Every manufacturer wants to control costs and waste while maximizing their productivity and profits. That said, many businesses are willing to accept a reasonable level of efficiency because they believe that the time, effort, and cost involved in making comparatively small improvements would outweigh the gains. In the past, this was an entirely valid concern, but the advent of digital technology for manufacturing means you no longer have to settle.
When we talk about production efficiency, we really mean the point a manufacturer reaches when there seems to be no more room for improvement.
Let’s say that in your first year, you boost efficiency in your facility by 40%. That’s an impressive leap, but almost impossible to replicate. Once you’ve made dramatic improvements, it will be much harder to identify simple, practical strategies that have the same impact.
The closer you get to a perfect process, the more difficult it will be to make incremental changes. It’s easier to jump from, say, 50% to 70% maximum efficiency with a single action than it is to push that number from 97% to 98%. A sharp leap may be caused by upgrading underperforming machinery or redesigning a production line to reduce unnecessary delays and bottlenecks.
In these cases, the downtime or capital investment is often worth it because the rewards are so huge. It’s much harder to justify costly or extensive changes that will deliver only a percentage point or two in efficiency—no matter how frustrating this may be, or how great the benefits this would deliver over a long period of time.
One possible route for manufacturers looking to enhance their production efficiency when options for improvement are running low is to start cutting out some products or processes altogether. On paper, this can look like a quick win—if you reduce your portfolio to just a handful of products and focus on perfecting the processes involved in creating them, the chances are you will become more efficient.
From a “big picture” perspective, though, this often proves to be a short-sighted solution. Cutting out a perfectly successful and profitable product to achieve slightly better efficiency in your facility can weaken sales performance overall, making you more dependent on a narrower selection of products and markets. Unless one of your processes is really dragging you down, there’s no need to sacrifice the resilience of your business for the sake of marginal efficiency gains.
A far more effective strategy is to adopt new digital technologies that help you track performance on a granular level, identifying every tiny issue in the product lifecycle, as well as individual process trains on the factory floor. By giving you complete visibility over every stage, you can zoom in on small issues that have a knock-on effect on efficiency further along the chain. You can analyze exactly where things are going wrong and make precise tweaks.
In fact, with top-tier digital manufacturing technology, you can even model the effects of making small design changes or swapping out materials on the resulting prototype, helping you figure out the most efficient way of creating and compiling product components—and feeding these insights back into the loop. You can even manage supplier relationships directly through the platform, reducing friction and delays, while streamlining your entire production process.
Digital manufacturing is designed to address production efficiency; not only the big, dramatic wins you achieve when you first start to improve critical processes, but also—or even more so—the agonizing small details that seem so complex to improve. Pushing those final few percentiles towards maximum efficiency is extraordinarily resource-intensive, if not impossible, when you’re trying to achieve this manually. If you really want to work towards perfection, you’ll need to go digital.