Revolutionizing Manufacturing: Embracing Efficiency and Innovation

The cost of manufacturing is a complex equation that integrates the labor burdened rate and inventory burdened rate. For every dollar spent on wages, an additional twenty-five cents or 25% is incurred as the burdened cost. This figure reflects the comprehensive expenses of employing workers, encompassing not only their wages but also benefits, taxes, and other related costs.

The Hidden Costs of Unproductive Time

Every minute of unproductive time during scheduled shifts accumulates costs, representing wasted resources and lost potential. Idle time can result from various factors such as machine breakdowns, lack of materials, or inefficient workflows. This unproductive time directly impacts the bottom line, inflating operational expenses without contributing to output.

The Dangers of Excessive WIP Inventory

Unsold inventory is unrealized revenue, but Work In Progress (WIP) inventory is particularly detrimental. Extensive WIP ties up capital and incurs ongoing expenses. When items linger in various production stages without progressing to finished goods, it indicates inefficiencies that slow down the overall workflow. This bottleneck leads to delays and resource wastage, further exacerbating the cost problem.

The Need for a Paradigm Shift

Manufacturers must recognize that incremental improvements can lead to substantial gains in sellable goods, delivery times, and overall cost reduction. This requires a shift from traditional cost accounting to throughput accounting. Throughput accounting focuses on maximizing the rate at which the system generates money through sales, thus highlighting the importance of efficient production processes.

Championing Efficiency and Innovation

Management must consciously embrace this paradigm shift and assign a champion to identify and correct micro stoppages and process inefficiencies. By evaluating value streams and correcting unbalanced allocations, manufacturers can streamline operations and enhance productivity. Engaging operators and educating them on efficient processes, tools, and regimens is crucial for sustaining these improvements.

 Learning from the Leaders

Over the past 70 years, continuous improvement strategies have been championed by global manufacturing leaders like Toyota. However, many North American manufacturers chose to outsource operations overseas, seeking lower labor costs. Now, the trend of reshoring manufacturing back to America underscores the critical importance of being lean and efficient.

The Promise of Smart Systems

Modern smart systems like MERLIN offer a platform to integrate traditional ERP, MES, QC, and maintenance systems. These flexible and adaptable systems can respond to changing conditions, capturing and identifying complex scenarios for corrective action. Unlike simple monitoring systems that can lead to inflexible and limited improvements, smart systems provide actionable information for comprehensive and sustainable advancements.

Addressing the Skills Gap

Manufacturers often face challenges in finding skilled personnel and engineers. Forward-thinking companies are engaging continuous improvement engineering firms on short-term contracts to help select and marshal internal resource teams. These teams address issues and implement changes, resulting in rapid and long-lasting payback through demonstrated new strategies based on accurate, actionable information from smart systems.

The Future of American Manufacturing

Over the next decade, we will witness a transformation as old, inefficient companies are replaced by lean, efficient, and profitable manufacturers. The era of outsourcing production is drawing to a close. The future of American manufacturing hinges on today’s executive management, who must empower their teams and embrace technological advancements.

These executives, familiar with technology from their upbringing, can no longer cite lack of adoption due to resistance to change. The new management must embrace the spirit of the industrial revolution, driving their companies toward innovation and efficiency. Playing it safe will only result in being left behind, trailing in the competitive landscape.

In conclusion, the path to revitalizing American manufacturing lies in committing to revolutionary change, leveraging smart systems, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. By doing so, US companies can reclaim their position as global leaders in manufacturing, driving economic growth and industrial prowess into the future.

– Womack, J.P., Jones, D.T., & Roos, D. (1990). *The Machine That Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production*. Harper Perennial.
– Liker, J.K. (2004). *The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer*. McGraw-Hill.
– Goldratt, E.M., & Cox, J. (1984). *The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement*. North River Press.


Tim Smith

The Importance of Micro Stoppages over Utilization downtime

Most monitoring systems ignore micro stoppages. These Utilization-Only systems do not provide the flexibility to identify and capture micro stoppages. “The Goal,” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox, is a business novel that emphasizes the importance of optimizing the production process as a whole instead of focusing on individual parts or events.

In the manufacturing industry, maximizing efficiency and productivity is paramount. Traditionally, the focus has been capturing utilization downtime — when machines are entirely idle. This fallacy is heavily endorsed and indoctrinated by “Utilization-Only” solution providers. Since these systems have no efficient method to capture micro-stoppages, they just ignore them altogether.  However, evidence proves that recording micro-stoppages is even more critical for achieving optimal performance. Here’s why:

Understanding Utilization Downtime

Utilization downtime refers to significant periods when equipment is not operating, typically due to scheduled maintenance, major breakdowns, or other interruptions. The granularity of such downtime events can be as low as five minutes. This metric has been a cornerstone of manufacturing performance analysis because:

– **Visibility**: Large downtimes are easily noticeable and often clearly impact production schedules.

