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Understanding The Importance of Process Mapping For Your Factory

Guest post by Mike Pedro, Magnatag Visible Systems

When you work for a company that specializes in producing products for lean manufacturers, you begin to pick up a few things about what makes a factory successful. One of the most valuable things I have learned through both my colleges and our customers is that you have to implement some level of process mapping to your manufacturing process in order to run an efficient factory. For the uninitiated: Process mapping is all about tracking actionable tasks that can mature into a stream of success for your factory.

Think of process mapping as an instructional workbook of sorts; process mapping lays out the steps needed in order to facilitate progression in your factory, and sustaining a consistent workflow within your factory requires a step-by-step process that can be easily repeated and tracked in an effort to see an improvement in efficiency and cost reductions.

In an organized facility, process mapping covers every step of the manufacturing funnel—but rarely is it standardized from factory to factory. Everyone likes to utilize process mapping a little differently, which is why it has become such a topic of conversation amongst members of the lean community. People like to know how mapping is being conducted elsewhere, in hopes of finding new methods for tracking their production facilities. The truth of the matter is that if you don’t have a distinct set of expectations and boundaries for your mapping process, your mapping efforts will likely fall short. Some forms of mapping work better in a large, big picture kind of way, but fail to present you with a detailed reconstruction of a specific area, while others work in the exact opposite way. The bottom line is: it’s all about finding what works best for you.

Production hall. Image of bricks stacked on pallets

So for those of you looking to go lean but don’t know where to start, fear no more: Process mapping is an exceptional visual method for jumpstarting your lean factory. But before I get ahead of myself, perhaps it is best if we examine the different variations process mapping can assume in your factory.

Value Stream Mapping

The best way any business — be it on a small-scale or even a large corporation — can start implementing process mapping into their workflow is by taking a look at their value stream. That is, the processes in which raw materials are manipulated to match the end product that is delivered to your customer. By tweaking this element of your supply chain, you can break down points of interest in your process that may require further rehabilitation to create a seamless workflow for your factory.

The ultimate goal of lean manufacturing is to reduce critical component lead times from the initial purchase of an order to its final delivery — and value stream mapping should be considered a necessity when getting started. Value stream mapping offers a top-down view on your company as a whole; illustrating where a product starts and ends production, while also highlighting other important factors such as inventory numbers and manpower. While value streams are not as detailed as other forms of process mapping, their real worth derives from the ability to provide you with an overview of your entire operation.

Flowcharting

Flowcharting on the other hand, offers a much more detailed inspection of your manufacturing process. The idea behind flowcharting that peaks the interest of many veteran manufacturing managers is that it grants you the opportunity to highlight individual steps in your production procedures. Consider this: if an element of your production procedure seems to be falling behind, flowcharting can isolate where value is being lost in the process, creating an avenue to tackle the problem from its source. However you can also reverse this scenario, isolating areas where you notice an overflow in production, thereby ingesting resources elsewhere for continuous optimization.

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Given that flowcharting is such an analytical and detailed process, it may be difficult for larger factories to display flowcharts in their entirety within a centralized location. However, given the detail and insight they provide, many factories use flowchart symbols as a method of standardizing workflow from a visual point of reference.

String Diagram

If you’re looking for a map that will offer a visual representation of your shop floor as a whole, a string diagram might be the best bet for you. String diagrams are quite literally maps of your entire shop floor with strings scrambled throughout, indicating the journey of your workflow.

While a string diagram may sound a bit like a project from your days in elementary school, there is a practical method behind this arts and crafts project. Think about it from a lean perspective: String diagrams map the amount of time it takes to get from point A to point B. So factory managers will typically utilize a string diagram to measure how long it takes for a product to switch hands between departments. The further distance the product has to travel, the longer it takes to get made. Ideally, a factory manager will seek to minimize movement on the shop floor in an effort to reduce lead times, thus making the string diagram and essential mapping tool for factory managers looking to optimize their floor plans for a lean workspace.

Process mapping presents you with a highly visual map of activity within your operations facility. And since working within a visual factory is thought to be one of the keys to unlocking stalled productivity improvements, process maps should be considered a must for any lean facility.


MikePedro

About the Author

Mike Pedro is the Marketing Content Coordinator at Magnatag Visible Systems. He’s an expert when it comes to the ins and outs of scheduling, communication, lean manufacturing and productivity. He is also editor of The Magnatag Insight Blog.

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