By Paige Sherriff, Project Manager at the eThekwini Furniture Cluster (EFC)
In the first months of 2022, I’ve found myself having the same debate on three different occasions with furniture manufacturers. The starting point for all these conversations has been that “it doesn’t make sense to break up order batch sizes to smaller batches”.
In theory, it’s intuitive to put an order through a factory and batch that entire order. It would mean that the whole order moves through the factory together, is ready to ship together, and employees always have a pile of work to do. Fifty unit orders come in together, and 50 unit orders go out together.
Efficient and on time, right?
Pushing through large batches requires bulk buying and inventory management. When materials are bought in bulk to get discounts, they must be stored. In addition, when the large batch order is complete, it too must be stored. With these inventories comes a great deal of cost.
Large batches limit your ability to meet customer demand through flexibility. It isn’t a problem if your company makes one or two products.
However, it is an issue if you need to make different products. Suppose a customer wants product A, but you only produce it once every other week. You will not meet their needs unless you have the product in stock.
It also causes problems on the shop floor. The waiting time between batch processes is long, and workpieces pile up before and after each machine or process. The batches take up lots of space and get in the way, making it easy to bump into and damage components. It is also a safety hazard.
What if I told you that making your batch sizes smaller is more efficient?
What if you could speed up your throughput while reducing quality issues and inventory?
Batch size one
Is a batch of 25 more palatable? How about pushing it even further? What if I suggest implementing a single batch flow through the factory? Try splitting your batch of 50 into a batch of one. This production method is known as “single unit flow” or “batch size one”.
Factories using the single unit flow system have less work in progress, less clutter, fewer quality issues and faster order turnaround time. It is a flexible system for all business sizes, no matter how automated they are.
The key to effectively producing in smaller batches lies in adopting lean manufacturing principles and reducing the set-up time of your operation. Spend time with your employees brainstorming and problem-solving to reduce your set-up time, improve production efficiencies, and be more flexible.
Don’t believe me?
Speak to Ian Perry of Homewood.
Homewood tests the system
Ian, the owner and MD of Homewood, tested the system.
Ian is an eThekwini Furniture Cluster (EFC) member and winner of the Department of Trade, Industry & Competition (DTIC) 2020 furniture design competition. Through linkages facilitated by EFC, Homewood supplies the national retailer, Mr Price Home, with an exclusive range of locally designed and made furniture.
The factory is in Lidgetton, a town in rural KwaZulu-Natal. It manufactures custom-designed hand-made furniture pieces and smaller products from mainly locally sourced wood. “We firmly believe in creating job opportunities in the local community and upskilling people,” says Ian.
He and his team members, including production manager Wes Harrison, factory supervisor Roslyn Nyabeze, dispatch manager Nicolette Luthuli, and showroom manager Neonita Mohanlal, recently participated in productivity improvement programmes on lean manufacturing organised by the EFC. They attended skills programmes like the Executive Leadership Development Programme (ELDP) and Team Leader Development Programme (TLDP).
“Homewood implemented basic lean manufacturing principles and achieved 10-20% productivity improvement in just two months. “The lean manufacturing principles are making a huge difference and will continue to make us more productive,” states Ian.
Paige Sheriff is the eThekwini Furniture Cluster (EFC) project manager and a member of B&M Analysts.