– **Measurability**: Measuring and quantifying substantial idle times is straightforward.

– **Focus**: Addressing major downtimes can lead to significant immediate improvements in production capacity.

Despite its importance, focusing solely on utilization downtime can overlook numerous smaller interruptions that significantly impact productivity. These micro-stoppages, although seemingly insignificant, can add up to a substantial loss in production time.

The Role of Micro-Stoppages

Micro-stoppages are brief, often frequent interruptions that occur during the manufacturing process. They can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and are caused by minor issues such as:

– **Small equipment jams**: Temporary blockages that require quick adjustments.

– **Tool adjustments**: Minor tweaks are needed to maintain quality or precision.

– **Material replenishments**: Short pauses to load new materials or components.

– **Operator interventions**: Quick stops for operators to resolve minor issues or reset machines.


While each micro-stoppage might seem insignificant on its own, their cumulative effect can be substantial. As manufacturing managers, engineers, and analysts, your role in capturing and addressing these micro-stoppages is crucial for several reasons:

Detailed Insight into Performance:

Granular Data: Micro-stoppages provide a detailed view of machine performance and reveal inefficiencies that major downtimes might obscure. Speak to a manufacturing engineer and he is trying to address process inefficiencies, whereas production staff are focused on downtime events causing disruption on the shop floor. Both are important, but only process improvements will provide long-lasting benefits.

Root Cause Analysis: Identifying micro-stoppage patterns can help uncover the root causes of larger inefficiencies. All major downtime events can be tied to their micro-stoppage cousins. A downtime event just doesn’t occur; it is usually the result of unnoticed micro-stoppages that indicate a pending failure.


Improved Predictive Maintenance:

Trend Analysis: Regularly occurring micro-stoppages can signal impending equipment failures or the need for maintenance before a major breakdown occurs.

Preventative Actions: Early detection allows for timely interventions, reducing the likelihood of unexpected major downtimes.


Enhanced Operational Efficiency:

Process Optimization: Analyzing micro-stoppages helps fine-tune manufacturing processes, leading to smoother operations and reduced waste.

Operator Training: Understanding the frequency and causes of micro-stoppages can inform targeted training programs for operators to quickly handle and prevent minor issues.


Cost Reduction:

Minimized Disruptions: Reducing the frequency and duration of micro-stoppages can lead to a more consistent and reliable production flow, lowering operational costs.

Resource Allocation: A better understanding of micro-stoppages can lead to a more effective allocation of maintenance resources, optimizing labor and part usage.


Case Studies and Examples

  1. Automotive Manufacturing:

Challenge: An automotive plant experienced frequent but brief stops on its assembly line due to minor tool recalibrations.

– Solution: The plant identified that certain tools required more frequent calibration by recording and analyzing these micro-stoppages. Implementing a predictive maintenance schedule reduced these interruptions by 30%, increasing overall line efficiency.


  1. Food and Beverage Industry:

– Challenge: A beverage bottling company faced frequent micro-stoppages due to small clogs in the bottling line.

– Solution: Detailed recording and analysis revealed that certain bottle shapes were more prone to causing jams. Switching to a different design reduced micro-stoppages, improving throughput by 15%.


Implementation Strategies

To effectively record and analyze micro-stoppages, manufacturers should:

Invest in Technology: Use advanced monitoring systems and IoT sensors to capture real-time data on machine performance. Most monitoring systems rely on IDLE events; however, most micro stoppages are camouflaged as part of the part-to-part time. A system such as MERLIN can be configured to interpret such in-line events and capture the extension of such events beyond what the time study attributes to them. It’s easy for a system to identify acute downtime events such as IDLE, but only smart systems like MERLIN can differentiate logically with inferred material movement events.

Train Staff: Ensure operators are trained to recognize and report micro-stoppages accurately.

Integrate Data Analysis: Use data analytics tools such as MERLIN to process and interpret the collected data, turning it into actionable insights.

Continuous Improvement: Foster a culture of continuous improvement where insights from micro-stoppage data lead to ongoing process refinements.

Illustration of the Value of Identifying Micro-Stoppages Compared to Recording Accumulated Downtime

Scenario: Micro-Stoppages

Consider a scenario where a manufacturing line experiences a one-minute micro-stoppage every twenty minutes. Let’s break down the impact of these micro-stoppages over a 30-day period:

– **Micro-Stoppage Duration**: 1 minute

– **Interval**: Every 20 minutes

– **Operational Time**: 24 hours/day

– **Days in Month**: 30


  1. **Micro-Stoppages per Day**:

24 hours x 60 minutes / 20 minutes= 72 micro-stoppages per day

  1. **Total Micro-Stoppage Time per Day**:

72 micro-stoppages x 1 minute = 72 minutes (1.2 hours)

  1. **Total Micro-Stoppage Time per Month**:

1.2 hours/day x 30 days = 36 hours/month


  1. **Cost of Micro-Stoppages per Month**:

36 hours x $100 (hourly cost of production) = $3600


Scenario: Accumulated Downtime

Consider an alternative scenario where the manufacturing line accumulates 15 hours of downtime over the same period.



