Exploring new ideas in your foundry

To coin a phrase from the latest Nando’s advert: “South Africans have a lot of ‘Gates’ to get through these days… luckily our doors are always wide open.” How wide open are your doors to exploring new ideas in your foundry? I know of one foundry that practices open-book management with an emphasis on product delivery and quality. They have a strategy that is focused on increasing factory productivity and training employees, which ultimately leads to improving quality and reducing costs.

While the topic of robots and automation continues to spur intense development, innovation and debate, say “automation,” and the picture of a robot is probably what comes to mind. Automation is, of course, a much bigger idea than this, and there are different and simpler ways to realise a more automated process than robotic automation. That said, a robot is among the most powerful and versatile automation tools, and there’s no denying that robotics shine when applied in situations with repetitive tasks, such as load handling in production runs.

However, there are other possibilities for you to consider. Let the employees on the floor see exactly the same production metrics that the facility’s managers are watching. One way to do this is with a monitor displaying the performance in real time. Put their performance on display. Just making the metrics public and visible often leads to direct and measurable improvement in those numbers. Put their performance on display.

Bring discipline to devices. The distraction of employees’ personal devices can be a source of inefficiency. The cameras in those devices pose a security risk in the case of sensitive parts. If you banned cellphone use in the foundry you will see measurable productivity gains and probably some surprising feedback.

Inefficient equipment is easy to spot. Inefficiencies resulting from software limitations are harder to notice. Hardest of all to see are the inefficiencies resulting from software that your foundry lacks altogether.

Non-value-added activity is pervasive in manufacturing. Many of the wasteful steps are invisible, because they are an unexamined part of what the foundry does routinely. Walk through your foundry and your processes specifically looking for various types of waste.

Use a 3D printer. Once you buy a 3D printer, even a small and relatively inexpensive one, it will be difficult not to use it. The freedom it gives you to generate customised, functional objects can provide the answer to many nagging problems that previously went unaddressed.

Identify the challenge that suggests the next advance. Challenges often arise gradually. It is easy to accept some slowly growing difficulty as just a chronic problem that has become a bit worse over time. But that growing difficulty might be a sea of change.

This particular foundry has deployed robots on its foundry floor, continued to develop and implement new technologies and is reaping the benefits.

As the company says: “With the recent capital investment and automation programme that we have embarked on, coupled with a better organisational performance, we have found that we are very competitive against components and products being imported from the East, even with their relatively cheap labour costs.”