Improving efficiency and productivity has always been a priority for manufacturers but now more than ever they are key for survival.

Improving productivity has always been a priority for manufacturing and it was as the Industrial Revolution started in the mid-18th century that the American mechanical engineer, Frederick Winslow Taylor, developed time and motion workstudy. Taylor recognised that to become more productive, it was essential to take a deep dive into the production processes to identify how to speed things up.

Workstudy - detailed measurement highlights slivers of time that are opportunities to speed up a process stage.
Workstudy – detailed measurement highlights slivers of time that are opportunities to speed up a process stage.

For today’s businesses, it is just as important to go beyond the top line measures used to track output. And while time and motion workstudy can have old fashioned connotations of men with stop watches producing piles of impenetrable data, modern workstudy uses a mix of simple data collection and analysis techniques to help businesses make better productivity driving decisions.

These are my six top tips on where to find productivity increases.

1. System delay

Detailed measurement highlights those slivers of time that are opportunities to speed up a process stage. System delay occurs when systems lag behind the pace of the human working with them. Examples we have seen include: a slow printer that caused an unnecessary couple of seconds delay between scanning a QR code and printing the label required; slow Wi-Fi and colleagues switching between multiple systems.

Integrating systems can be expensive and time consuming. Time and motion data help you quantify how much the delay is costing you and can pinpoint the exact part of the process impacted to help prioritisation of resources.

Productivity and cutting costs is more important now than ever.
Productivity and cutting costs is more important now than ever.

2. Travel time

An ideal workstation has everything the operative needs to hand and allows a smooth flow of items between workstations. Eliminating travel time increases production capacity and productivity. At the packing stage of one production line we studied, the team had to walk a couple of steps to collect the finished item, suffered workflow screens at an awkward angle and the completed box was carried to a waiting roller cage. After review, the workstation was reworked to optimise the screen position, make sure everything needed was just a reach away and completed parcels dropped onto an adjacent belt. The time saving was significant.

Travel time isn’t just about walking; it can also be about truck movements. A warehouse which undertook studies, had not optimised forklift movements around the building. It was recommended they move to a one-way flow and then increase the truck speeds, so they were able to move more safely and faster to get the jobs done.

3. Waiting

In addition to system delay and travel time, the other element to eliminate is waiting time, where a colleague has a gap between completing one task and starting another. It usually occurs when there is an imbalance of work and resource across different stages of the production line. Or, when there has been a breakdown upstream. Identifying when and why colleagues are waiting is a key to unlocking efficiency improvements.

4. Efficiency study – match resource to demand

Classic time and motion provide invaluable deep dive efficiency insights on a stage by stage basis. A team wide efficiency study creates an additional perspective on how when and where any downtime occurs across the team. It creates insights into how well-matched resource is to demand across a whole shift and a view of how the individual process stages are impacting on each other. Examples we’ve studied included a team that were significantly over resourced, versus the work requirement working alongside teams that had to work flat out to keep up. And in a baggage handling environment, the impact of deliver delays and loose time windows to calculate the potential saving of greater precision in the upstream process were measured. Widening the view from a process deep dive, highlights extra opportunity.

5. Increase capacity and sell more

The best way to improve productivity is to increase revenue. Macro-economic studies looking at how resources are allocated within the economy often find that the best performing businesses are not the ones making the most investment, thereby missing an opportunity to grow and add value. Productivity isn’t about doing the same with less; instead, ask how can I do more?

6. Ask your team

You already have a team of process experts within your business who know where the frustrations and barriers to productivity are. Engaging them in your improvement process is a constructive way to work.

Is now a good time for your business to identify opportunities to increase productivity and free up resources to invest for growth?

simon hedaux rethink productivity
Simon Hedaux

Article by Simon Hedaux, founder and CEO of Rethink Productivity, a world leading productivity partner which helps businesses to drive efficiency, boost productivity and optimise budgets. For more information see https://rethinkproductivity.co.uk/