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Manufacturing efficiency: 5 ways to maximise shop floor space

Manufacturing efficiency: 5 ways to maximise shop floor space

Manufacturing efficiency: 5 ways to maximise shop floor space

Improving efficiency on the shop floor can clearly make you more competitive. Head of Engineering at MSC Industrial Supply Co. UK outlines manufacturing businesses can take their productivity to the next level.

A thriving manufacturing company can become a victim of its own success, as the shop floor grows increasingly chaotic. Overflowing tool cabinets, disorganised shelf space and badly marked storage areas all make it difficult to keep tools, parts, and materials in order. The result is a drop in productivity, which in turn impacts profitability.

The good news is that there are several solutions to help manufacturers maintain or improve shop floor efficiencies which are essential in today’s competitive manufacturing market.  These strategies will not only help your employees to work more safely but also anticipate what is needed to thrive in the work environment of the future. 

Lean techniques for the layout of production facilities aim to create a continuous flow of workers, material, and information. By adopting these techniques, manufacturers can create a clean, organised and efficient shop floor that keeps workers safe - and helps take the company’s productivity to the next level. 

Here are five of the most effective techniques and technologies for maximising available space and creating shop floor efficiencies:

1.     Lean manufacturing techniques

If the shop floor seems to be constantly cluttered, perhaps there’s a bigger issue: Are you failing to pre-plan workstation needs before work begins to improve productivity and reduce movement? Are tools organised so that workers have them at their fingertips when they need them?

If these issues sound familiar, the business may want to consider adopting a lean manufacturing practice such as 5S, which is a reference to five Japanese terms that describe the different steps for reducing waste: ‘Seiri’ (sort), ‘Seiton’ (set in order), ‘Seiso’ (shine), ‘Seiketsu’ (standardise), and ‘Shitsuke’ (sustain). 5S is designed to cut down on clutter and enable manufacturers to efficiently organise the shop floor, increasing productivity as a result. 

Lean manufacturing is all about using time and space effectively. It aims to minimise the time workers spend looking for tools, materials, or information. When this process is correctly implemented, it avoids the build-up of inventory and excess equipment. And it can ensure employees are operating in a safe, clean environment where work is done efficiently. 

2.     Machine monitoring systems

Minimising unplanned downtime is essential to maintaining productivity – and remote machine monitoring can help. This uses sensors mounted directly onto equipment to monitor a machine’s “health” by constantly transmitting data about its operations to the internet – for example, vibration or temperature. This enables technicians or managers to keep an eye on machine performance and provide support when needed. If a key metric exceeds a certain level, the right person is immediately informed and can take appropriate action. This constant oversight and monitoring can lead to process efficiencies and boost productivity. 

Machine condition monitoring is part of an ever-growing trend towards leveraging data in manufacturing to identify and eliminate operating inefficiencies, which is a business imperative. Manufacturers can save time and costs by quickly diagnosing problems. This means issues are resolved more efficiently and downtime is shortened, optimising production.

3.     Efficient assembly lines

Flexibility and flow are vital for an efficient assembly line setup. A lean workplace layout means having all of the most important working elements nearby, such as tools and most frequently used parts.

Equipment can help businesses to achieve this, including obvious choices such as work benches. Manufacturers should also consider carts or conveyor systems that come in different sizes and designs. Some may be adjusted to various heights or have tilting capabilities to enable access deep into a container, reducing bending at the waist and back for workers. Some have rotating tabletops, allowing for easier access to parts at waist level. Other options include easy-to-reach shelving for small parts that can be folded when empty, creating more space. Furthermore, some carts can align with slat conveyors to receive loads at an easily accessed height.

Safety signage that eliminates worker confusion or hesitation is vital. While sometimes this is a legal obligation, make all the angles are covered. An employee needs to know when personal protective equipment is necessary, or if social distancing is required. Similarly, floor tape and other visual cues that clearly show a path to a machine or help ensure workers know about approved production flows can be a quick win.

4.     Smarter workstation set-up

Properly designed and configured workstations are an important element of a lean manufacturing system. They can help reduce waste, improve efficiency, and provide employees with a relaxed working position where work movements follow the body’s natural movements. 

Elements to consider include configurable storage solutions that can be adjusted to accommodate changing inventory. A first in, first out (FIFO) flow racking system can also bring warehouse inventory closer to the production, assembly or packing station. This means that parts are at hand and no time is wasted searching for items. Shadow boards are a great visual management aid for hand tools, helping to ensure that they are put back in the same spot after use, meaning time is not wasted looking for them.

Other areas to consider include matting to minimise worker fatigue and improve safety by reducing the possibility of injuries. Organiser or storage bins help keep clutter to a minimum and improve your ability to organise parts around a workstation. Last but not least, workstation dividers and partitions keep workers safely apart and help improve social distancing.

5.      Managing social distancing 

For businesses that are following UK Government guidance on social distancing at work, there are several things to consider. 

Firstly, establishing flexible work hours, such as staggered shifts, can reduce the number of workers in a space at a given time. Also consider limiting the duration of work activities where social distancing is impossible, temporarily move workstations to create more space between employees or install barriers such as plexiglass shields between workstations. 

Technologies that can also help include contactless tool management systems. These enable employees to change tools without any personal interaction with a co-worker.

Good planning

None of these elements will work without creating a detailed plan and implementing it in a consistent way. Buy-in from the entire senior management team is also vital, along with the understanding that there will be up-front costs for some of the proposals on this list. However, in the long term, they will deliver a considerable return on investment by making your shop floors safer, leaner, and more productive.

MSC UK offers a consultative service for manufacturers, helping them to improve productivity through the implementation of a range of forward-thinking solutions. For more information, visit www.mscdirect.co.uk 

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