How to apply the Deming cycle using manufacturing software to improve production planning in a small company

The Deming cycle, also known as PDSA, the “Deming Wheel,” and “Shewhart Cycle are methods rarely used in small manufacturing companies. There are many myths surrounding them, which explains a great fear of implementation, although they are often used unconsciously in various workshops. Many years of consulting experience and working with the ISO 9001 system shows that the Deming cycle is very often misunderstood or misinterpreted. Read on to find out how to use it in practice to improve production in your manufacturing company.

What is the Deming cycle?

The Deming cycle is a continuous quality improvement model consisting of a logical sequence of four repetitive steps for continuous improvement and learning: Plan, Do, Check (Study) and Act. The method was developed by William Edwards Deming in the 1950s, who stated that business processes should be analyzed and measured to identify sources of variations that cause products to deviate from customer requirements. He recommended that business processes should be placed in a continuous feedback loop so that managers can identify and change the parts of the process that need improvements.

Deming cycle

The Four Phases of the Deming  cycle

1. Plan.

First, identify and understand possible problems. Perhaps the standard of a finished product isn’t high enough. Explore the information available in full. Generate and screen ideas, and develop a robust implementation plan as well as make it measurable.

2. Do.

Once you’ve identified a potential solution, test it safely. This will show whether your proposed changes achieve the desired outcome – with minimal disruption to the rest of your operation if they don’t. As you run the project, gather data to show whether the change has worked or not. You’ll use this in the next stage.

  1. Check.

Next, analyze your results against the expectations that you defined in Step 1, to assess changes. If it wasn’t successful, return to Step 1. If it was, advance to Step 4.

  1. Act.

This is where you implement your solution. But remember that PDCA/PDSA is a loop, not a process with a beginning and end. Your improved process or product becomes the new baseline, but you continue to look for ways to make it even better.

Simplified version of the Deming cycle 

It is possible to simplify the Deming cycle and focus on correction and prevention activities as the most important elements. The version of the ISO norm dated 2015 changes the definition of prevention activities to activities minimizing risk. It means that when something bad happens it is possible to identify the problem and establish its cause. Next step requires eliminating the cause, followed by checking progress in the allocated time frame. When the same problem appears again the whole process is repeated. In this way we move to a  model of continuous quality improvement, which concerns not only single actions but global processes improving the functioning of the whole manufacturing company.  

How manufacturing software can affect implementation of the Deming cycle?

There are different examples of using manufacturing software in continuous quality improvement models. Read on to find out more. 

1. Common mistakes at the shop floor level

Sometimes the same mistake appears regularly at the production hall ex. the operator of the machine constantly forgets to drill a hole or the final product has rough edges. The complaints follow because the client has to wait. Is there a solution available? The best way to fix this  problem is to identify the cause: whether an operator just forgot about the operation or maybe the task was not a typical one for the product, hence it’s missing.  How can we minimize this mistake and prevent it from happening in the future? In Prodio it is very easy – it is enough to add a photograph to the product. Once the photo is attached the difficult element can be highlighted even in such a simple program as ex. Paint – just draw a line in a bright color to indicate what should be done, together with the comment: “polish the edges”. Next time when an operator starts work on the order automatically the photo of the product will load. The remark regarding polishing or drilling will be visible, so there is much  more chance it won’t be omitted nor forgotten.

There is a similar situation regarding printed production orders. It is possible to write a comment in the product technology and when an operator picks up a printed barcoded order they will see that comment straight away. 

Next stage involves checking if there aren’t the very same complaints regarding ex. rough edges or missing holes. When everything is alright there is no need to make additional changes and the procedure can be closed. 

Other examples of simple corrections and improvements at the shop floor level involve building a database of products accompanied by comments on their production technology. When we focus on adding details once filling technological cards such as: machine parameters, temperatures, working time, it is possible to limit the probability of incorrect information added randomly by a  worker. They won’t be tempted to “invent” things they don’t know, because all required information will be already in the system. When managing production, it is important to be able to allocate resources and track the status of the project. Being able to ensure that work is being done consistently and that steps are not being skipped is essential.

