What makes supply chain excellence: Part three

29 November, 2017
What makes supply chain excellence: Part three

Written by Columbus Product Strategy Director, Kevin Bull. This year, he joined the judging panel for The Manufacturer Supply Chain Excellence award, here's the final part of our blog series looking into what makes "excellence".

The judging criteria was organised into 10 categories. In the final part of this series, we take a deeper look into three further categories - eliminating all forms of waste, continuous improvement with customers and suppliers and lastly, information technology.

Eliminating all forms of waste

Lean principles dictate that waste, in all its forms, should be eliminated. To this end, there should be evidence that waste is being measured and analysed, and that improvement actions are put in place and their progress monitored.

Scrap or waste material and sub-standard product outputs should be measured, with reasons, to support further analysis. Time lost in production should similarly be studied. The physical movement of people and materials should be optimised, in conjunction with improvements in the factory layout. This may also include activities such as kitting of sub-assemblies to reduce movements between the stores and the production line.

It should also be expected that environmental measurements and improvement actions are in place, such as reducing utility consumption and recycling efforts for waste outputs.

Continuous improvement with customers and suppliers

Continuous improvement practices should not just be inward looking, they must also look along the entire supply chain, in both directions.

The effective management of supplier relationships begins with performance measurement, so the business should be looking at quality performance, such as the rate of returns, and delivery performance measures, such as on-time-in-full. When a performance issue is identified, joint improvement actions should be raised and progress monitored. The use of supplier portals can be useful in this role as they provide collaborative access and clear visibilities of expectations and responsibilities. In certain industries, the use of supplier summits can be a useful method to disseminate information to suppliers, with information such as expected pipeline, procedural updates, performance expectations, and collaboration tool-sets.

On the customer side of the supply chain, measurement of performance is even more critical. Quality measurements, such as returns and issues, should be logged and tracked. Improvement actions are commonly shared with the customer, possibly again using online portals, to provide evidence of progress. Sometimes the customer will also be involved in the process as it may require that further engineering and re-design takes place.

Information Technology

The effective use of Information Technology is essential in delivering supply chain excellence. Systems should be highly integrated, eliminating the waste of manual re-keying of information and reducing the risk of errors in human interpretation. A high level of integration will span all departments, from design (CAD and PLM systems), through to sales management, supply chain planning and execution, warehouse management, manufacturing execution, plant maintenance and costing/finance.

In addition to internal systems, integration must also be effective in all directions of the supply chain. This would typically include, as a minimum, the use of EDI for sales order intake and invoicing and for placing purchase orders and receiving advanced shipping notifications. The use of online collaboration portals can streamline design and planning activities and be a powerful medium for issue resolution. 

Improving efficiency

Information Technology is able to drive shop floor efficiency gains. Planners can use schedule optimisation tools to maximise the use of plant and human resources. On the shop floor itself, a manufacturing execution toolset is able to deliver visibility of the schedule, precise work instructions, material movement instructions, and allow live production progress to be recorded (and therefore accurately costed). Quality management staff might use mobile devices to record quality measurements and non-conformance information. Likewise, the engineering and maintenance team can use mobile devices to conduct maintenance activities. One of the key fundamentals in data capture on the shop floor is to ensure that the action of data capture itself does not impede the operator in maximising their throughput, so the tools used to do this need to be optimised to the production process. Examples might include touch screens, bar code data collection and RFID tagging.

Other technology aids to production processes are now available and starting to make their way onto shop floors. Projected work instructions can direct operators, “showing” them how assembly tasks should be completed. Optical validation technology can be used to “inspect” that an assembly is correct and to standard, using projection technology to highlight errors to the operator. Gesture controls such as those seen in use on gaming consoles can be used to provide hands-free feedback to systems and instructions to automated production equipment.

Finally, there are an increasing number of very powerful data analysis tools that are available that can assist in making sense of the rapidly growing, sometimes overwhelming, levels of data that a business has available. These tools are able to recognise trends and correlations in related data and then extrapolate this to provide forecast views and promote suggested actions.

Other Considerations

In addition to the formal judging criteria, it was also satisfying to witness programmes that are designed to address the skills shortage in manufacturing. Apprentice programmes were evident in the majority of the businesses visited in the shortlist, along with measurements and analysis of the benefits that have been achieved as a result. Training facilities were also very strong, with dedicated training rooms that focus not just on specific tasks, but their place in the holistic manufacturing process. Training often included six-sigma and lean principles, with some businesses actively developing a number of shop floor employees to black belt levels of competence.

The discrete manufacturing series

Our series focuses on five common problems discrete manufacturers are currently facing, and how to solve them, including case study examples of where discrete manufacturers have implemented our solutions and seen success. The full series includes tip sheets – available for download - on:

How manufacturers can build additional revenue streams

How manufacturers can improve time-to-market

How to successfully manage multi-mode manufacturing

How manufacturers can maximise the use of assets

How manufacturers can manage compliance effectively

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