Factory Floor Innovation For Today’s Lean, Mean Success Machines

Open innovation – it’s the business strategy buzzword of the decade according to a recent “Management Issues” article titled “Business strategy: the lessons of the ‘big ideas’.” And, “Enlightened companies are actively seeking innovatory ideas wherever they can be found.” Nowhere is that more true than on the factory floor, where innovative shop management software is enabling better scheduling, work in process tracking, data collection and time and attendance labor management, just to name a few benefits.

This trend toward innovation got its start in 1986, when Motorola implemented a strategy called Six Sigma. A business management strategy, Six Sigma sought to “improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and variation in manufacturing and business processes,” according to Wikipedia. Unfortunately, Six Sigma’s innovators soon fell victim to the times, which called for new innovation. It was a case of either transform or be trounced.

“In the 1990s, the most visionary of the [management consultants] backed the ‘virtual corporation,’ by which activities were hived off, [thereby] allowing management to concentrate on its core business,” the article went on to point out. One 21st-century innovation that affords managers this luxury is a real-time data collection system that provides job tracking and factory floor control.

While the expertise of individuals within the organization lay at the crux of Six Sigma, today’s factory floor lean manufacturing strategies leverage paperless factory floor technology. With a paperless production control system in place, shop floor managers enjoy visual control, rate-based measurements, problem identification, and process improvement to eliminate factory-floor documentation used for production control, quality tracking and ISO-9000 controlled documentation distribution. As a result, they are able to better control and manage their shop floor.

This modern-day lean manufacturing methodology isn’t just an option for today’s shop floor managers. It is a key element to improving a company’s floor performance, its customer responsiveness, and, ultimately, its bottom line. A positive bottom line is no guarantee in the face of a U.S. Commerce Department report that U.S. factory orders plunged 4.6% in November 2008. That figure outpaced estimates by more than 2% and followed on the heels of a 6% decrease in the previous month. In fact, in the one-year period leading up to the announcement, factory orders declined a total of 15.2%.

Just imagine how much more a company could do and, as a result, how much greater profits it could bring it, if it had complete control of the factory floor. If last-minute changes never affected its efficiency, how much more might it thrive? If a company could adjust work-in-process and schedules at a moment’s notice and deliver all product on time, what would that mean for its bottom line?

The good news is that innovation exists that will allow factory floor managers to uncover the desirable answers to all of these questions. That technology comes in the form of a system that enables manufacturers to compete on speed rather than cost and delivers real-time, continuous improvement for greater profitability and faster delivery to customers.

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