to get the best from your people, and the sooner you can deliver it, the sooner you’ll see improvements.

Want to discuss your productivity and output aims with an expert in workforce productivity management? We’d love to help you improve your productivity, growth and profits with an easily configurable workforce management solution. Contact us here.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-32143552
[2] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/17be9940-a49d-11e4-8959-00144feab7de.html#axzz3m5EnbpN5
[3] http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/apr/01/uk-productivity-growth-is-weakest-since-wwii-says-ons