(Updated June 2019)
For the past 30+ years we’ve heard about Lean manufacturing, but when you don’t have a high-volume production job should you still be primarily using Lean Manufacturing principles? The solution developed over 20 years ago to handle those high mix low volume manufacturing jobs is Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM). This approach doesn’t look at making the same high-volume product more efficiently, it looks at an entire organization process of order fulfillment from the front office throughout production and shipping…and it’s meant for those jobs where Lean Manufacturing doesn’t apply enough impact.
The Basic Principles of Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM)
Originally introduced in the late ninety’s, the focus of QRM is on high product mix and product variation in a manufacturing environment focusing on overall lead time reduction and increased efficiency in all areas of the manufacturing process. Since the actual manufacturing makes up a small percentage of total lead time, the QRM approach focuses on encompassing those “back office” areas as well.
As detailed by the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing - QRM is broken into 4 key principles
- The Power of Time
- Traditionally, manufacturing firms focus on scale and cost management strategies resulting in a high degree of labor specialization and hierarchical department structures. QRM shows why this traditional setup has negative effects on lead times and generates many hidden costs.
- Organization Structure
- QRM provides principles and tools to create cells in high-mix, low-volume, customized environments. They are designed around a Focused Target Market Segment – a segment of the market where shorter lead times provides the company with maximum benefits. They apply on the shop floor and in the office.
- System Dynamics
- QRM’s cellular structure is complemented by a thorough understanding of system dynamics specifically tailored for high-mix environments. Application of common system dynamics principles and optimized batch sizes to achieve short lead times.
- Enterprise-Wide Application
- QRM applied time-based management principles to all parts of the organization including office operations, material planning, production control, supply chain, and new product introduction.
How Time Plays Its Part
Long lead times typically aren’t something that OEM’s take on the chin, it’s often a pressing issue in the overall speed to market approach. According to multiple studies, the physical time of manufacturing the product is only about 5%-12% of the total lead time. This is where using the QRM approach, not only assists in the manufacturing of the product using an enhanced cellular structure, looks deep into those back-office operations that are driving lead time.
Lean manufacturing traditionally focuses very heavily on the physical manufacturing, so companies not looking at everything leading up to that part are missing on significant opportunities to reduce their clients lead time. A time-based focus looks at the entire lead time, which a cost-based focus is only looking to improve in the areas where physical hands are making or moving product.
Enhanced Cellular Manufacturing Structures
Cellular manufacturing was introduced to the US in the 1980’s as an element of just-in-time (JIT) production, and many OEM’s manufacturing their own product have adapted over the past 30 years. The main building block of the QRM approach is an enhancement to the traditional cellular manufacturing.
The QRM cells are designed around a Focused Target Market Segment (FTMS) which means that by having a shorter lead time, it can provide the customer with the maximum benefit. With Crescent Industries focusing heavily on speed-to-market with most of our customers, implementing the QRM principles was a perfect fit. Manufacturing was more efficient, and customers increased their speed-to-market, this was a win-win scenario.
Building on the principles of cellular manufacturing, which views the manufacturing process as singular stations, QRM focuses on the whole cellular unit by eliminating traditional departments thus reducing lead time. This new cellular mindset changes from a management approach to a team-ownership approach. The cellular team is trained and capable to perform all of the processes within the cell which reduces dependency and lead time.
Crescent Industries execution of QRM cellular manufacturing also focuses on the uses of automation with Robotics and Collaborative Robots (cobots). By investing into the technology for speed and precision, the efficiency and repeatability drastically increases. This also allows the reduction in physical labor that is needed into each of their QRM cells.
One example of a QRM cell at Crescent Industries currently contains 3 injection molding machines, 2 Collaborative Robots (cobots), heat stakes, ultrasonic welders, pad printers and laser engravers currently producing 30-35 different products.
Not the Typical Production Mindset
Keep 100% those machines booked out 24/7 sounds great for revenue but not for flexibility. The traditional production mindset that’s been developed over the past 30+ years has to get a rude awakening into a slightly different approach. For companies that don’t need to be nimble this approach works fine, but when your focusing on speed-to-market and high mix, a major change has to happen internally.
To effectively reduce overall lead time, changing the company’s mindset of the focus on high utilization of machines, labor and running large batch sizes is a challenge.
- The traditional manufacturing approach focuses on the highest machine utilization and capacity, which is counterproductive to the QRM approach because it increases waiting times for other production. Rather reducing the “optimal” capacity frees up the machines to be nimbler and more adaptive to high variability products.
- The same principles apply to the production batch sizes, the larger the order the longer it will take. This is then reducing the response time and reactiveness to order changes and demand fluxuations. By reducing the production release quantities this will decrease the time to completion as well as reducing the overall finished inventory.
All Departments Hands on Deck
With a significant portion of the total lead time in manufacturing contributed by the “non-manufacturing” areas, getting buy in from upper management and multiple departments is a must for a successful implementation company wide. This new enhanced cellular structure must be complimented by fundamental understanding of the system dynamics to make better decisions about lead time reduction.
Everything from sales, scheduling, engineering and customer service reps processing orders contributes to the overall lead time. The main goal is to reorganize these operations into a Q-ROC (Quick Response Office Cell). These Q-ROCs are setup and trained just like the enhanced QRM cells, which is breaking down departments and allowing people to complete jobs through various steps.
Material Planning & Supply Chain
The crutch of lead-time in plastics is often the availability of raw materials, especially if the resin or compound doesn’t have existing production demand requirements. This can push initial raw materials delivery out from 6 weeks – 16 weeks and beyond. With proper planning and batch sizes for speed-to-market production sizes, this can result in significant lead time reductions for initial production orders. Once the supply chain is established, forecasting demand ahead of production schedules and high communication sets up a proper QRM focused process.
At Crescent Industries, we’re continuously evolving our capabilities and out of box thinking of supply chain management for our customers. The QRM approach isn’t a fit for every project, but for those customers of ours that are focused heavily on speed to market and high-mix, the QRM has solved many traditional problems. As new projects present new challenges, we answer the call to continue to be the best single source manufacturing partner for our customers.
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