Process Optimization to Increase Productivity and Profits in Manufacturing

Shamonique Schrick
Contributing Writer

Adopting the right technology and instituting new and innovative ways for process optimization in manufacturing is crucial to staying competitive in the manufacturing industry. For example, a leading frozen foods company with nine plants - used SafetyChain QMS to try and determine the cause of a faulty lot of frozen dumplings. In two hours, they were able to use technology to diagnose the root cause, make the appropriate adjustments, and save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We’ll go over the right steps to take to ensure you’re using the right resources for your process optimization, potential challenges to process optimization, and guidance for optimizing your processes.

What Are The Goals of Process Optimization in Manufacturing?

Process optimization in manufacturing will help you identify problems in your processes and improve your existing resources - including your people and products. By reviewing existing processes and trying new ways and/or approaches, you can audit those changes and monitor how they improve (or don’t improve) your workflows and, thus, your output.

Manufacturers seek to optimize processes, with several goals in mind:

  • More streamlined operations that reduce downtime and increase efficiency.

  • Better resource management so your machines and your teams are working smarter.

  • Decreased errors.

  • Increased customer satisfaction through delivering consistent, quality products.

  • Better communication

  • Fewer redundancies

Overall, process optimization in manufacturing reduces waste, increases yield, and streamlines processes.

What Does Process Optimization Look At?

Process optimization involves looking at three basic places where optimization can be achieved: Equipment, operations, and controls.

Equipment Optimization

According to experts, “Fortune Global 500 manufacturers lose approximately 3.3 million hours a year to unplanned downtime” which “translates into $864 billion.” 

Plant Asset Management (PAM) strategies and software help by monitoring existing equipment, providing analytics, and reducing downtime due to maintenance issues. Verify that the existing equipment is being used most efficiently and to its fullest potential. Examining data helps identify bottlenecks caused by equipment.

Controls Optimization

Most plants run on thousands of control loops with each one responsible for controlling one part of the process. If the control loop is not properly designed, monitored, and tuned, your processes won’t run at their fullest capacity.

Operations Optimization

According to the Industry Forum, "Manufacturing Operations is where people, processes, and equipment come together to add value to material and produce goods for sale." 

Reviewing and revisiting data, people, and processes will help you identify the things that are holding up your operations as well as the things that are being underutilized.

To properly optimize processes, you need to identify weak points where the process impedes production and find ways to improve the processes with each step. 

Look at Key Performance Indicators like:

  • Productivity

  • Cost

  • Throughput

  • Yield

  • Scrap

  • Downtime

  • Energy consumption

  • On-time deliveries

  • Total cycle times

Robust analytics software will help you measure these metrics objectively so you can take an honest look at which processes need to be adjusted for optimal output.

Of course, you want to tap into the experience and insights of those on the floor, too. Your employees and teams will have insights that can point you in the right direction for opportunities to optimize processes that technology might not pick up on.

Challenges To Process Optimization in Manufacturing

For all the value of process optimization in manufacturing, it doesn’t come without challenges. Getting the right - and accurate - data, spending too much time on the wrong things, and simple fear of change can throw a wrench in your process optimization.

Visualizing Real-Time Data

Accurate data is crucial to effective process optimization. If something is not quite right, and you don’t know it, how can you fix it? Even with their best efforts, your workers may not even realize there’s a chink in the chain that could make their processes run more smoothly. However, real-time data gives you the insights you need to make the appropriate improvements.

With real-time data, you can see the information quicker, so you lower your risk of extended downtime or bottlenecks and can address any issues more timely.

Getting Objective Information

Experts say current process optimization practices fall short in three ways:

  1. They fail to integrate relevant data sources

  2. They do not provide optimal analytical procedures

  3. They leave it up to the analyst to identify the best process design

While it’s helpful to get insights and suggestions from those on the floor and the team members working throughout the process, you need true, objective information to make data-driven decisions that improve your processes.

Wasting Time on the Wrong Processes

Waste is an expensive loss in manufacturing, and this includes time. Spending time and resources monitoring and altering processes needlessly costs you. Managers should thoroughly investigate whether a process is worth optimizing before undertaking a change. If it’s not going to save time or resources in the future, it’s probably not worth spending time to change it.

Change/Fear of change

Change is always happening in manufacturing and the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 have only accelerated the rate of change in the industry. Technology has caused anxiety for many warehouse workers who fear losing their jobs to AI or machines, making change a scary thought for them. However, it’s also made their jobs easier and more productive. It’s important that any process optimization is clearly explained to your crews, so they understand how it’s going to make their jobs better and help the organization as a whole.

Manufacturing Process Optimization in 5 Steps

As technologies evolve and customer demand changes, most processes will continually need to be improved to be optimized. In fact, experts suggest every manufacturing vertical will need to evolve with technology to stay competitive as Digitization and automation permeate the manufacturing industry. 

Without continuous monitoring of your manufacturing processes, your entire operation risks becoming stagnant, outdated, and left behind. Undertaking process optimization is a necessary step to staying competitive in the global manufacturing market and it can be done in five steps.

1. Identify Opportunities

Before you can understand where improvements can be made, you need a clear picture of what’s happening already. Process mapping helps you clearly see what is happening, who’s doing each step, and how each step is done. Include everyone who is involved in each step of the process to help identify areas in the operation where improvements could be made.

While input from employees is important, it’s not the only information you need to optimize processes. Make use of data from your plant management software to get a sharper picture of where bottlenecks might be starting or where processes are hindered. 

For example, MSI Express used real-time SPC charting to reduce the amount of rejected packaging items. Because they were getting immediate feedback, they were able to use the data to save 30,000 pounds of products and save over $250,000 in annual expenses. 

2. Reconsider Options

Whether it’s a step or an entire process, taking into account the information you’ve collected with process mapping allows you to do some creative problem-solving. There may be solutions available you’re not yet aware of. Use existing resources to research potential solutions to achieve the level of optimization you’re seeking.

If you discover you’re missing an important tool to optimize a specific process, find the best way to add it to your wheelhouse. The initial cost of optimizing a process should be offset by the long-term benefits of adopting it. 

3. Analyze Findings

To accurately analyze the results of your optimization processes, you’ll need a team that’s responsible for implementing the change. They should understand how the success will be measured with which KPIs.

4. Automate

Process optimization in manufacturing is almost always going to involve some form of technology or automation. As digital innovation evolves, many processes in production and manufacturing will become more automated. 

5. Monitor Results

Consequently, newer technologies will become available to make manufacturing processes more efficient and productive, while being less wasteful. It will fall to project managers to stay on top of these emerging technologies to ensure they’re using the most efficient solutions available for their operations.

Ultimately, your process optimization is going to be the result of looking at what exists now, determining what the best-case end results would be, and developing the best ways to reach that goal.

You can’t be everywhere all the time so, when optimizing your processes, focus on one at a time. Continuous improvement in your operations means constant monitoring and the flexibility to shift to new, more efficient methods to get things done.

How Technology Helps Optimize Your Manufacturing Processes

In today’s growing manufacturing industry, technologies like SPC, root cause analysis, sensors and scales, and collecting real-time data are necessary tools to stay ahead and simplify your process optimization. To stay competitive and profitable, your processes need to be continuously optimized. 

Technology helps you accurately measure what’s working and identify areas where improvements can be made. Using technologies like real-time analytics, you get a much clearer picture of where resources are being over or under-used, where bottlenecks are happening, where time is being wasted, and where inefficiencies are. 

Digital Plant Management