Marginal Process Performance Gains Can Add Up Fast

Looking for areas to improve production may seem overwhelming. There are countless factors, inputs, and outputs to consider and analyze. It’s typical for staff to limit their focus only to projects with the potential of significant gains. Ironically, that’s not always the best approach.

Multiple marginal performance gains of just 1% can be meaningful. While 1% may seem insignificant, individual improvements can have a compounding effect that magnify the value of their impact. Reducing unplanned maintenance by 1%, decreasing consumption of production inputs by 1%, and increasing throughput by 1% are individually significant. Together, their impact can be profound.

Pursuit of modest and gradual change can be better for organizations. For one, it causes less disruption in a production environment. Team members are more likely to adopt small adjustments to their routines. Adjusting to limited changes is easier compared to embracing major, transformational changes. For another, production processes can continue to run smoothly while such marginal changes are implemented.

The concept of marginal gains is not new. Japanese car manufacturers were among the first innovators in this area, and they applied their approach to marginal gains strategically for decades. The ongoing growth of data and recent technological advancements now allow manufacturers to uncover more opportunities for marginal gains. Control loop performance monitoring technology is one example that enables organizations to identify potential areas of improvement.

What Are Marginal Gains?

Marginal gains theory aims to generate outsized benefits through the implementation of numerous incremental improvements. Achieving a series of 1% improvements is often more realistic than tackling a single, enormous objective. Other strategies applied successfully in manufacturing such as Kaizen, Six Sigma, and Lean are all similar in their focus on continuous improvement.

There are three basic elements that manufacturers should incorporate into a marginal gains program:

  • Strategy

Identifying critical success factors in various production processes can help a production team to get organized. An effective strategy should revolve around making improvements to each of the factors identified. Additionally, it should focus on the aspects of a facility’s productions processes over which the team has control.

An effective marginal gains strategy targets low-hanging fruit before advancing to the next level. A good strategy can lead to multiple marginal process performance gains in a short period of time.

  • Human Performance

Get key team members onboard with the strategy. Communicating the benefits and strategies clearly will ensure everyone is on the same page. Some employees may get worried that these marginal gains may eventually put them out of work. Management needs to alleviate those fears in order to establish buy-in across the organization.

If performance goals are too lofty, team members may not commit to work toward them. Similarly, communication silos between departments can create issues, so it’s essential to break down communication barriers in order to foster collaboration. Evidence shows that marginal gains programs experience the greatest successes when staff are aligned and the program is properly nurtured.

  • Continuous Improvement

Teams cannot settle after a few marginal improvements. The strategy only works when a manufacturer is truly dedicated to continuous improvement. Every aspect of production should be scrutinized. Experience shows that 1% improvement in one area of production can open the door for another 1% improvement in another area. In a continuous and compounding fashion, these marginal gains add up.

Control Loop Performance Monitoring technologies have been proven to equip process manufacturers with actionable insights needed as part of a marginal gains strategy. From PID controllers that require tuning and process interaction issues that stymie smooth production to mechanical issues like Stiction that inhibit efficient control, CLPM tools proactively monitor a production facility’s data and uncover opportunities that are often invisible to the human eye. With the help of CLPM, manufacturers are finding that a steady stream of 1% gains is entirely achievable.

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