Integrated and flexible: the “added value” of non-direct “added value” activities


Attention to the integral and integrated order cycle, from order to delivery, time analysis and identification of muda, i.e. waste, proactivity to market requirements as factors enabling the sheet metal cutting phase, modern production of a once defined time at reduced value.

Recent industrial history speaks to us about manufacturing companies that are facing increasingly strong changes and pressures, with dynamic markets and looking for high levels of customization and flexibility. This inevitably has a significant impact on the choice of production strategy to be adopted and on the design of production and organizational processes. Industrial realities have long since overtaken the classic stock or “mass” strategies – Make-to-Stock (MTS) – forced to produce one-piece-flow products in a non, or little, repeatable order logic – Make-to-Order (MTO). Business routines change accordingly from static repetition of outdated production methods to daily programming and reprogramming of production and service activities.

What operational risk lies behind this new way of producing? The main risk is the run-up to deadlines, the temperamental change of priorities, in a word, the mere “reaction” to the market, remaining at the mercy of the market, instead of a proactive response to customers’ requests. While it is well-known that a reactive approach is more expensive and of poorer quality than a planned and proactive one, the question is why it is very often determined that reaction to events appears to be the only way forward? Alongside greater attention to those products and markets where the cost component has a very high centrality, competitors are ready and able to compete for even rich portions of the market. To answer the previous question, far from being generic and rhetorical, is the absence of time. “If the deadline is tomorrow, or yesterday for that matter, how am I supposed to schedule it? Or better still, how do I optimize my production and operational processes?”.

Time and added value

Like learning History in school, there’s a tendency to place events on a sort of timeline because of their expected moment of occurrence. Various production strategies are based on this concept. Starting from the delivery date agreed on with the customer, activities are planned in reverse according to their duration. This time-based, or time-driven, approach is as simple as it is risky. Simple because it is linear and the activities are serialized or parallelized, giving clarity on when they should start and end. Risky, because activities are not analyzed but are merely placed, designed as static bricks that are repeated when needed.

A successful approach is based on the concept of value. An uncut sheet metal has less value for the customer – it is valueless compared to the same post-cut product. This means that the same activities from before are scanned based on the value they add to the product. Whatever produces value goes on the timeline, the rest is not. Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is the lean methodology that goes, literally, on the hunt for value and non-value-added activities to be eliminated, such as expectations and shortcomings. It is based on events, or event driven, and must separate elementary activities and actions, discriminating the need and the value brought to the product. Filtering what is not value-added saves time … at least part of what you need to program the activities themselves, avoiding the reactive approach.

Service activities

According to VSM, are the service activities value-added? Are the warehouse and line buffers necessary or not? The answer is obvious: Yes. If the cutting line and the bending line are working at different speeds, a compensation buffer is of very high added value. If setups and micro-stops are present, it is vital to disconnect the steps of the production process.

In general terms, service activities that do not directly transform the piece are not to be deemed useless waste(muda with lean words), to be opposed as the enemy. However, they are often considered B Series, precisely when dealing with service, staff, and not the beating heart of the company. Their revenge for this “discrimination” is a consequence of less attention paid to them, certainly not with good reason given that they often occupy over 60% of the timeline. One typically wastes time within service activities, waiting unnecessarily whereas each limit and necessity is stored under this logic of “you never know.”

The integration and flexibility of service activities together with direct product transformation activities are the key to a lean and effective production, without unnecessary waste of, human, material and economic time and resources. Attention to the integral and integrated order cycle is therefore a permanent success factor.

A further question therefore arises: How should we be integrated and flexible? A valid answer for every context does not exist and this is the secret of the success of some and the source of crisis for others. However, something can help. On one hand, the analysis of the process with instruments such as VSM or others that lead to synthesis numbers to be monitored and act as a wake-up call in the case of their downward drifts. On the other hand, new technologies, tools, and approaches to address the challenges of globalized markets. In a nutshell: enabling technologies of Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0: Enabling technology… at value

Reading that was born out of the fourth industrial revolution the era of the digitization of processes, cloud and internet-of-things (IoT). What should be stressed, in addition to the definitions which are the result of the historical evolution of industry and the processes of production and transformation of goods and services, is the objective that Industry 4.0 has set itself, and with it the multi-level incentive plans proposed. It can be said that Industry 4.0 aims to add value by promoting the adoption of those enabling technologies, but omitting the object of this enabling, i.e. value. These are hardware and software tools, machines and programs, which as a whole, are intended to support the company in its flexible integration of production processes, in getting what you need, when and how you need it. From this point of view, it should be explained incentives towards the adoption of these technologies which require undoubted initial economic and mental investments can also be a factor of stable success for the company of today and tomorrow.

Nine enabling technologies which, as is evident from their description, are not limited to parts of the production process. They consider it in its entirety by fully including service activities, if not primarily aware of their current state of “discrimination”,. Thus, robotic solutions for custom laser cutting are flanked by solutions for process simulation, optimization of cutting geometries and waste minimization, activity integration architectures, data and information hierarchy in Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) logic in which the company areas and the actors in the supply chain have all and only the information they need, when they need it. We need computing power, skills and, why not, external support in the transition to this new industrial paradigm that brings together years of good operational practices, born from the field, and the developments of web and information technologies as an opportunity to be able and able to seize … enabling operational and industrial success.