Custom countertop manufacturers are much like companies in any manufacturing industry. They struggle to meet a fluctuating market demand and they deal with constant pressures on price, quality and lead times. Add to that the difficulties of managing a group of people upon whom the company is reliant to satisfy customers and often it seems like an overwhelming challenge.
Early in 2004, DuPont Surfaces engaged with the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (SCMEP) to create what has become known as the DuPont Profit Optimization Program (POP) to address these and other issues faced by the fabricator. Realizing that any performance improvement initiative had to achieve a bottom-line impact, POP focuses on just that. The process is called Synchronous Flow, and it seeks an improvement in overall company performance by implementing a business approach that can address the serious constraints that fabricators face.
In addition to improving profits, the Synchronous Flow program is designed to reduce process lead times from template through install to a reliable six days or less. This is accomplished by coordinating the release of jobs into the manufacturing system (input) at a rate consistent with the completion of jobs at install (output). Control of the entire business system is rooted in the basic metric called throughput, which is the measure of value added for the business system (see Figure 1 for more on throughput). The system recognizes that operating with less work-in-process (WIP) inventory is easier to manage and allows much more flexibility in manufacturing to meet the demands of the fluctuating market.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Synchronous Flow provides a methodology to deal with the routine issues of the day in a proactive rather than a reactive manner. Daily buffer management meetings replace typical production meetings with a system that identifies all the issues that have a potential of affecting the installation schedule. Identifying and dealing with issues before impact is much better than jumping through hoops once the schedule has been interrupted.
A review of the buffer management logbook, in which a brief description of each issue is recorded, allows identification of the most chronic issues for an engineering effort to truly solve the problem and prevent it from reoccurring. The test for effectiveness is that the identified issue does not reappear in the records of the buffer management log book. By definition, this approach will address the issues that are most occupying the time of operations and management staff within the business. As the most serious problems are solved, the time that those issues required each day is converted into planning time during which proactive management is accomplished. Inevitably, the stress level of the operations and management staff is reduced and a sense of calmness and control is introduced into the daily routine. Users of the Synchronous Flow business system report that the quality of life improves for the people within the business system. Also reported was that an extraordinary period of growth was accomplished only because the business practiced the principles of Synchronous Flow and used the planning tools it provides to grow intelligently and profitably.
How It Works
The program is based on a business control system called Synchronous Flow in which the entire business is looked upon as a system. The process flow, from marketing and sales through installation and invoice receipt, is mapped with strategic identification of the system’s control point, planned buffers of work-in-process and a mechanism to control the release of new jobs into the system at the template operation. By synchronizing all the functions of the business to a strategic control point, the entire operation can be coordinated, controlled and optimized.
Synchronous Flow is a business control concept that focuses on a single location in the business system as the strategically selected control point of the operation. That function is finitely scheduled each day based on its capacity to produce throughput ($T). All other functions in the company from sales through manufacturing, including all support functions, operate to serve the control point. Every function in the company is synchronized around the control point. The desired mix of products and customers is scheduled each day based on accumulating the $T value of each job to achieve the maximum profitability and customer service. This finite schedule based on the $T for each job becomes the “drumbeat” of the company.
To manage the daily operations in a proactive (rather than reactive) manner, companies use another key element of Synchronous Flow called buffer management. The idea behind buffer management is recognition that there will be problems in the normal work day. Issues with material, customer information, quality, equipment, people, etc. are inevitable and the business system must be prepared to deal with them. Incorporating into the business process a method to manage proactively is much better than constantly fighting fires with little effort toward preventing them in the first place. The disciplines of buffer management bring those virtues to the operations of the business enterprise (see Figure 2).
Buffer management is accomplished by dividing all business operations into sequential zones reflecting a time scheduling approach for controlling the jobs as they move through the business system. Based on the date of Install (or ship, deliver, pickup), each job is planned for a certain buffer zone location each day. As jobs are processed, management can monitor the status of each and can identify actions that each one can meet its schedule. Overall, buffer management brings a system of control to the process by optimizing the volume of WIP within each zone on a continuous basis.