Monitoring Wood Product Business ProcessesRecently, I noticed a post in one of the groups I follow on LinkedIn, which is about tracking jobs on the shop floor. This is a highly controversial topic, with pros and cons regarding a number of aspects on the issue.

Of course every manufacturer wants to monitor the status of production, manage inventory, and collect cost data. However, there is a price tag for everything, and many approaches actually run counter to the primary objective, which should be maximizing productivity.

Comments on this post highlight some of the contradictions. Some of the comments addressed how difficult it is to get workers to correctly record their hours and other production metrics. That in itself is a reflection of a conflict that managers must take into account. On the one hand, workers understand that their main goal is production, so when they are asked to stop their work to record something, that in itself contradicts that main goal.

Monitoring Wood Product Business ProcessesSeveral posts also mentioned the importance of continuous process improvement. Most facilities are always changing machinery, flow, and other aspects of the production process. Also. in many make-to-order factories, the products and lot sizes are almost never the same. Therefore, detailed historical data is often out of sync with current production, begging the question: What is the point of trying to collect every detail?

There is an answer. Simpler and lower-cost tracking schemes monitor work center throughput and material usage, which is far less intrusive and results in more meaningful metrics.

Management is often too focused on direct labor in the first place, when in fact the overall throughput is the result of many other factors. For example, to keep work flowing smoothly requires perfect synchronization of materials, input from prior processes, available machine time, tooling, output space, and many other variables all timed to an accurate schedule. Any of these factors can delay the process, and most have nothing to do with the direct worker. Often the best place to start improving production throughput is in the front office, where the planning and support activities begin. If that work is not done well, then measuring direct labor is of little value.

Mick Peters is a regional sales manager for Roger Shaw & Associates (RSA), a provider of software solutions for the wood products industry. Peters previously managed production and inventory control for the largest hotel furniture manufacturer in the United States. He wrote an ERP/MRP system and deployed it at the company's three locations. One of those sites went from 90 to 225 employees at peak size and is now a division of Herman Miller. Peters was recruited as VP Operations of Pearl Enterprises (3rd largest Clock company in the U.S.) where he designed and deployed from the ground up a complete ERP/MRP system allowing Pearl to double in volume. He has become an expert on the application of lean ERP strategies in make-to-order manufacturing.  His new book, "Love Thy Data," to be released soon, was written for business managers and focuses on ERP/MRP case studies and solutions for implementation. Read more of Peters' blogs

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