Every day I talk to small- and medium-sized manufacturers who are busier than ever. Meetings, customer demands, employee needs, inventory issues can hit each of them daily. And over and over again, I’m asked “How can we simplify?” So here’s a list to get you started on your simplification journey:

  1. Simplify Your Shop Floor Communication. Faster communication with the shop floor will avoid confusion and get accurate data quickly both to and from the shop. What happens when a machine breaks down, or an operator notices some maintenance that needs to be done? Do they stop what they’re doing and search for someone? Wouldn’t it be easier for them to enter a maintenance request or notes on their workstation that instantly alerts someone? How do the operators know what to work on? Handwritten notes and bulletin boards are often out of date before the ink dries; live data on a screen is the most accurate way to get the shop information. If there are specific notes or files that go with a job, do you hope they’ll look in the job packet; wouldn’t it be easier if important information automatically appeared on screen when they began a job? Providing them with a screen that easily shows and schedules preventative maintenance or quality inspection can help.
  2. Simplify Your Material Handling And Documentation. Are you always trying to track down paperwork or trace back transactions to figure out where parts have come from? Do you have piles of certs and have trouble associating them with the receipt they came with, the jobs they were used in, or the orders they ultimately shipped with? How about tracking inventory levels or identifying work in process inventory? The more you can automate material handling and cert documentation, the more time you’ll save for other revenue-generating tasks.
  3. Simplify Your Data Entry. Think about all of the systems that are used in your process. Now think about how many times you have to put the same data into more than one of those systems. Do engineers build projects into a design software that someone then has to reenter again into an ERP system? Does your shipping department have to enter shipment information into another system to print off labels or calculate shipping costs? Each of these systems probably has some benefit that isn’t offered in the other, but instead of spending time entering data twice, why not make them work together? The more integrated your systems are, the more simplified your process will be and the more time you will save!
  4. Simplify Your Business Management. It is easy to be consumed with the small stuff; to get tunnel vision that often obscures the bigger picture. The best way to analyze the health of your business is from a birds eye view. Once areas of improvement have been identified, it is then possible to zoom in on specific areas for improvement. Using tried and true performance indicators populated with your system data will show where you are excelling and where you can improve.
  5. Simplify Your Continuous Improvement Plans. Speaking of improvement, when was the last time you took an in depth look at your processes? Are things being done the way they always have? Has time or technology changed the way things should be handled? Sometimes we get too occupied with getting something done, that we forget to step back and think about how it is getting done. Streamline your manufacturing by analyzing and documenting your processes.
  6. Simplify Your Costing. How visible are your manufacturing costs? Raw material costs may have increased a few cents, so purchasing took no notice. You had to change outside service vendors who charge a bit more, but each order is still relatively cheap. Did anyone tell sales? Your margins can slowly diminish without even noticing, and you may not even realize that raw material accounts for 60% of your costs, so finding even a slightly lower priced vendor may make a big impact on the bottom line. The more information you have, the better your decision making ability will be.
  7. Simplify Your Sales Process. Wouldn’t it be great if business just came to you? Sales is a key component to business, and is most effective when is done with a plan. The more data you have at your fingertips and the more focused your efforts are, the more likely you’ll have good results.
  8. Simplify Your Work Day to a Single Screen. The easiest way to simplify processes is to have everything you need in one screen. Having to open new windows, jump back and forth between screens, and rekeying lookup information takes time. Completing multiple tasks in a single system is amazing, but completing multiple tasks in a single screen is ideal.
  9. Simplify Your Processes. Are there things you have to do over and over again that just take time? If you’ve ever thought there must be an easier or better way to do something, there just might be! What if you can’t get the exact material you need, but can substitute another, or you need to send some jobs to an outside vendor because you’re too busy; do you have to touch each job affected by your change? If you do, that’s not a very streamlined approach. By simplifying those complex tasks, you can save time and money.
  10. Simplify Your Employee Tracking. How much time is spent trying to track down employees to have them come sign a document or dig through an employee file at review time? What if you could automatically alert the employee at the workstation the next time they were active? What about a place to track late clock in punches, or make a note if they did something helpful? Simplify your system by having all of your employee information at your fingertips, including automated vacation and sick tracking.

Langley Melendres is a senior consultant at Global Shop Solutions and has been with the company for over eight years. She leads the weekly Friday Feature class for customers and also leads classes at our ERP User Conference to further educate Global Shop Solutions customers. With a master’s degree in business administration, she has the knowledge and experience to help Global Shop Solutions customers simplify their manufacturing.