5 Strategies Manufacturers Can Use to Achieve Line Balancing
By Emily Newton
Line balancing is a delicate art. It involves factoring in time, energy, money, and efficiency to bring about the best production rate possible. Managers, employees, and machines must work together to achieve this balance. Then, the manufacturing facility can keep up with the most important factor—consumer demand.
During the pandemic, as well as other, less severe periods of uncertainty, when online shopping has taken off, manufacturers may have found themselves re-evaluating and reorganizing their facilities. With the right tools and preparation, the following steps can do just that. Then, the true benefits of line balancing become clear with higher cost savings and profits.
Find and Address the Issues
The first step is to acknowledge and make a note of the existing issues. What’s causing visible delays or presenting obstacles? Why does one machine consistently run slower than others on the assembly or production line? What issues do deliveries face?
Of course, variables like extreme weather are inevitable, but focusing on even the smallest of factors can make a difference.
Manufacturers can also look at what competitors are doing. They may have faster delivery services or newer machines that can handle more significant demands.
From here, manufacturers get an overarching idea of how to better balance the line. These factors will pinpoint where to begin making changes and continue the momentum of constant improvement.
Outline and Plan
The next strategy involves calculating exactly where the facility needs to be to meet consumer demands. The production rate must match the demand. Otherwise, consumers may become unhappy and profits can drop.
One easy way to calculate this number is Takt time. This refers to the maximum allowable time the facility can take to fill an order once a customer places it.
Manufacturers can divide the available time per shift by the average customer demand per shift to calculate Takt times.
On a broad scale, average customer demand could be how many orders the facility receives per day. On a more specific level, manufacturers could calculate the demand for one type of product. With these options, they get several numbers to take action with.
They’ll know where employees and machines need to be for specific products as well as in general. Critically, these numbers will fluctuate by day and time and worker. Obstacles may get in the way every now and then, too. That’s why the average is the best place for the production rate to meet demand.
Technology will radically optimize the workplace. Through Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and devices, data analytics, apps, and cloud computing and storage, tech has a solution for everything. The data that sensors track and transmit from machines and assembly lines translates into action.
Once managers see an area that’s lacking in efficiency, they can implement the right solution. For instance, various machine learning systems can monitor how well on-site equipment performs. If they exhibit signs of wear, the system may predict when they’ll need maintenance. It’s faster and cheaper to fix than to replace.
Additionally, data analytics show consumer trends. Manufacturers can prepare ahead of time for what will be in big demand, like during holiday seasons.
Reorganize the Facility
Sometimes, employees aren’t in the roles they’ll ultimately excel at. Other times, machines are out-of-date and need some upgrades. Regardless, taking a step back and re-evaluating the facility is one of the best strategies to achieve line balancing. Perhaps an employee would work better at a different place in the process or needs to take on more responsibilities.
Reorganization can occur on smaller scales, too. Taking that step back can show the order in which to act. If a machine needs new parts, that should be a priority so it can operate faster and meet production demand.
Bottleneck stations are a good place to re-examine first. These areas of maximum work-load congestion will slow down the assembly line without proper distribution of labor.
Be Open to Change
Last but certainly not least, one underlying strategy for achieving ideal line balancing is to keep an open mind. Manufacturing, as an industry, is always changing. New developments, like technology or regulations, arise in an instant. It’s important to constantly adapt to the changes.
Additionally, managers should take feedback from employees. Back and forth communication is necessary for making sure everyone has the tools and resources they need to succeed. With the right accommodations, the facility as a whole can then reach the best balance to meet demands.
The Benefits of a Balanced Line
A well-rounded, balanced line results in three major benefits—customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and increased profits. Balance means production runs smoother and faster and gets items to customers when they expect them. Plus, when employees settle into roles they excel at, with the guidance they need, they are more likely to enjoy their responsibilities.
With everything running like a well-oiled machine, manufacturers can assemble more and save on costs when necessary. The facility then becomes a more profitable environment.
These methods are the best way to achieve these benefits. With the right communication and drive for improvement, every manufacturer can now take action to get on the right path. Line balancing, though a delicate craft, is more attainable than ever.
Emily Newton is the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized, a magazine exploring how innovations change our world.