Increasing manufacturing productivity for the ‘new normal’: outputs vs. inputs

Author : Rachel Chancellor | Marketing Manager | Intertronics

01 August 2020

Intertronics_Old Factory Productivity Potential_580x280
Intertronics_Old Factory Productivity Potential_580x280

As the manufacturing industry emerges from lockdown and approaches a ‘new normal’, the competitive landscape will see some changes – and those quick off the mark could gain an advantage...

This article was originally featured in the August 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

The UK has a painful recent record on productivity, but will need to compete hard as the economy restarts. This will mean using your workforce and resources more efficiently, and being astute enough to give your employees the means to do their jobs more productively. Here Rachel Chancellor, Marketing Manager at adhesives, coatings & sealants specialist for high tech assembly applications, Intertronics explores how manufacturers can increase their productivity potential…

During the current coronavirus crisis, manufacturing companies have faced different kinds of challenges. Some are frantic, assembling ventilators and other essential equipment to deal with the pandemic. Others, in contrast, are inoperative and in a holding pattern. As the lockdown eases, both extremes are facing the prospect of dealing with what the ‘new normal’ will be in their commercial lives. Will we simply revert to ‘business as usual’? Or will long, global and just-in-time supply chains now be seen as a high risk strategy, resulting in some re-shoring? Either way, productivity will be key.

When we think about how to increase productivity, we often immediately jump to how to raise output. How can we make more of that widget, or a better version of the widget, within the constraints of our production space or other limited resources? Maybe the market is growing rapidly and we need to scale up production. Or perhaps our local market is buying overseas, because there isn’t enough local supply available. Maybe our competitors are leading the charge on defining people’s expectations for that kind of product, and we don’t want to become irrelevant or an also-ran. These are all good reasons to find ways to improve our output while maintaining the same or lower variable cost per widget.

But productivity isn’t analogous with output: it’s an equation. While increasing output without proportionally increasing input does result in greater productivity, an equally valid approach is to achieve the same output while decreasing input.

Improving productivity by decreasing input
Perhaps the current market size for your product is limited to what you are already producing at the moment. Making even more widgets wouldn’t help. So, could you produce the same amount faster or in fewer shifts, or with less waste and rework, or with fewer processes or people required in the assembly process? In other words, with fewer inputs?

What if you have a process that is done manually by Martha, and she’s a real expert at it – but if she leaves, no one will know how to do what she does? That’s a big risk for future productivity. Or Steve, Diego and Suzanna all perform the same task, but there is variation in how they do it, so each widget produced might differ slightly from the others. That can result in quality issues or customer frustration.

At Intertronics, we talk a lot about accuracy, repeatability, speed and predictability of processes, because this is what often makes the biggest difference in terms of keeping input levels to a minimum, while still producing a consistent, high-quality product.

Where to start improving productivity
It’s a simple equation: higher productivity comes from increased outputs and/or decreased inputs. And improving productivity doesn’t have to be about making big leaps; it might be about finding ways to increase your production or decrease your inputs in small increments on a regular basis.

We all know that the UK has fallen behind in productivity, compared to our G7 cohort, but it can seem daunting to even consider where to start improving our own processes. As part of its new What is your productivity potential? campaign, Intertronics is offering detailed guidance on how manufacturers can utilise bonding and coating materials and equipment to speed up production, improve quality and reduce operational costs through better resource allocation and reduction in waste. Examples include faster or more efficient adhesive cure technologies and the automation of material dispensing for repeatability and precision.

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