Here's what we know about shopfloor efficiency - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Shopfloor efficiency is a simple thing. It does not require tech-heroism. It involves paying attention to the small nuts and bolts ops in the factory. With the advent of new technologies, the potential to achieve more with less is required. The gen-next print and packaging specialists share their thoughts in this Sunday Column

11 Nov 2023 | By Noel D'Cunha

There is increasing pressure to reshape shopfloor efficiency. Thanks to automation, data analytics, and other tools, with technology advancements, it is now possible to do more with less. By leveraging these technologies, companies can optimise their processes, reduce downtime, and improve overall efficiency.

The result is a productive and profitable shopfloor that can meet the demands of today's fast-paced manufacturing environment.

Manu Choudhury, director at CDC Printers, says, imagine a bustling manufacturing facility, where the shopfloor is a hive of activity, buzzing with the sounds of machines and workers. “It's where raw materials are transformed into finished products, and where the magic of industrial manufacturing happens. However, when a clog forms in the arteries of production, everything slows down. Operations become inefficient, data lags, and the once-bustling floor becomes a frustrating bottleneck.”

Choudhury proposes two fundamental rules for an efficient plant: keeping an eye on the bigger picture and making strong decisions. He says, identify and optimise your bottleneck, ensuring that the most costly equipment becomes your bottleneck. “If not, consider investing in more cost-effective machines to make the most expensive machine the bottleneck. Streamline the bottleneck's operations for maximum efficiency.”

Among the many, one thing that the PrintWeek Company of the Year Awards 2023 winner TCPL Packaging does is, constantly invest in future-ready technology, from latest-generation printing machines to automated die-cutters and folder gluers. "In the long run, such technology reduces cost by reducing wastage and downtime and leads to more efficient utilisation of space, one of India's scarcest resources. Higher output through more efficient machinery also leads to lower labour costs as a percentage of revenue. We also constantly upgrade our pre-press with the latest technology proofing, colour management software, and hardware. This further reduces downtime and wastage, besides meeting our first-time-right commitment to customers," says Akshay Kanoria, executive director at TCPL.

There are many opportunities to deploy technology to reduce costs and drive revenue. Hemanth Paruchuri, director at Pragati Pack, says, we've invested in costing, planning and ERP systems to reduce costs. “Adding in-line blanking for large runners reduced manpower and lead times. A collection / gathering machine at the end of the folder-gluer enabled faster running while keeping the number of workers low.”

No two days are same
India is a nation of delegators; and not enough doers.

As a business owner, one cannot be lulled into a false sense of comfort.

ITC Packaging and printing business’ general manager, product development and international sales Rajesh Voruganti says there are transformative applications such as manufacturing execution systems and industrial internet of things (IIoT) to enhance shopfloor efficiency. “By collecting and analysing data from various sources, manufacturers can gain insights into their processes and identify areas that need improvement. For example, they can monitor machine performance, identify bottlenecks, and optimise production schedules. This allows them to make data-driven decisions that can lead to significant improvements in efficiency and productivity.”

The shop floor processes in the textile labels and trims industry have long relied on manual intervention and heavy dependence on individual capabilities and knowledge. However, Nimit Mardia of Unique Tags says, implementation of technology to monitor production efficiency is the most critical element which will drive the success of companies going forward. “By implementing new age systems, standard operating procedures and automatic monitoring mechanisms we can not only improve our production efficiency by at least 10-15%, but can also implement cost savings by cutting down wastages and rework.”

Incidentally, Mardia claims, his company was the first in India to implement an auto-checking (scanner-based) system to ensure that wastages are reduced to below 1%.

Choudhury concurs with Voruganti and Mardia. He says, eliminate any unnecessary interruptions before or after the bottleneck stage to maintain smooth material flow through the plant, minimising traffic jams. Introspection in our process is essential, often referred to as – value stream mapping by Lean Gurus. “After this initial process, we can leverage technology to continually enhance the productivity of our bottlenecks. Using technology elsewhere would neglect a major and cost-effective opportunity for improvement.”

The importance of OEE
Overall equipment efficiency (OEE) is a comprehensive performance metric that evaluates the productivity and effectiveness of manufacturing equipment. It is a powerful tool for manufacturers to identify areas of improvement in their production processes and optimize their equipment to achieve optimal performance.

Shail Patel of Gujarat Print and Pack, Mehsana, did his printing technology education from the United States, explains, OEE takes into account three essential factors: availability, performance, and quality.” Availability measures the time the equipment is available for use, taking into account planned and unplanned downtime. Performance measures the speed at which the equipment runs, including any stoppages or speed losses. Finally, quality measures the percentage of products that meet the required specifications, considering any defects or rework.”

By tracking OEE, one can identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks in their production processes. This information can be used to optimise equipment performance, minimise downtime, and reduce costs. “For example, if a machine has frequent breakdowns, manufacturers can address the root cause of the problem to prevent future failures. Similarly, if a machine is running at a slower speed, manufacturers can identify ways to increase its efficiency or throughput,” adds Choudhury of CDC.

Patel cites an example. “One of our recent investments has been in an automatic system for tracking OEE for all of our printing and die-cutting lines. This system is linked with our SAP MIS to provide error-free reports on uptime, wastages, among others, of our key assets. Regular tracking of OEE over the past 4 months has translated into a 12% increase in production in key areas.”

Technology, still an underdog in the industry
What can businesses gain from the power of technology? Technology has many tools. These tools hold the key to solving many of our problems, it's important to understand that it's not just about adopting new tools and technologies.

Sanaa Vasi, partner at Triace in Mumbai, agrees, saying, technology can help one optimise one's shopfloor processes and resources, such as material, energy, labour, and space. “At Triace, technology has helped us reduce errors, defects, downtime, and inventory. The technologies we have adopted help us increase output, flexibility, scalability, and sustainability.”

So, can technology help you do more with less? Yes, certainly, says Paruchuri of Pragati Pack. “For instance, newer generation machines are more productive and allow you to get more production with lesser manpower.” Zenia Patel, director at Jak Printers, agrees but strikes a note of caution. “Technology can always help you do more but needs to be used correctly.”

Yes and no, says Rakshit Shroff of Nutech Print System. “Technology, in general, is designed to help create efficiencies. However, it is important to remember that while a certain technology may work in one territory, business realities may prevent the same tech from creating value for your business. Even within the same geography, it is not always the case that the same equipment can uniformly help create value – this comes down to how each organisation is uniquely structured. Business owners must always analyze whether introducing technology solves a business need – or introduces automation without creating financial returns."