On-time delivery is a nuanced metric connected to so many layered areas of manufacturing—and decisions made all the way down on the shop floor.

The obstacles to on-time delivery are real and embedded in the fabric of manufacturing production. The main concern for your customers is having your product when they expect it. Here’s how you and your team can help.

Given today’s highly distributed supply chains, shortened lead times really matter. Customers want products when they need them—and expect more guarantees than ever before. Manufacturers that do not deliver goods based on their customers’ timing often struggle and may find their customers turn to rivals to fulfill their needs.

“While on-time delivery is desirable as an outcome, the emphasis on it as a performance measure can border on the dysfunctional,” writes Kent Vincent, a managing principal and consultant for Industrial Systems & Re-engineering Services, in an M-Wave International blog post. “Instead of helping to reduce the end-to-end timespan through the entire process chain, internal departments and external suppliers both tend to pad their planned or promised lead times so that on-time-delivery performance looks good.”

When addressing the true value of on-time delivery, it is necessary to define “delivery to where?” says MRO expert and author George Krauter. “Traditionally, on-time delivery is measured by comparing the promised delivery time to the actual time the shipment arrived onto the plant’s receiving dock.” But if the product isn’t in your customers’ actual hands, is it really on time? In the eyes of the customer, the answer is likely “No.” In that case, maybe the focus should be on customer satisfaction and your company goals together, suggests a 2017 study on delivery performance metrics focused on customers. 

“Given the resource constraints many firms face today, they have to make focused efforts to improve the delivery performance dimensions that contribute most to future customer purchase volume or price,” finds joint research from the University of Houston and Oregon State University.

Ultimately, the important part is to know what customers prioritize and value—and how that relates to business behavior and investment choices, the study suggests: “Attempts to improve delivery performance with unfocused investments likely will have smaller-than-expected effects on customer purchase behavior because the improved dimension may not be what customers value most.”

So the question becomes: Where do you actually focus? Lean manufacturing experts advise using a business improvement methodology, much of which has come from the Japanese business practice of “kaizen,” or continuous improvement—and in just-in-time manufacturing principles that focus on cutting waste. A JIT manufacturing approach seeks to limit overproduction, cut waste from employee effort, eliminate unnecessary or excess physical motion on the plant floor, and reduce or eliminate unnecessary inventory and product defect waste.

How to Improve Lead Time: Compress Work and Use Technology

How can you work with the capacity you have and ship products faster? It is not by simply working faster, finds lean manufacturing expert Jamie Flinchbaugh, because working faster often leads to errors. Work can be compressed and on-time delivery can be improved by performing efforts in parallel, eliminating time-consuming handoffs and removing certain process steps altogether. 

“Technology is often a solution here, whether it is buying faster equipment in manufacturing or developing software tools for the office,” writes Flinchbaugh in the Industry Week article “Lessons from the Road: Reducing Lead Time Changes Everything.” Technology abounds in today’s supply chain and manufacturing—and continues to evolve across sensors giving machine data, programming, simulation and reporting software, machine tool technology—and the machining process itself with 3D additive and high-performance machining.

"Technology is often a solution here, whether it is buying faster equipment in manufacturing or developing software tools for the office."
Jamie Flinchbaugh
Lean Manufacturing Adviser, Speaker and Author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to Lean"

When the goal is a complete customer delivery, every efficiency counts. For example, if you could compress work by using more effective cutting tool technology that could save cycle time in the machine, theoretically, the math could work in the favor of more production in less time. Mike Lynch, president of CNC Concepts, which trains organizations on improving machine cycle and setup times, has an illustrative example: The value of saving one second of cycle time.

Here’s an example: Assume modest machining hours of 5,000 per year, then imagine shaving off one second of cycle time—from 31 seconds to 30 seconds. If you knew the machine’s burden rate was $100 an hour, some simple calculations would show that reducing one second of cycle time equates to about 167 more machining hours and a $16,700 savings over a year, Lynch explains.

Don’t Forget: Setup Time, Tool Changeover and Knowing What Your Machines Can Handle

Some machine tools today are designed to compress setup time—which would fall into Flinchbaugh’s category of reducing or eliminating steps. Some tools have “quick-change adapters” that function to ease setup time from many minutes to very few minutes. It’s not hard to begin seeing the impact on production output—and on the potential to cut lead times and reach on-time delivery to customers.

Looking for the right questions to ask when it comes to tooling? Read “Ask an Expert: How Do You Measure the Value of Tooling?

The potential for parallel work is strong in a multiple machining center setup. Let’s remember, the enemy of complete delivery is machine downtime. But there’s known downtime when tools need to be changed out or for maintenance. In larger production runs, tools will wear out, and timing new tool changeover is expected—so parallel work becomes essential to stay on track toward complete delivery.

“Most efforts of setup reduction are solved in this [parallel] way: taking steps done in a series after the machine stops and moving them to being done in parallel to the machine running,” notes Flinchbaugh.

Beyond lean parallel processes and tooling technology, do you know what your machines can handle? Cycle time rates are often determined by profitability metrics. A manager might know what it takes to make a job profitable at, say, 20 seconds, for example, but that number could end up having an unintended consequence: The machine is never run beyond it. At some point, unintentionally, “that morphs into how fast the machinists should run the part,” says Adam Moran, vice president at Vorne Industries, in the article “How to Slash Cycle Times When Cutting Metal.” “But when we actually go and look at how fast the part can run, we might find that we can do it in 12 seconds relatively easily.”

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