One thing is certain in our new COVID-19 world. Economies are contracting and everyone is fighting for a piece of a smaller pie.
In this situation, the work doesn’t spread evenly. The good customers’ are looking to perform better themselves and will naturally gravitate to the best performing suppliers.
In the past, manufacturers dictated terms with long lead times and constrained product ranges to suit the high volume manufacturing methods dictated by equipment with long setup times.
Today customers expect supplier flexibility, customizability and short lead times because that is what they are trying to provide their own customers.
For a lot of manufacturers this puts a greater emphasis on rethinking processes.
That is what Batch Size 1 is all about.
You have probably all seen the Batch Size 1 factory setups at woodworking machinery exhibitions where a complete factory layout is assembled with robots and batching stations. Panels go in and finished parts come out with every piece different and no human contact.
This is superbly impressive and ideal for high volume manufacturers but quite out of the reach of most small to medium manufacturers.
Most do not have the volume to completely rebuild production capability and have a significant downtime to boot.
Batch Size 1 means much more than a fully automated lights out factories
By definition, Batch Size 1 means that components produced in the factory can be done with minimal or no setup. It is a philosophy.
Modern equipment allows many components to be made in this way. Programs are sent directly to nesting machines, labels added and then additional processes such as straight-line banding, horizontal drilling and hardware insertion are then automatically set by the bar code.
The issue however, is not the 80-90% of parts which are made easily. The issue is the 10-20% which are always difficult, are typically quite manual, have consistency and quality issues and are invariably the ones that hold up the assembly and despatch process.
These small items have a disproportionate effect on the smooth efficiency of assembly and despatch.
Yet it is the ability to handle these items well which sets the exceptional companies out from the pack and customers know it.
Customers typically don’t tell you why they left and went to another supplier but they just find it easier. And if it is easier, then it is easier for them to make it easier for their customers. It’s a big ecosystem.
So, for small/medium enterprises, rethinking processes means focusing on the 10-20% of processes which are not easy and make them easy.
When this happens, the assembly becomes easy, flexibility becomes easy, delivery times become reliable.
Contour edge-banding is one of those processes. It’s likely that more than 90% of contoured parts manufactured in the world are done by hand.
Yet contoured parts are higher margin than other components and allow a degree of design flexibility way beyond that of rectangular panels. For the 90% of manual applicators, consistency is an issue, quality is an issue, delivery is an issue.
Consequently, rethinking processes goes hand in hand with thinking about return on investment. Unfortunately there is not a super low cost option for contour edge banding which provides the necessary levels of quality and consistency. Traditional return on investment thinking requires the financing cost to be apportioned across the predicted number of components produced making it hard to justify a significant capital investment in contour automation.
But what if the bigger picture is viewed, where the focus is on capability and ease of producing small batches with minimal setup. This equips the sales and marketing team with a broader range of options, consistent quality, and reliable delivery. Imagine what that can do to your business.
Thus the return on investment becomes easy to justify when viewing the total company return.
There are invariably many other functions in a manufacturing operation that comprise this 10-20% of difficult processes. Focussing on them one by one seems daunting initially but if you focus on the low hanging fruit first, before long everything becomes smoother and less time will be spent appeasing staff and customers when things don’t work correctly.
You know you have cracked it when you find your staff saying that business feels quiet and yet sales numbers are growing. That is because you have made it easier and your customers know it.