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4 steps to improve productivity in small batches

4 steps to improve productivity in small batches

Manufacturing industries are moving from mass production to mass custom individual production.

Prices now fluctuate daily, with small batch sizes and increased product variations. Plus, administrative requirements such as certification and traceability are also increasing.

The impact on the organization includes:

1. Increased pressure on work preparation and sales.

2. Tighter margins as customers prefer not to pay administrative fees.

3. Difficulty finding skilled workers.

These factors indicate the need to adapt the way we work to keep up with the market.

What's the best way to achieve this? Below are 4 steps to consider.

4 steps to increase productivity:

Step 1: Automate data entry:

Ensure orders are automatically entered into an ERP and/or manufacturing software (MES) based on data import.

This also applies to machines: reduce changeover time by pre-programming/offline programming everything.

Step 2: One-piece flow:

Focus on optimizing lead times rather than maximum efficiency. Train people to understand the full process and empower them to make improvements.

This can lead to a self-regulating system, like POLCA from Quick Response Manufacturing or similar kanban systems.

Step 3: Work paperless:

Shop floor workers should use databases and 3D models instead of 2D DXF and work orders.

If production data entry is necessary, it should be done on the floor via tablets, scanners, or other smart devices/machines.

Step 4: Data-driven improvement:

Utilize business intelligence tools to streamline processes. Leverage historical data from machines, employees, and process data (including post-calculation).


Automate administrative tasks fully, reduce changeover time on machines by automated loading, and further robotize the process.

You don't have to automate everything simultaneously or in a set order. Your company's digital maturity affects the process.

If you've automated order entry, different parts of the business may be at various automation stages.

For instance, you could be in the one-piece-flow planning phase for certain customer segments, the data-driven phase with quotation software, and the 3D modeling phase with engineering.

The point is:

To be competitive in the new world, small batches should be considered an opportunity to work smarter, not a threat. Machine change over time matters, but why fight against the tide?

Small batches at the cost of mass production are possible, provided the processes and automation are designed accordingly.

If you are still trying to make great series while holding on to the past, "Step 0" may be to stop doing that.