Every manufacturing project needs to have a process in place for continuous improvement to identify problems in the manufacturing process.
This is especially critical in the earliest stages of manufacturing when unanticipated problems are most likely to be seen.
When introducing a new product, the focus is maintaining the launch schedule while the mitigation of possible problems is left to predictive measures like the FMEA or experience during Beta. Once the product is launched, however, data on in-process and final testing becomes available, as well as customer feedback, warranty returns and repairs. It is important that this data be collected and reviewed.
Incidents of early failure and warranty returns is especially important and needs quick follow-up to determine the root cause and if appropriate, make changes to the design, material, or process to eliminate those failures.
Finding the root cause of a problem and preventing a reoccurrence is important, but continuous improvement has a larger scope than mitigating quality problems. It also covers improvements to the product and the manufacturing process to increase product reliability, increase manufacturing efficiencies, decrease variability in the process outcomes, and in general, lower the cost to manufacture the product.
Modifying the manufacturing process can mean:
- Casting or molding parts instead of machining.
- Modifying sheet metal design to minimize the material.
- Changing materials to lower cost.
- Identifying alternate parts and alternate sources of supply to minimize disruptions due to supply chain issues.
- Modifying process test points to find issues earlier in the process when the risk of failure is higher. Alternatively, move testing later in the process if risk is low or if experience tells you it is reasonable.
Continuous improvement also covers general company-centric manufacturing processes like Procurement, Calibration, or Quality Systems.
As your internal systems improve, running the day-to-day operations gets easier. It is easy to fall into a trap when something goes wrong and institute a new procedure to prevent that problem without looking at the processes holistically and being sure you are not increasing the complexity of the process. This is one reason small companies are considered “more nimble” compared to large companies; small companies don’t have the rigidity in their policies and procedures. Nothing against large companies; they have bigger problems. If you run a small company, don’t give away your advantage by allowing a computer to run the company. Computers are tools to be used, not bosses to be obeyed.