  1. **Accumulated Downtime**: Accumulation of IDLE (downtime) throughout the month of 15 hours
  2. **Cost of Accumulated Downtime**:

15 hours x 100 per hour = $1500


– **Micro-Stoppages**:

– Total Downtime: 36 hours/month

– Total Cost: \$3600/month

– **Accumulated Downtime**:

– Total Downtime: 15 hours/month

– Total Cost: \$1500/month


Identifying and addressing micro-stoppages is significantly more valuable than merely recording accumulated downtime. Over a 30-day period, frequent one-minute micro-stoppages can result in a total downtime of 36 hours, costing \$3600. In contrast, recording an accumulated downtime of 15 hours costs only $1500. Accumulated downtime is the low hanging fruit, which, after operational adjustments, they are all but gone. Manufacturers can uncover hidden inefficiencies by focusing on micro-stoppages and significantly reducing operational costs. The focus on capturing and correcting process inefficiencies goes far beyond any utilization fixes. Ask any manufacturing engineer worth his salt and he’ll tell you.

While capturing utilization downtime remains important, recording micro-stoppage offers a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of manufacturing efficiency. By focusing on these small but significant interruptions, manufacturers can enhance predictive maintenance, improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, and ultimately achieve higher productivity and reliability in their operations. Embracing this detailed approach supported by smart systems such as MERLIN ensures that no minor inefficiency goes unnoticed or unaddressed.

by Tim Smith

Machine Metrics fails yet again!

anther failure

Accurate, actionable data is the keystone of any monitoring system. If you can’t trust the data, then the system is not worth a cent. Arguably, the breadth of data depends on the type of connection to the machine. At the very least, if a monitoring system cannot track the simplest of events, then it should be scrapped. If the system is not flexible in data transformation, then the ability for a user to capture relevant data for their objective is questionable. Most monitoring systems can handle simple vanilla configurations, but almost every manufacturer faces unique circumstances. These include unique combinations of machine tools, follow-on automation, dynamic and flexible shifts, varying breaks with the ability to work into them, inferred conditions, and more. I’m currently talking to yet another disgruntled manufacturer who is jettisoning their current monitoring system in favor of MERLIN Tempus EE (reach out, and I can elaborate further). I spend about half my time picking up the pieces of bad monitoring systems and replacing them with MERLIN. Most other systems cannot even provide reliable utilization, let alone OEE.

MERLIN can collect and state event and process data. It has an impressive metrics list right out of the box:

  1. Downtime
  2. Good Part Count
  3. Machine Reject Count
  4. Machine State and Part
  5. Machine State Count
  6. Machine State Time
  7. Neutral Time
  8. OEE
  9. OpStep Avg Cycle Time
  10. OpStep Avg Part-To-Part Time
  11. OpStep Parts Remaining
  12. OpStep Time Remaining
  13. Performance
  14. Quality
  15. Reject Part Count
  16. Total Part Count
  17. Tool Time (Optional Tool Usage Module)
  18. Tool Count (Optional Tool Usage Module)
  19. Tool Up Time (Optional Tool Usage Module)
  20. Total Time
  21. Up Time
  22. Utilization
  23. Lost Production Dollars

These metrics are available by station, by line, and by facility. Additionally, they are accessible in the following time scales:

  1. Fixed Metric TimeBlock – 1 day
  2. Fixed Metric TimeBlock – 1 hour
  3. Fixed Metric TimeBlock – 5 minutes
  4. Fixed Metric TimeBlock – 7 days
  5. MES OpStep Change
  6. Operator Change

MERLIN processes live data, normalizing and validating it, and generates real-time metrics in memory for fast retrieval. Unlike its competitors that store and then process… garbage in… garbage out.

MERLIN can capture process data, if available, such as temperature, vibration, spindle speed, overrides, amperage, voltage, pressure, as examples. It supports multiple control limits.

MERLIN imports a comprehensive data set for product identification, sales order, work order, part number, product standard, setup time, material conveyance time, cycle time, parts per cycle and cycle per parts, program name, program location, work instructions location, and any other job related data you may want to make available inside of MERLIN.

In fact MERLIN is as close to being SCADA with being SCADA and MES without being MES.

Unfortunately, failed monitoring system deployments cause customers to think every system is flawed. Of course, no system can meet unrealistic expectations, so that is the question I ask first. Then, I ensure that the customer has a champion. Even a bus needs a bus driver. With this approach, MERLIN delivers a comprehensive manufacturing operations management system that meets and exceeds customer expectations.

Don’t let poor results discourage you from pursuing your Industry 4.0 initiative. Let’s talk further!