“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.”
Who first said that is up for dispute (Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Henry Ford, and renowned management consultant William Edwards Deming are all contenders), but the point remains the same: if you want different results, something has to change.
Ah…but what, exactly, is the something that needs changing?
When you’re trying to increase production or cut costs or improve quality or reduce waste, it’s not a good time to take a guess or keep doing more of the same.
“The way we look at it is you can’t control what you haven’t measured and what you can’t control, you can’t improve,” says ICC, Inc. President Alex Alexandrov. “A client may think they need to add another production line or upgrade a particular piece of equipment, but we always start with a thorough assessment so we can be sure of the right solution.”
The result can be astonishing: for a leading health and beauty company, ICC engineers and business strategists delivered $20 million per year cost savings while helping the company improve product quality. ICC’s experts were on site only 20 days.
Finding the opportunities in the issues
An engineering and production firm like ICC is, by nature, very exacting and precise in conducting an assessment, but the basics are a matter of detailed and diligent investigation:
Identify opportunities—What you might call “problems” we view as opportunities for improvement. What issues keep popping up? What is your goal?
Investigate–For each problem, drill down to the bottom of it like a good investigative reporter: who is involved? What is the production stage, equipment, process, or other element in question? When does the issue occur? Where does it happen? Why is it happening? (Did something change, like new personnel, new materials, etc?) And how often does it occur?
“In this stage of an assessment, we conduct interviews of managers and workers to help get a clear view of the processes, parts, and equipment involved, along with the production goal,” notes Alexandrov. “Success depends on collaboration and a proactive approach of working together. This can be tricky for managers to handle internally, as employees may withhold information that may reflect negatively on them or impact their jobs.”
Prioritize—Once you’ve got the opportunities detailed, decide which ones are critical. Your focus and your resources should be devoted to the highest priority issues first.
Define scope—When tackling any project, but especially one aimed at improving operational efficiency, quality, or cost containment, defining the scope of the project will keep it on track and help you ultimately determine the success of the project.
Any size business can benefit
ICC offers two levels of Fitness Assessment. For large facilities, the assessment focuses on all relevant areas of production/manufacturing. The goal is to improve operational efficiency, improve quality, and reduce costs while keeping the business goal in mind, so ICC examines:
- Utilities (e.g. water, electricity, heat, cooling)
- Equipment efficiency and utilization (e.g. downtime, time it takes to identify error, debottlenecking, improve/upgrade automation)
- Scheduling (improve utilization of man hours)
- Raw material utilization and procurement
ICC’s “mini” fitness assessment is less detailed but can still yield significant savings. The goals are to help clients create a “fast track” to reduce costs by focusing on only one or two areas of the operation:
- Improve production efficiency
- Level of automation required vs. man hours
- Layout of facility
“Growing businesses can really benefit from a mini assessment because they usually start on a very small scale,” says Alexandrov. “We often find ‘Frankensteins’ where equipment has been added without much thought about efficient layout or the impact on operational expenses. That’s where we can really help.”