Surprises have their place, but they are not welcome in a manufacturing operation.

“One of the goals for manufacturing in our organization has to be to eliminate surprises,” a CFO of a U.S. manufacturing company said recently. “We don’t seem to be able to prevent ugly surprises from disrupting our production schedule and, consequently, our deliveries to our customers.”

There are two primary goals for any manufacturing operation today: 1) deliver the proper products at the proper time with the expected quality and 2) continually reduce the entire cost of delivering on goal No. 1.

To achieve both of these goals, the organization has to be focused on getting their processes reliable and consistent. As the processes become more reliable and consistent, cost-reduction activities can be implemented and focused on specific parts of the product or process.

Without a reliable or consistent process, efforts are spent trying to solve production problems rather than reduce cost. Precious time is spent trying to look for ways to “work around the problem,” or the decision is made to “throw resources at it” to make a promised delivery.

  

In today’s environment of capacity reduction, having a consistent and reliable process provides more clarity into the ramifications of certain decisions.

Anything that disrupts the flow of manufacturing from being reliable and consistent is an ugly surprise. Some surprises can be minor, while others can be major, but either can keep the manufacturing team focused on solving the current problem rather than on the two primary objectives.

When the production of the product is not consistent and reliable, the customers do not know when to expect their order, or the company has to carry excessive amounts of inventory. When production surprises make the production process unreliable, it is difficult to schedule supplier deliveries properly, either halting production due to a lack of raw materials or increasing the raw material inventory requirements of the facility.

Ugly surprises come in many forms and from many places. An ugly surprise results in unexpected downtime of a manufacturing operation. Ugly surprises can be machine failure, missed supplier deliveries, lack of proper organization, poor production techniques, poor quality and many other things.

Applying some common sense can eliminate most ugly surprises. Other ugly surprises can prove to be more difficult to diagnose and resolve. All ugly surprises need to be eliminated and prevented from ever returning.

How often do ugly surprises come to visit your organization? What do these ugly surprises look like? How do you make sure these ugly surprises feel unwelcome and never feel invited back in?