Introduction to Continuous Improvement
In today’s economic environment, manufacturers that are not constantly improving their products, services, and processes and adopting more agile approaches risk falling behind their competitors. Implementing a continuous improvement strategy benefits large and small manufacturers across all manufacturing sub-sectors.
Continuous improvement is well rooted in manufacturing, with Kaizen, a Japanese business philosophy, being one of the most recognised methods of continuous improvement in manufacturing. But what is continuous improvement, and why is it such an important business practice?
This article looks at what continuous improvement is, its benefits and how to implement a successful continuous improvement strategy.
What Is Continuous Improvement?
Continuous improvement is a philosophy that aims to constantly adapt processes, products, and services in order to benefit from incremental improvements. The belief is that making small changes over time will lead to massive improvements.
Effective continuous improvement involves employees being actively involved in identifying areas for improvement, implementing changes, and monitoring the results to ensure that the changes have had the desired effect. The process is then replicated over and over, forming a cycle of continuous improvement.
Kaizen is a widely recognised approach for achieving continuous improvement. It translates to 'changes for the better' or 'continuous improvement', and originated in the Japanese manufacturing industry, most famously at Toyota, to eliminate waste and improve efficiency. The model involves implementing small changes over time, where all employees, from front-line workers to senior management, participate in a structured process to identify areas for improvement, implement changes, and continuously monitor and evaluate results.
The image shows a typical Kaizen process.
What Are the Core Principles of Continuous Improvement?
Continuous improvement is a fundamental principle of business, particularly in manufacturing, that seeks to enhance and optimise company performance and output. There are several core principles that are crucial for achieving success in a continuous improvement program. These include:
Employee Ideas Are Valuable
The first principle of continuous improvement is the recognition that ideas from employees are valuable. In a bottom-up improvement model, employees are closer to the problem and therefore better equipped to solve it. Encouraging and empowering employees to implement and share their ideas with the organisation can lead to significant benefits over time.
To engage employees in the continuous improvement process, companies should create an environment that fosters idea-sharing. Instead of asking employees to come up with extensive ideas, companies can ask them to identify small improvements that can save time or reduce effort.
Small Changes Are More Important than Massive Shifts
Organisational changes can be nerve-racking and unwelcome. The continuous improvement model allows companies to break down big changes into smaller, more manageable pieces, reducing fear and resistance to change among employees. This principle also allows organisations to move forward without waiting for a major shift in strategy or new product releases.
It is essential to look into any idea that reduces waste, increases productivity, and allows employees to learn new skills. This approach opens the possibility of small-scale improvements to processes that will allow employees to do their best work.
Incremental Changes Are More Budget Friendly
Employees are more likely to suggest ways to eliminate process steps than add them. This approach ensures that each activity adds value to employees, and often customers, while reducing overall costs and time input.
Continuous improvement helps organisations to identify and eliminate waste in their processes. By making incremental improvements, companies can reduce costs and solve time-consuming issues, improving their bottom line.
Continuous Improvement Can Tackle Employee Grievances
Continuous improvement is an opportunity for employees to make a positive difference in the organisation. Gathering employee ideas is the first step in the improvement process, but a culture of improvement takes it further. When companies provide the means for employees to provide feedback and share ideas, both employee and process issues can be solved.
Leaders should encourage employees to voice their concerns and suggestions for improvement. By actively addressing employee grievances and implementing changes based on their feedback, companies can improve employee engagement and retention.
Open Communication and Honest Reflection Are Key
Effective continuous improvement relies on a culture of open communication. Seeking feedback from employees at every stage of the improvement process is vital. This feedback gives companies everything they need to reflect on their progress, identify areas for improvement, and adjust their strategies to achieve their goals. It also helps organisations to identify potential roadblocks that may hinder their progress and address them effectively.
Employee engagement is essential to the success of an improvement strategy, ensuring you have effective communication channels and regular check-ins in place will massively help in maintaining employee engagement.
Encourage Responsibility Through Empowerment
Employees can be resistant to change, particularly when it impacts their work routines. However, companies can mitigate this resistance by involving employees in the continuous improvement process. Empowering employees to contribute to the improvement process can lead to greater buy-in and increased engagement.
Keeping employees involved in the process allows them to take ownership of their work and become leaders within their roles. This allows them to identify potential solutions, implement them, and see the positive results of their efforts. As a result, managers can spend more time coaching employees and removing obstacles that may hinder the implementation of changes.
The Continuous Improvement Model
The continuous improvement model is a systematic approach to improving processes, products, and services. It consists of four key steps:
Identify the business area that needs improvement and develop a plan for implementing the change, for example, increased staff training or utilising new technologies. It is useful in this step to form well-defined goals.
Implement the change on a small scale. Be sure to record and track the impact of the changes.
Measure the results to see if the change has had the desired effect. Ask yourself why or why not. If the changes didn't have the desired outcome, ensure you have collected enough relevant data from employees and stakeholders and go back to the beginning. If they did, continue to the next step.
If the change has had the desired effect, implement it on a larger scale. This will now become the baseline from which you will continue your continuous improvement projects.
This model is widely used in quality control/management and process improvement.
An Outline of the Continual Improvement Process
As the name suggests, continuous improvement is not a one-time project but a continual process that involves everyone in the organisation. It requires a culture of continuous learning and improvement. The process involves the following steps:
Identify Areas for Improvement
The first step is to identify your key areas for improvement. This can be done through various methods, including customer feedback, employee suggestions, and process analysis.
