Rubber and silicone product manufacturers can reduce their production costs by using continuous improvement techniques in their operations, according to the president of a silicone molding firm.
Brendan Cahill, president of PTG Silicones Inc., outlined a six-phase strategy for a company to make continuous improvements at its facilities during a presentation at the International Silicone Conference, held April 8-9 in Chicago. The event was held concurrently with the International Rubber Molding Conference.
The phases for a continuous improvement project include defining the project itself, establishing measurement criteria, baselining the process capabilities, analyzing the process variables, optimizing the processes and creating a long-term control strategy, Cahill said.
Part of the ``defining'' first phase is to set up goals for the project, including financial objectives such as returns on investment, inventory turns and reduction of fixed manufacturing costs. The company can also set corporate goals in areas such as supplier costs, quality, environmental and safety, Cahill said.
The firm also may have objectives in the manufacturing and process optimization segment, such as cycle time reduction, scrap reduction/yield improvement and increased machine utilization, he said. It's important to prioritize projects based on overall need, he said.
In addition to establishing realistic goals, company leaders should garner support from all levels within the organization-management and hourly workers-about a project's benefits. ``Explain how it will make their jobs easier,'' Cahill said. Also, project leaders should develop a roadmap and timeline, create a cross-functional team involving several departments of the operation and keep projects small and manageable-between six and 10 weeks, he said.
In setting up measurement criteria, only critical application requirements-three to seven maximum-should be selected. The company also should evaluate its current measurement system for accuracy and capability-but don't reinvent the wheel, Cahill said. Accurate measurement systems drive accountability, he said.
Within the baselining stage, the firm should examine all aspects of its material selection, part design, tooling and processes, keeping in mind that robustness in these areas yield greater processing capability, Cahill said.
In looking at process variability, leaders must not only look at the variables in machines, materials and tooling, but also in personnel: differences in operators, shifts, experience, education, training and communication skills, Cahill said. The bottom line is the processes must be repeatable, he said.
Some techniques Cahill recommended to minimize process variability included high-speed data acquisition and cavity pressure monitoring, implementation of advanced process control methods, scoping and refining of experiments, increased automation, streamlined process flow and minimized material and product handling.
In creating a long-term control strategy-upon which a project's success is dependent, Cahill said-a company needs to determine critical process variables and establish upper and lower statistical process control limits; educate manufacturing personnel and management about process improvements; train personnel on new process set-ups, methods and/or techniques; establish joint production and personnel measurements; create a tier measurement system; and incorporate any changes into ISO or standard operating procedures.
Cahill also gave several tips on making a project successful, including keeping the number of key measurement parameters to a minimum; working with a diverse team-with three to eight team members-when possible; keeping projects small and concise; and providing weekly updates via a team meeting or e-mail.