Tag: Labour

OEE, Labour, and Inventory

Almost every manufacturing facility has a method or means to measure labour efficiency.  Some of these methods may include Earned versus Actual hours or perhaps they are financially driven metrics such as “Labour as a Percent of Sales” or as “Labour Variance to Plan”.  As we have learned all too well through the latest economic downturn, organizations are quite adept at using these metrics to flex direct labour levels based on current demand.  This suggests that almost every company has access to at least a  financial model of some form that can be used to represent “ideal” work force requirements based on sales.

It is not our intent to discuss how these models are created, however, I can only trust that the financial model is based on a realistic assessment of current process capabilities and resources required to support the product mix represented by the sales forecast.  At a minimum, the assessment should include the following standards and known variances for each process:  Material, Labour, and Rate.  You may recognize these standards as they form the basis of our OEE cost model that we have discussed in detail and offer in our Free downloads page.

Analyzing the Data

Many companies use both Labour Efficiency and Overall Equipment Effectiveness to measure the performance of their manufacturing operations.  We would also expect a strong correlation to exist between these two metrics as the basis for their measurement is fundamentally common.  As you may have already observed in your own operations, this is not always the case in the real world.  The disconnect between these two metrics is a strong indicator that yet another opportunity for improvement may exist.

For example, it is not uncommon to see operations where OEE is 60% – 70% while labour efficiencies are reported to be 95% or better.  How is this possible?  The simple answer is that labour is redirected to perform other work while a machine is down or, in extreme cases, the work force is sent home.  In both cases, OEE continues to suffer while labour is managed to minimize the immediate financial impact of the downtime.

Set up and / or change over may be one of the reasons for down time and another reason why there is a perceived discrepancy between labour efficiency and overall equipment effectiveness.  Some companies employee personnnel specifically trained to perform these tasks and are classified as indirect labour.

Redirecting labour to operate other machines presents its own unique set of problems and is typically frowned upon in lean organizations.  Companies that follow this practice must ensure that adequate controls are in place to prevent excess inventories from building over time.  I reluctantly concede to the practice of “redeployment during downtime” if it is indeed being managed.

Some would argue that the alternate work is being managed because the schedule actually includes a backup job if a given machine goes down.  If we probe deep enough, we may be surprised to learn that some of these backup jobs are actually “never” scheduled because the primary scheduled machines “always” provide ample downtime to finish orders of “unscheduled” backup work.  As such, we must be fully aware of the potential to create the “hidden factory” that runs when the real one isn’t.

Pitfalls of Redirected Labour

This practice easily becomes a learned behavior and tends to place more emphasis on preserving labour efficiency than actually increasing the sense of urgency required to solve the real problem.  In all too many cases the real problem is never solved.

Too many opportunities to improve operations are missed because many planners have learned to compensate for processes that continually fail to perform.  Experience shows that production schedules evolve over time to include backup jobs and alternate machines that ultimately serve as a mask to keep real problems from surfacing.  From a labour and OEE perspective, everything appears to be normal.

Redirecting labour to compensate for Process deficiencies may give rise to excess inventory.  “Increased inventory” is an extremely high price to pay for the sake of perceived efficiency in the short-term.  Higher inventory has an immediate negative impact to cash flow in the short-term as real money is now represented by parts in inventory until consumed or sold.  Additional penalties of inventory include carrying and handling costs that are also worthy of consideration.

Three Metrics – Working Together

You will note that we deliberately used the term labour efficiency throughout our discussion and presents an opportunity to demonstrate that efficiency and effectiveness are not synonymous.  Efficiency measures our ability to produce parts at rate while effectiveness measures our ability to produce the right quantity of quality parts at the right time.

Overall Equipment Effectiveness, Labour Efficiency, and Inventory are truly complementary metrics that can be used to determine how effectively we are managing our resources:  Human, Equipment, Material, and Time.  Our mission is to safely produce a quality part at rate, delivered on time and in full, at the lowest possible cost.  Analyzing the data derived through our metrics is the key to understanding where opportunities persist.  Once identified, we can effectively solve the problems and implement corrective actions accordingly.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

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Contingency Planning For Lean Operations – Part I

Contingency Planning For Lean Operations – Part I

Lean operations are driven by effective planning and efficient execution of core activities to ensure optimal performance is achieved and sustained.  The very nature of lean requires extreme attention to detail through all phases of planning and execution.  Upstream operations simply cannot tolerate any disruptions in product supply or process flow without the risk of incurring significant downtime costs or other related losses.

Effective risk management methods, contingency plans, and loss prevention strategy are critical components of successful operations management in a lean operation.  Risk management and preventing disruptions is the subject of contingency planning and requires the participation of all team members.

Successful contingency planning assures the establishment of an effective communication strategy and identification of core activities and actions required.  Contingency plans may require alternative methods, processes, systems, sources, or services and must be verified, validated, and tested prior to implementation.

Understanding and assessing the potential risks to your operation is the basis for contingency planning with the objective to minimize or eliminate potential losses.

Inventory represents the most basic form of contingency planning.  Safety stock or buffer inventories are typically used to minimize the effects of equipment downtime or disruptions in the supply chain. 

The levels of inventory to maintain are dependent on a number factors including Lead Time, Value, Carrying Cost, Transit Time (Distance), Shelf Life, Minimum Order Quantities, Payment Terms, and Obsolescence.

Why is this relevant?

Material and Labour represent two key resources that may be influenced by external factors that are beyond the control of any company policy or practice.  Internally controlled or managed resources such facilities, equipment, and tooling are less susceptible to unknown elements.  For the purposes of this discussion, we will examine Labour in a little more detail.

The H1N1 virus, originally known as the Swine Flu, is the latest potential health pandemic since the outbreak of SARS only a few years ago.  The government has been struggling to organize mass immunization clinics and to engage the media to aid in the cause.  In the meantime, the potential impact of the H1N1 virus on your operation remains to be an unknown. 

Experts have commented to the media that the lessons from the SARS outbreak have still not been learned.  One would expect that past practices would have already been adopted into new best practices from our experiences with other similar events in our history.

Government agencies at all levels (Federal, Provincial, and local) have mismanaged the activities required to procure and distribute the vaccine, and failed to provide an effective communication and immunization strategy to ensure the risk to public health was minimized and the at the very least understood.

The lack of coordination and accountability for the success or failure of the communication strategy, procurement and distribution of the vaccine, and other related activities are strong indicators that the planning process did not consider the infrastructure requirements and relationships needed between levels of government.

The lack of an effective communication strategy introduced confusion and speculation in the media and the general public.  Mass education only seemed to become more aggressive as incidents of severe H1N1 complications and related deaths were reported in the media.

If this really was a pandemic event, many operations today would (and may still) be adversely affected due to direct or indirect (supply chain) labour shortages.  Do you have contingency plans in place to address this concern?

It could be argued that “if we are affected to this extent, then our customers will be as well.”  This is not necessarily true unless your customers and / or suppliers are located in the same immediate area or region of your business.

People travel all the time, whether they are commuting to work from out-of-town or traveling to or arriving from a foreign country on business.  The source of exposure is beyond your immediate control. 

What other elements can directly impact labour?  We will explore some of these in our next post.  In the meantime, keep your hands washed and remember to cough into your sleeve.

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

Unexpected and Appreciated – Uncommon Courtesy:  This morning, a person cut into the drive through lane ahead of us – not realizing the gap in the line was there for thru traffic.  Recognizing the error in drive through etiquette and to make amends, we were pleasantly surprised by the “free” coffee at the pick up window.  Thank you ladies!