Analyse the Current Process
Once you have identified the areas for improvement, the next step is to analyse the current process. This involves gaining a deep understanding of how the process works, identifying bottlenecks and inefficiencies, and determining the root cause of the problem.
Develop a Plan for Improvement
Based on the findings from the analysis, a plan for improvement should be developed. The plan should include specific goals, actions, timelines, and measures of success.
Implement the Plan
The next step is to implement the plan on a small scale. This allows for testing and adjustment before rolling out the changes on a larger scale.
Monitor the Results
After implementing changes, it is important to track their impact to assess the outcomes. Manufacturers can assess the effect of changes by reviewing analytics, key manufacturing metrics and by comparing delivery times and speaking to employees.
Evaluate the Results
Review your results and evaluate the effectiveness of the change. If the effect of the changes matches your goals, i.e. have the desired outcome, they should be implemented on a larger scale. If not, the process should be repeated, and additional improvements should be identified.
Benefits of Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement has many benefits for manufacturers. Some key benefits are:
Continuous improvement involves everyone in the organisation and encourages employee participation. This leads to greater engagement, job satisfaction, and morale. Employees tend to have more exposure to business shortcomings and issues, making their ideas highly valuable and useful for process improvement.
Lower Staff Turnover
When employees feel engaged and valued, they are more likely to stay with the company. This reduces staff turnover and the associated costs of recruitment and training.
Better Customer Satisfaction
Continuous improvement leads to higher-quality products and services, improving customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Improved Learning Culture
The culture of continuous learning and improvement created through continuous improvement leads to a more proactive and innovative culture.
Higher-Quality Products and Services
Identifying product and service issues helps to create a clear strategy for change, improving the quality of products and services to drive loyalty and profits.
Adapting agile practices and correcting errors in manufacturing operations leads to increased productivity through the identification and elimination of inefficiencies and bottlenecks, machine monitoring software is a technology that manufacturers can use to improve productivity and support a continuous improvement culture.
More Efficient Delivery
Continuous improvement can lead to faster delivery times through the streamlining of processes and the elimination of waste.
Continuous improvement can lead to a lower error ratio through the identification and elimination of errors and defects. This is of particular use for manufacturers using OEE to measure productivity, namely quality.
The identification and elimination of hazards and the implementation of best practices can lead to an overall safer workplace.
More Accurate Insights
A successful improvement strategy requires a deep understanding of the organisation's objectives and strategies. This leads to more informed decision-making and strategic planning. Manufacturers using machine data monitoring can see data in real time and make proactive corrective actions to production issues before they cause bottlenecks.
Continuous improvement promotes research-backed and stakeholder-supported innovation and creativity, leading to the development of new products, services, and processes.
Constant iterations, feedback, and improvements lead to higher-quality products and services, which makes the organisation more competitive in the marketplace.
Identifying inefficiencies helps to reduce waste, which leads to cost savings and increased profitability.
As well as the elimination of waste, improvement of processes, and the development of new products and services can increase profits.
Continuous Improvement and Lean Manufacturing
Continuous improvement is a central concept in lean manufacturing, a methodology focused on maximising value while minimising waste. Lean relies on the constant identification and elimination of waste, and continuous improvement is the means by which this is accomplished.
Continuous Improvement and Six Sigma
Six Sigma is a quality management methodology that focuses on reducing variability and improving predictability within organisations. By utilising data-driven and disciplined approaches, Six Sigma aims to produce consistent and stable process results. Statistical analysis is used to identify areas for improvement and track progress towards goals. The system emphasises continuous quality improvement and is an effective tool for organisations seeking to achieve greater levels of efficiency and quality.
How FourJaw Manufacturing Analytics Supports Continuous Improvement
Manufacturing software and analytics have revolutionised the way manufacturers approach continuous improvement. With the right tools, teams can analyse data and identify trends to more easily identify areas for improvement. Using data to identify the root cause of problems enables teams to develop more targeted solutions to improve their processes.
Real-time machine analytics are particularly useful for manufacturers seeking continuous improvement. Software like FourJaw enables manufacturers to identify bottlenecks, downtime, production issues, production time, OEE and much more. Using both historic and real-time data makes it easier for teams to track progress and measure success. Continuously collecting and analysing data means manufacturers can see the impact of their continuous improvement efforts over time, helping them to make informed decisions about what changes to make next.
FourJaw's machine monitoring capabilities allow teams to collect and analyse data on various metrics such as productivity, cycle time, and quality. Tracking these metrics over time allows teams to identify key areas for improvement and track their progress towards their goals. Additionally, FourJaw's advanced reporting features provide a visual representation of data, making it easier for teams to interpret and communicate their findings to stakeholders.
The use of machine monitoring software and analytics is essential for manufacturers to implement continuous improvement, giving them the power to make data-driven decisions, track progress and measure success.
FourJaw offers a manufacturing analytics platform designed to support and streamline continuous improvement efforts.
Get in touch to explore how FourJaw can support your continuous improvement strategy.
More helpful blog articles:
- How To Increase Manufacturing Production Capacity
- Tips To Get Your Operators On Board With Machine Monitoring From Day One
- FourJaw 2.1 Enables Manufacturers To Easily Manage And Improve OEE
- The Number One Goal For Manufacturers To Focus On In 2023 – Improving Productivity