How to Find Labor Pitfalls and Produce a High-Performing Workforce

Manufacturing, assembly, warehousing, and distribution functions commonly struggle with the need to eliminate wasted movement and unnecessary worker activities to increase productivity. There are many methods to help identify where slowdowns in efficiency are hiding, because not all waste can be observed by simply having management perform a walkthrough. 

People can actually look quite busy if there are inherent inefficiencies designed into the process. Furthermore, as a business grows and multiplies, it can become more complex and less productive.

There are several options for creating high-performance work systems and reducing waste, as well as a few tools that anyone can use to support change.

Achieving high-performance labor can come about in several ways: streamlining the current operation, analyzing work tasks and simplifying the process, providing more space to reduce congestion, implementing Lean strategies and, when the ROI supports it, incorporating automation technologies (both data capture and product handling).

Elimination of Waste using Timestudy and Work Sampling

Timestudy and Work Sampling are analysis tools that can unearth problems in the process. When successfully performed, these tools often result in 30-35% increases in productivity. Sometimes this gain comes without any capital expenditures, meaning that it is essentially a “free” gain.

Timestudy and Work Sampling are very simple analysis tools that haven’t changed much except for how the data is captured. Application tools are available for PDA devices such as the iPhone, making the time-stamped data easily transportable into Excel for quick analysis. Before starting a study, list the labor tasks or functions and activities that will be observed, also being careful to ensure that the listing is based upon frequency of the tasks performed (each cycle, per day, per week). The list should include items that are non-value added, such as “walk” time. “Wait on process”, “walk with part”, “walk without part”, and “paused due to aisle congestion” provide and highlight data for re-balancing an operation and/or highlight the need for additional floor space.

Elimination of Waste using Lean-thinking

Six Sigma, 5S, Kaizen, Cycle Time Management, Quality Function Deployment, Process Re-engineering, Supply Chain Management – these are all tools that promote Lean facilities. These myriad techniques help create a layout that supports labor utilization and product flow, and captures data that supports accounting and decision-making. With a Lean approach, wasted time is eliminated, wasted movements are re-evaluated, and wasted activities are eliminated. Flow of high-quality parts and goods is an important component of a Lean program.

Over time, a facility can become a mishmash in the square-footage consumed as well as the processes people follow. Quick tools for helping to improve flow and productivity are 5S and Kaizen. 5S works well within specific work areas and individual work cells. This Lean tool can be implemented by any employee that is provided a label maker and pack of multi-colored adhesive tapes.

The results are immediate. Employees will no longer waste minutes (sometimes hours) looking for the appropriate tools.

Elimination of Waste using Automation

Opportunities to use automation are limitless. Identifying where, when, and which automation makes sense can be overwhelming. There are so many automated suppliers world-wide that the options to implement automation can seem limitless. However, depending upon the business needs, these high-tech options can be sifted rather quickly.

The chart below provides an example of Case Picking Technologies for Warehousing and Distribution. The color bands highlight three segments of Case Picking: person moves throughout the warehouse to pick an order, goods are brought to the person for order selection, and automated technologies. Within each color band are technology boxes, and each represents a unique technology. The length of the box depicts throughput potential as compared to other technologies. As an example, the first box is “Pick from List (by Order)”. The picking rates are very low, especially relative to “Tugger, Batch Pick.”

Again, with data analysis (throughput demands, current and future year sales projections, inventory levels, product size information, and order complexity data) the potential options are reduced.

Clues that Opportunities Exist:

  • Are unit loads and pallets stored in aisle ways?
  • Have you observed movement of product that didn’t add value?
  • Is the business experiencing too much overtime and still not keeping up with Takt time or with workload?
  • Is the receiving dock packed full?
  • Do you observe labor that is waiting on product or information, or generally underutilized?