Utilize Data Collected on the Shop Floor

Idle machines, production bottlenecks, equipment breakdowns, absent employees, new orders -- these are just some of the factors that can disrupt production and eat into your company's profit.

Could you improve control, workflow and decision-making abilities if you had real-time tracking of work in progress? One software solution that's starting to gain acceptance is the shop floor control system, otherwise known as the manufacturing execution system (MES). It enables planning and real-time tracking either as a stand-alone system or integrated with an enterprise resource planning system.

The manufacturing execution system provides information about activities from orders to finished goods. It is particularly useful for managing operations that run small batches and process numerous varied orders, such as those typical of pharmaceutical, computer chip and chemical product manufacturers. It involves four major stages:

1. Planning begins with the customer order. Process times and materials are determined, and the due date and truck loading date are entered into the program.

2. Scheduling is set up according to how the new order fits into work already in production. The system sees the forest, as well as the trees, so that process sequencing of all orders utilizes each machine or workstation to its advantage. Schedules can be printed and posted. Workstations aren't totally locked into the schedule.

For example, if there are two identical machines scheduled to divide one job equally, the supervisor might see that one machine and operator could do 60 percent of the order, which would allow the other machine operator time to cross-train another employee. The MES program also provides specifications, instructions and drawings for the job, and computer numerical control machine operators can download "recipes" for running their machines.

3. Tracking is handled in real-time and displayed on computer monitors. The system identifies and tracks components by reading bar-coded labels or travelers. When a problem occurs, such as a delay in getting materials, the schedule can be updated and the changes communicated to every workstation.

4. Reporting and documenting work in progress lets everyone know if processes and the orders themselves are completed as scheduled. As an order moves through production, each workstation makes an entry into the system upon the completion of its work and explains any deviation from work as scheduled.

On one level, the cost savings realized by using a manufacturing execution system are derived simply from greater efficiencies in the day-to-day utilization of equipment and labor. On another level, MES reports provide valuable data that can aid a company's decision-making ability. They amass important information such as processing history, time on line, time in queue and rejection rate.

Note: Once you get MES reports, be sure to use them. One study found that many companies miss the boat by failing to train managers to use the information available to them.

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