2. Working norms and the Deming cycle

Production scheduling software and the Deming cycle can be used not only in the micro scale of particular complaint but also globally to control production norms, working time and the production technology.

Obviously it is highly recommended to have both precise production technology and technological cards prepared for each product, because it will help to monitor norms and establish good quality and standards. 

In addition a good solution is mapping, because many different production planning models are based on process thinking. That’s why it is important to identify processes happening  in the company as well as on its border – between the suppliers and the clients.  

Each organization has workflows that are unique to the type of data being collected and the type of product being delivered. These workflows can be generalized into a basic production workflow that consists of steps to create a database and capture or load an initial set of data, perform edits to the data, ensure the data is valid and accurate, and produce digital or hard-copy output. Mapping is designed to streamline each of these steps while remaining flexible to adapt to your business rules and workflows.

The main goal of mapping is data visualization. It is important when producing a hard-copy product or serving data over the web. Mapping provides the views and visual specification tools for consistent, repeatable, rule-based symbology, where you define what symbol or representation should be applied to features based on their attribute combination. It also provides a number of custom elements, such as the graphic tables, charts, infographic, that allow you to see clearly the whole workflow and processes.

Mapping process of each operation ex. lathing, drilling or cutting enables to add suitable time for those operations and production technology. Once the order is ready we can schedule it within the right time frame and budget, because the production planning software will calculate it for us. When there are 100 pieces to be made and each operation takes 30 minutes, the program will count the total time needed to complete the order, which in turn will help to create a production master schedule. 

The order is scheduled and workers at the production hall  can now check in with barcoded cards or RFID key-fobs to start work. If they use production planning software such as Prodio each operation is registered in the system, so it is possible to track real time progress. It is also clear how much time was needed for a particular operation. 

Mapping allows us to identify all processes and operations, where we waste time and money, because it is easy to identify potentially dangerous places where mistakes can happen. Once there is a clear view of the situation the weak links can be eliminated and order restored. 

By analyzing working time data we can improve productivity. When it’s clear that the time was exceeded (at production) it is possible to use checking – the third step of the Deming cycle. Let’s say that we planned 50 working hours to complete the order, but in the end there were 65 hours spent, which gives us 15 surplus hours. It is a significant amount of time and a great discrepancy between planned  and real working time. At this stage there can be a few different corrective measures taken, but it is obvious that something has to be changed ex. elements in the production technology. The client pays only for 50 hours, not for 65, so either the norms have to be increased or pricing for the next order.

Once the order repeats it is possible to check if the corrections proved to be successful and production was optimized. It is good to review progress regularly and make adjustments accordingly. Implement what’s working, continually refine what isn’t, and carry on the cycle of continuous improvement. The Demimng cycle is a continuous loop of planning, doing, checking (or studying), and acting. It provides a simple and effective approach for solving problems and managing change. The model is useful for testing improvement measures on a small scale before updating procedures and working practices.

The approach allows time for a planning phase in which problems are clearly identified and understood, and a theory for improvement is defined. Potential solutions are tested on a small scale in the Do phase, and the outcome is then studied and Checked. Sometimes it is necessary to go through the Do and Check stages as many times as necessary before the full, polished solution is implemented, in the Act phase of the cycle.

Another good example of global use of PDCA cycle can be measuring in the form of introducing main production KPIs. There aren’t many manufacturing companies that monitor efficiency and profitability of production processes. The working time spent can be a good example. When the time spent at work is registered in the RWT system (registration of working time) it is possible to say how much time was spent effectively (operation on different machines), not just lazing around. Once we decide that unproductive time should be minimized to 10 percent of the total time spent at work, we can start to monitor it and analyse the results. When production planning software such as Prodio indicates that 20% of time was spent in unproductive way it is possible to start correcting measures. We can identify the cause of the problem and quickly fix it. Analogically similar solutions can be introduced regarding machine breakdown, change over time, bottlenecks or delays thanks to a great number of different production KPIs. In the next article you will learn more about how to use various data from the Prodio system and analyse it.

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