5 things you need to know about HMLV productionManufacturers around the world have strived to find ways they can help support the healthcare industry during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Most have opted to shift their focus to the medical sector to help meet the rising demand for critical medical supplies like face masks and ventilators – but many shops are apprehensive about the work it might take to pursue a new industry. Rather than pay attention to the major manufacturers who are spending weeks to retool entire production lines for face masks, however, the best way to transition to the medical industry for most manufacturers starts by examining another industry altogether: general engineering.
For manufacturers around the world, high-mix/low-volume (HMLV) production isn’t a trendy new way of processing parts – it’s a requirement to meet rapid changes in consumer demand and keep pace with just in time (JIT) manufacturing. To maximize throughput in this new production ecosystem, which involves smaller batches of increasingly customized parts, there are five key things manufacturers must keep in mind:
With greater flexibility, your business can handle a variety of smaller jobs and branch out to different industries to keep new jobs coming. Shops need versatile multi-tasking machine tools and advanced, universal tooling to handle a greater number of applications. You also need a team capable of leveraging this technology to grow your business; your operators need to be able to handle a wider variety of tasks every day, so be sure to support them with the training they need to thrive in this new environment.
A well-trained team is also necessary to handle the new problems that will crop up as you transition to more HMLV production. Decades ago, manufacturing was described in terms of “lines,” but now, small-batch jobs will flow differently through your facility – and more customization means each one of those tasks will have subtle differences. In this production environment, bottlenecks will move often, so empower your team to make on-the-spot decisions to keep production moving, and invest in machine monitoring technology that will help them spot exactly where operations get slowed down.
Technical people like to talk about optimization, leveraging technology to get the most out of every minute of machine uptime. But to achieve those kinds of optimized processes, manufacturers have to get aggressive and push their applications to the limit. This becomes tough in HMLV environments, where process security is much more important. After all, if a job only has one part and you scrap it by going too fast, you’ve probably erased the profits you were expecting. Instead, HMLV production requires a flexible team that can focus on secure processes with less specialized tooling, reducing setup time, complexity and risk.
Manufacturing doesn’t begin at the machine tool, but with a purchase order, and HMLV production means a lot more orders. That means more administrative time, but also more customers calling with changes. This creates more opportunities for confusion and a greater number of priorities to track. Don’t let all the paperwork get in the way of your shop’s success; automate and simplify whatever you can with electronic systems and limit the number of priorities your shop handles to reduce the need for firefighting and secure steady, on-time delivery.
In HMLV environments, too much work in progress (WIP) around the shop increases the risk of mistakes and makes changing projects more complicated. For the highest efficiency, limit the release of orders on the shop floor depending on the amount of WIP, and only release orders when they’re ready for production. Have a well-defined system for organizing and scheduling work, one flexible enough to handle the rapid changes required in HMLV production.
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