When thinking about ways to improve manufacturing performance and efficiency, one often-overlooked issue is communication. Communication between workers, between workers and managers, and between managers and customers can cause quality issues, disrupt the supply chain, erode morale and disappoint customers, to name of a few of the risks. While many believe that communication is a soft skill that is difficult to teach, there are best practices for building a manufacturing system that facilitates consistent, valuable communication.
One key element in factory floor communication in the medical device industry takes place in the work cell. Clear, written work instructions for each station in a work cell are required and when properly implemented, greatly reduce errors and delays. The layout of the work cell can also be designed to make it easy for technicians to be able to request additional materials and for materials to be delivered to each station as needed. Work cells come in several shapes, from “C” to “U” to “O.” Depending on the product being assembled the configuration of the cell can facilitate movement and minimize time spent walking to perform tasks or to request information.
Access to computing devices on the factory floor can also present communications challenges. Most assembly workers are not sitting in front of a screen, and cannot receive alerts, announcements, or requests from managers electronically. On many factory floors, critical information — such as downtime events and quality control issues — still depend on pagers, one-way communication systems and radios competing with the sound of machinery and with workers concentrating on important tasks. Some facilities are migrating to electronic signage, and/or are making workstations accessible on or near break areas to facility non-interruptive communications.
Meeting space near the factory floor can also facilitate communication and improve efficiency. Every step people take away from their work spaces cost time and money. Having meeting facilities within or near the manufacturing area can greatly reduce meeting time as well as promote timely meetings (it’s hard to be late for a meeting that is right next to your workspace). Also, holding meetings with customers near the manufacturing area can facilitate their visibility and confidence in the quality and pace of manufacturing operations. Finally, meetings for non-manufacturing personnel near the production area can bring the entire company closer to the manufacturing process, literally and figuratively.
One of the tenants of LEAN manufacturing is for the entire organization to be engaged with manufacturing. For companies that make things, everyone in the company, in the end, is supporting the organization’s chief function. Facility design can play an important role in fostering this kind of attitude and commitment by making the factory more efficient and the entire staff better able to do their ultimate jobs—sell and make products. Constant, consistent communication is key for medical device manufacturing.
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