Is your time well spent? How engineers can reduce time wasted in assembly
28 March 2017
The average worker spends approximately 348 hours per year commuting to work. This is the equivalent of a quarter of the working week spent travelling from A to B, with no direct value to either employee or employer.
Similarly, many businesses find that moving products through the supply chain creates a lot of non-productive time. Here, Andy Owen explains how businesses can improve efficiency and productivity.
A survey conducted by Salary.com in 2014 found that 89 per cent of employees waste at least some time at work – an increase of 20 per cent on the previous year. In particular, some 94 per cent of engineering, manufacturing and construction professionals admitted to wasting time. The amount ranged from 30 minutes up to several hours.
When you look at these figures against the backdrop of the productivity crisis that many countries are reported to be facing, it paints a worrying picture. As production levels drop and wasted time increases, businesses must do everything they can to improve productivity. This comes as a result of improved efficiency.
However, it is not just intentionally wasted time that is the culprit: a lot of wasted time occurs as part of the warehousing and manufacturing process itself. The first step is to determine where efficiency can be improved. Taiichi Ohno, the founder of the renowned Toyota Production System in Japan, said that waste is “anything other than the minimum amount of equipment, materials, parts, and working time absolutely essential to production”.
This waste can come from overproduction, transportation, over-processing, waiting, inventory, defects, motion or creativity. This causes employees to spend time and exert effort on tasks that are not essential to production, so it is vital that companies eliminate these.
Non-value added time
Plant managers must assess the main causes of non-value added time (NVAT) in their supply chain. Even advanced factories face this problem in their transportation, waiting and motion.
This is a common problem in the aerospace industry, for example. Manufacturers are required to move large parts across a plant as part of a staged production process. Despite the technological advancement of the aerospace industry, this part of the production line entails a high amount of non-value added time.
Engineers need a large industrial load-carrier to move large and valuable parts such as wings across the plant. Due to the size and value of the part, the carriers often need to be operated by a specially trained member of staff and may take hours to suitably strap the part up before it can be safely moved.
This wastes a lot of time for the engineers, who could be using this time to start working on a new line. This also causes a delay in the next stage in the production line, where engineers could be waiting around with nothing to do.
Although not all industries work on the same scale as an aerospace factory and an engineer might only spend five minutes waiting for a part each time, this will accumulate and account for significantly more over the course of a working week. The wait may also lead to a production bottleneck, with many parts ready for assembly but only a limited capacity for moving them.
Any plant manager observing this would come to the conclusion that the process could be made more efficient and lean by changing it entirely. For example, there would be less wait time if each member of staff could use equipment to move parts to the assembly area without delay.
Of course, any plant manager that sees the benefits of reducing non-value added time would want to implement the policy to increase cost savings and production. However, many do not know where to start.
Self-assessment of efficiency
Self-assessment is the best way to start. By going on to the factory floor, or speaking to employees, plant managers will discover ways to reduce non-value added time. Employees may complain of having to bend down to pick up a part or walk a distance to find a component, which will have an impact on their overall productivity.
Businesses could act on examples of NVAT in several ways. On one hand, a business could invest in machinery that automatically moves completed parts to assembly areas on a set track. However, this may pose several logistical issues while also substantially increasing capital expenditure.
The cost-effective alternative is for plant managers to invest in powerful electric tugs for large or heavy-duty loads. These pedestrian operated tugs allow a single engineer to safely transport heavy parts across plants with ease, reducing NVAT by eliminating the need for waiting or specialist assistance.
Electric tugs from MasterMover, for example, can move loads from 50kg up to 60,000kg on castors. This not only makes the tug suitable for bulky parts, but also for moving completed products ready for storage or distribution.
Of course, this is only one way businesses can reduce NVAT. In order to truly maximise efficiency, businesses must adopt a lean manufacturing approach and slowly introduce changes. Each incremental improvement, such as saving five minutes of wastage per day in assembly, is one step closer to creating a company culture of efficiency.
If employees see how their managers try to reduce the time they waste and remove cumbersome jobs from their remit, it creates a positive and more productive environment. The boost in productivity will increase morale and encourage employees to make their own small changes as they see opportunities to do so.
While businesses cannot do much to directly change the amount of time it takes employees to commute to work, plant managers can take action to ensure that work time is spent productively. This means more time working and less time waiting, thereby decreasing costs and improving output.
Andy Owen is managing director of electric tug specialist MasterMover