Breaking Out of the Death Spiral of Manufacturing Inefficiency

Manuficient - Plant Downward Spiral


No Wait that’s not right, Aim…Fire…Ready.

Wait wait, one more time. Fire…Ready…Aim. Why is this so difficult?


It’s natural to want an issue resolved as quickly as possible. Issues are painful – sometimes all we want is for the pain to go away, immediately. It’s been proven time and time again through experiment, people are more likely to take $100 today than $150 in two weeks. It takes both discipline and patience to avoid capturing the short-term gain at the expense of long-term success. This is especially true when customers, managers, supervisors, and line operators are all under immense pressure to meet daily production schedules all while cutting production costs. In this environment, the band-aid approach becomes the expected course of action over the sometimes slow “permanent fix” approach. Over time, this creates a culture where the goal of the day, is to survive the day. If we can just hit schedule, we can all go have steak dinners, even if we know we’re going to have to deal with many of the exact same issues tomorrow. Many manufacturing operations go on for years if not decades this way, especially prevalent in high-speed manufacturing environments. In discrete manufacturing environments, the pressure to high daily schedules is less, which creates an environment that cultivates process inefficiencies. The erosion of performance still occurs, just at a slower pace.


In this environment, there is a snowball effect that erodes manufacturing efficiency. Over time, just like anything else, the manufacturing system and its performance declines. Machines get old and just don’t do it with same vigor and vitality that they once did. When a band-aid is place on an issue, it provides a “weak bridge” to be crossed to meet the daily production target. The problem is that it gives somewhat of an illusion that the problem is gone. However, that weak bridge needs to be crossed every day to hit daily targets. Meanwhile, other weak bridges are being built every day to deal with other issues in the factory. The underlying fact is that the very root level issues and conditions are not being identified, understood, or eliminated. Unfortunately, those root level issues are allows to fester and create one issue after another that erode manufacturing efficiency. Before you know it, there are dozens if not hundreds of weaknesses in your manufacturing system that produce failures at an increasing frequency. One day you wake up and realize that you are quickly descending into the death spiral of manufacturing performance.


This is easier to avoid than it is to fix, especially if your customers or bosses aren’t going to give you the time or space you need to make sustainable improvements. Making improvements means deliberately stopping production and getting to the root of the issues. In many facilities, the cultural view around consciously stopping production for any amount of time is unheard of, especially to pull people together for a meeting to do Root Cause Analysis – it’s just bad optics. This is a dire situation but it can and needs to get better. The key is to find ways to buy yourself time to research, collaborate, experiment, and resolve issues – permanently. If you are part of a network of factories, it’s reasonable to have a sister site support production demands while you schedule more downtime to get issues permanently resolved. A skilled professional can help you build the business case for this type of arrangement considering the total financial impact including incremental labor and logistics cost to have a sister facility provide service support. Often the savings from permanently resolving an issue, by far, outweighs the incremental production support cost. This behavior needs to become part of the manufacturing operating model so that issues could be resolved permanently as they arise. If you don’t have the luxury of a network, or just would rather not take that route, another route is to use your planned downtime wisely. It may not be a bad idea to schedule extra raw materials to use for equipment / process testing during scheduled downtime. This is the time to perform a manufacturing efficiency blitz and tackle the issues that pose the greatest threat to performance. Once you’ve brought your manufacturing system “back to base”, implement preventative measures and find a way to incorporate continuous improvement into your daily operating model.

© Calvin L Williams blog at [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Calvin L Williams with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s