Visibility & Efficiency: Why Shop Floor Control Is Key to Manufacturing Success

Apparel and sewn products manufacturers are constantly facing increased pressure to keep up with consumer demand, meet time-to-market expectations and create high-quality products, while achieving increased productivity at lower costs. And, as many U.S. brands and retailers continue to move their production back to the Americas, controlling operational cost has been a paramount objective to staying competitive.

To address these market pressures, eliminate delays and achieve on-time deliveries, manufacturers must closely track, control and make production processes transparent. In order to accomplish these goals and sustain success in today's market, manufacturers are taking steps to improve visibility, efficiency and transparency throughout the supply chain with real-time shop floor control technology to prioritize, track and report against production orders or schedules.

Tackling visibility with real-time knowledge
In the past when production fell short of established goals, manufacturers traditionally added more machines and operators to the workforce. While this may have temporarily addressed the problem, raising output to accomplish production goals, it also raised overhead costs – increasing capital expenses, utilities, facilities requirements, parts usage and more. Not to mention this also increased the need for more supervisors and administrative personnel – adding on indirect labor costs.

The causes of production problems and delays in today's supply chain aren't new – these include line balancing, ensuring performance levels and quality monitoring. However, to overcome these challenges, manufacturers require a new way of thinking beyond traditional problem-solving techniques. It's no longer enough to just add more equipment and resources. Manufacturers must implement best-of-breed shop floor control solutions to gain visibility into each production activity and step in the supply chain and maintain effective controls to manage the process.

Shop floor control solutions implemented on individual operator terminals provide management and production teams with real-time data and information on an ongoing basis. This enables managers and other members of the production team to solve issues proactively, eliminate production bottlenecks and improve overall productivity. And, above all else, these solutions empower everyone in the organization to support business goals by achieving, and oftentimes exceeding, production metrics.

The real-time visibility enabled by dynamic shop floor control technology creates a competitive advantage while also increasing plant productivity. Expected benefits, often achieved in 6 to 12 months after implementation, include quantifiable and qualitative opportunities for improvement:

Quantifiable benefits
Reduced administrative tasks (2 percent to 5 percent):
With real-time data collection, manufacturers are able to eliminate time clocks, paper tickets and manual recording of information. By removing manual processes, administrative tasks surrounding time and expenses will be reduced and quality of data is enhanced.
Pacing and motivational feedback (5 percent to 200 percent): Each operator is able to receive real-time pacing and efficiency feedback, providing insight into the value of his/her time and motivating the operator to achieve production goals without extra oversight.
Reduction of excess labor costs (10 percent to 30 percent): Terminal-based shop floor control solutions eliminate non-productive time, increasing production output. For example, operators can clock in at their workstations instead of at time clocks at the employee entrance – eliminating the extra step of checking in at a separate location.
Reduction in payroll computational errors (1 percent to 4 percent): With a coupon system, operators can figure out a host of ways to pad their earnings. With a real-time system there are no coupons to manipulate. Sequence checking and a single "license plate" for each unit/bundle eliminate the opportunity to cheat.

Qualitative benefits
Not all of the advantages of using a real-time shop floor control system are evident and easy to assess quantitatively. Typically, these additional advantages involve benefits that are very important to the ultimate success of the business, but may be difficult to assign monetary value. Examples include:
Improved managers (proactive rather than reactive): Supervisors and managers can have up-to-the-minute information to help them be better at their jobs. Supervisors will learn of potential problems before they actually affect production, line balance, overtime and earnings – enabling them to "act rather than react."
Improved customer relations: Real-time information helps to properly load the factory and track the minute-by-minute movement of work-in-process and identify bottlenecks that constrain production. With this information, customers will ask fewer questions and when they do, answers will be more accurate. This can translate into larger orders, higher prices and lower production costs and, on-time shipments without shortages will become the norm.
Better pricing: Real-time data collection without errors provides a painless way of determining an item's exact production cost. Now all products can be evaluated based on their actual contribution to profit.
Better quality: Real-time quality control information ensures complete accountability, enabling quality problems to be tracked to the source and corrected immediately.
Improved employee morale: With automated systems, errors in piecework payroll can be virtually eliminated and supervisors can be freed from the drudgery of production counts, work-in-process tracking and laborious paperwork. Production workers are given their own terminals to help them improve earnings and productivity and engineers can be relieved of the painstaking maintenance of rate manuals and duplicate rate development. The result is happier, more productive employees and lower production costs.

Tackling market pressures & improving efficiency
No matter the industry, technology has become an essential element to success. Within the apparel and sewn products trade, technology is a key element to keeping up with market pressures surrounding consumer expectations, speed-to-market and product quality. With shop floor control solutions, manufacturers are able to obtain full visibility into the supply chain and production, streamline administrative processes and improve management's ability to solve supply chain issues before they escalate – enabling teams to accomplish goals, remain competitive and ultimately be successful.

James Hoerig is the vice president of manufacturing for CGS, a provider of business software applications.
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