Continuous Improvement Part 2: It Starts with the Customer
For Continuous Improvement to be effective and sustainable, it requires a systems approach involving the entire organization. Management should guide the organization in four fundamental areas to ensure success:
1. Purpose – maximizing customer value 2. Process – continually improving speed and defects for factory and office 3. People – involving people in improving the process, providing knowledge and tools 4. Sustainable culture – encouraging change, communicating success and results
The purpose of Continuous Improvement is to maximize customer value, by understanding and solving the customer’s needs and problems. Watch this clip from Lean expert Jim Womack:
“It’s about solving customer problems with fewer resources, solving more customer problems, growing the business …” — Jim Womack.
But, how can we know our customer’s needs and problems? One approach is to track customer complaints and dissatisfaction. Although this approach may give a short term impact, the absence of complaints or problems does not necessarily mean the customer is satisfied. Another shortcoming of this approach is that it is reactive and action is not taken until after the problems occur.
To understand the customer’s true needs and wants, it is important to proactively listen, identify alternatives, implement solutions and receive feedback on the solution from the customer. Several ways to listen proactively for the “voice of the customer” (VOC) are shown below.
1. Survey customers – Surveys are effective at capturing quantitative data on problem or need and are relatively easy to conduct. But, surveys are not as good at capturing qualitative information or analyzing and identifying solutions. Open-ended text responses on surveys can give a better indication than ratings alone.
2. Talk regularly with key customers – Two-way discussions can provide an opportunity to understand problems, explore solutions and solve problems important to the customer. Elements for success include involving the right staff on the team, documentation and follow-up.
3. Visit key customers – Face-to-face visits and interaction with the customer can be very effective and help to build a deeper relationship. Customer visits provide an opportunity to see firsthand how the product/service is used and what problems the customer is experiencing. This collaboration makes it possible to develop a joint plan to identify and address the customer’s future needs and new product opportunities. Detailed pre-planning and documented follow-up are keys to success.
HEADLINE The survey definitively shows that product innovation leads to more growth, while “grow your own workforce” strategies will be needed to fill the major labor shortages hampering small manufacturer growth. Emerging technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, and digital manufacturing are beginning to enhance innovation and productivity, but still have significant room for adoption amongst Ohio’s small manufacturing businesses. ABOUT THE SURVEY Under the direction of the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Ohio MEP), MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network conducted a thorough survey of Ohio’s manufacturing base. Contributing approximately 20% of Ohio’s jobs (and driving in some regions up to 50% of Ohio’s economy), and generating a disproportionate amount of export revenues and Gross Regional Product, manufacturing is critical to Ohio. Greater than 95% of Ohio’s manufacturers are small (under 500 employees), and these manufacturers need to remain competitive both nationally and internationally to ensure our economy’s health. Ohio’s Development Services Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which runs the MEP, recognizes the importance of this sector and fuels MAGNET and the Ohio MEP program to directly serve and support innovation, efficiency, and growth in small and medium manufacturers. What manufacturers need
How Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Can Help Keep Our Engineers Safe and Our Manufacturing Strong Recall how difficult it was to put together complex LEGO creations when you were a child or helping a child. Now, picture assembling a fighter plane from a room full of parts. Even highly trained engineers can benefit from technology to help improve consistency and quality. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are making near-perfect assembly a possibility in the manufacturing space. By wearing AR glasses that use cameras, depth sensors and motion sensors to overlay images onto the real working environment, engineers and factory workers can visualize the exact bolts, parts, part numbers and instructions on how to assemble a particular component correctly. Lockheed Martin began using AR goggles and improved F-35 assembly time by 30 percent, in addition to increasing accuracy to 96 percent. In order to remain competitive, businesses should consider the ways VR and AR can improve efficiency and supply chain productivity. According to a recent BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research report, AR platforms can provide companies up to 25 percent in cost savings on installation of equipment. Here are four ways VR/AR is disrupting the mid-market manufacturing space:
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