Design for optimisation as a competitiveness tool
This is a guest blog post from our partner, Enginsoft.
The difficult balance between supply and demand, the need to modernize entrepreneurial environments and more generally, the current market conditions make it imperative to reassess business management models. This is particularly true for companies that not only want to maintain their market position, but rather to increase it.
In this context, the nexus between technological innovation, the ability to adapt to changing market conditions, and competitiveness is as crucial as it is obvious. The first two factors are, in fact, key to ensuring or maintaining the third.
While there are numerous distinct aspects to innovate and re-design in striving to achieve this objective, they all concern quality in its broadest sense, that is the quality perceived externally by customers and competitors, and the quality perceived internally, which most directly affects the company’s organization. The production process plays a strategic role in satisfying both perspectives, and its design (or re-design) for optimization becomes the fulcrum for innovative decisions.
Designing the production process to optimize it implies defining parameters and adopting strategies to achieve the highest quality standards with the available resources and capacity. More precisely: the more accurate the design of the production activities is, the more production costs, production capacity and time to market will be weighted.
From this perspective, the design (or re-design) involves a precise analysis of the totally or partially automated activities of the production processes, as well as any workforce interactions with it. This last aspect particularly is often neglected or incorrectly evaluated resulting in the formulation of forecasts and models that can be significantly inconsistent with reality. A valid analysis of the manual activity must determine as precisely as possible the correct timings and methods for each individual activity in the production flow.
To this end, it is necessary to draw up or map the entire workflow in advance, depending on whether it is being planned or re-designed, and classify its general characteristics and functions to identify any possible critical points. The final objective is to create as linear a flow as possible to eliminate any "downtime" and waste that may occur both in relation to the processing of materials, and to its handling (such as excessive handling). Such inefficiencies, in fact, represent a potential cause of increased industrial costs which, consequently, increase the final product costs. These profiles are often connected to additional inefficiencies such as the use of incorrect methods or inadequate work stations and tools, or an incorrect order of execution of the various production activities. Overall, these aspects imply the need to innovate to recover profitability.
To complete this preliminary analysis, a detailed definition of the activities is necessary at a global level for the entire flow, and at a local level for the individual activities and operations, both of which also involve determining performance standards for continuous and systematic control of the correct and efficient execution of the production processes. The flow must therefore be designed to safeguard its constant execution over time, and to ensure that the pre-established metrics for the measurement of its processes allow easy verification. It is equally important to define tasks that are fluidly linked to each other.
In defining the detail of the individual activities, it is essential to study the various factors that constitute the different work stations, such as: the visibility and accessibility of the parties involved in task performance, the usability of the tools, and the handling of loads, which implies an assessment of the weights and the possible need for specific equipment. Another factor to consider are the operator’s movements in performing the task, the distance and frequency of which must be evaluated to possibly reduce them. It is also necessary to ensure that the environmental conditions are appropriate for the performance of the work, as defined by law, and that they respect ergonomic principles, which are also subject to regulatory constraints. Even in the absence of precise regulatory obligations, this latter aspect intrinsically contributes to optimized work stations by ensuring limited psychophysical fatigue, one of the main causes of increased processing errors and work times.
The use of dedicated software, such as ViveLab Ergo, is crucial when designing or re-designing work stations to optimize the production process. This solution allows the work environments, the operators, and the interactions between them to be recreated, ensuring a detailed verification of the aspects mentioned so far, and eliminating the need to physically reproduce the different work environments to test the effectiveness of the potential solutions. The software's high computing capabilities allow the contextual examination of a plurality of alternative solutions, reducing design and optimization times, decreasing the subjectivity of the analysis, and increasing the accuracy of the results.
It also allows one to instantly assess whether the solutions being tested meet the standards for ergonomic conditions and highlights risk factors that would otherwise require specific assessment, potentially extending the design period and compelling analysts to review the projects.
Finally, this tool is also an additional useful method to monitor the correct execution of activities, which is essential to ensure adherence to production times and costs, eliminating the need to identify additional tools for work measurement and hence representing another useful aid for optimization.