Continuous Flow Manufacturing (CFM) is an improvement effort that is used in manufacturing to achieve a balanced production line with minimal waste, defect free production and cost savings. True this is the definition for most improvement techniques, but CFM is a method that you can apply outside of the manufacturing field. The best thing about CFM is that it works by improving team work and combined problem solving. Most of Six Sigma’s critics move quickly to a perceived lack of involvement in the softer side of business science. CFM for many organizations is the cure for that perception. This technique works best for process areas that have a specific time length, it isn’t the best solution for a continuous process. The best general example is hotel front desk activities, guests stay a finite number of days and then the stay permanently ends. If the guest calls the front desk and is placed on hold for ten minutes, this is the flow activity that is measured. CFM is looking for the waste in the flow.
How Does Continuous Flow Manufacturing Work?
Simply by using team knowledge and expertise to identify the improvement areas within the flow and implementing the changes. Basically it is up to the team to identify the areas that need change (so it becomes very important that they understand the goals of the improvement project) and identify how to apply change recommendations. A bit simplistic I know, but this isn’t a step by step blog.
The first thing that you notice about CFM is that it requires a massive buy in. In most Six Sigma projects you may have one central sponsor or change agent, in CFM the entire organization acts as the change agent. The sub teams are responsible for identifying the improvement areas and then putting the requirements into action; it all starts like any other Six Sigma project, evaluating the current process.
What are the advantages?
In addition to creating a structure to deal with the human side of an improvement project, continuous flow manufacturing also provides organizations with some great advantages. Some of the more notable advantages are:
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Decreased attrition rate
- Betterquality product/service
- Minimal waste
- More accurate scheduling
- Reduced flow time and increased cost savings
- More control over inventory
- Better resource allocation
- Improved safety
This technique works best when you have the kind of organization accepting of collaborative work, if you have a silo organization you’re probably going to experience a fair bit of resistance. One of the most tangible benefits to CFM is an immediate increase in staff innovation and ownership, which leads to a great boost in morale. When you think about it you are empowering your staff to create the next big solution; that kind of opportunity creates leaders and solutions.