I recently attended a software event and had a huge lightbulb moment.
It’s no secret that I’ve always been an advocate of technology and change. How can I not be, I’ve seen the positive impact time and time again. What I never dug into is how processes get affected by change in technology. Whether it’s replacing a machine on the shop floor with a higher performing one, adding equipment to increase capacity or adding/replacing software in the front office, these changes should make us take a step back, look at the process and see if there are changes to be made in order to achieve the best increase in yield form our changes.
I suspect we often introduce new technology in our companies, and we leave the processes the same. By doing so, we might benefit from the new technology a little, but is there more that can be achieved?
I think so. New technologies can have multiple impact points in the process, yet we typically invest to solve only one or a couple pain points.
Adding new engineering software in the front office warrants a good look at everything leading up to engineering and everything following it. What if we built our products a certain way in the past because of constraints that no longer exist? Imagine if changing the assembly method for cabinets could drastically increase output from a nesting machine? Might save a shop expansion and add a machine purchase?
What if labeling parts could lessen the experience required to assemble cabinets? Or increase the volume of cabinets assembled in a shift? Engineering software in particular is such a great opportunity to affect big change in the way the process flows. Organizational and optimization skills are welcome when re-thinking how we could work smarter by changing things to make life easier, simpler, faster.
Looking at the existing process can be done on a whiteboard or with sticky notes. Gather a group of positive thinking and creative folks involved in the processes and lay those processes out sequentially. Look at the existing process, then look at what will change with the new technology and how it will affect the bottlenecks. Now you can start brainstorming about how different changes could affect the overall process.
For example, if by adding new engineering software, we decided to change our assembly method to increase our capacity on the nesting machine, which used to be a bottleneck. Maybe there will be new challenges with the increased parts going to assembly? Can we do anything in the engineering software to ease assembly? Maybe. Labels? Better sorting? Better assembly stations?
You see how the thinking goes. There are very few rules when it comes to how we organize our processes, yet we tend to get stuck driving a top end sports car like we did our first beater. We need to constantly reassess our processes and refine them. Keep looking for the work in progress and keep trying to minimize it. It’s your money sitting on the shop floor. Look for the bottlenecks and do your best to make process changes to alleviate them. Finally, minimize the idle time at any given point in the process.
At our recent company retreat, we were in Silicon Valley, California. I learned of a company trying to disrupt the pizza delivery industry. As you can imagine, there are a lot of pizzas that get delivered in the world. This company is automating the creation of pizzas with robots and starting to collect data in order to use artificial intelligence to predict situations. They want to get to the point where the pizzas are cooking in the delivery vehicle to minimize chemical additives and delivery time. Imagine that some software knows that on rainy Fridays, there’s an 80 per cent chance that you’ll be placing your order for a large all dressed with bacon? What would that look like for the business owner? For you, the consumer? You see it’s not only the technology, but the whole process that’s revamped.
It’s Friday today. I’m going to head home and stand by the door to see if there’s a pizza truck stalking my house… Or maybe a pizza drone?