Plan. Prepare. Produce.
Prior planning is the most important aspect of adding new machinery to an existing production line, and it begins before the new equipment makes the first part, or is even delivered. The planning stage involves correctly identifying the need by evaluating the entire line. To accurately determine what part of the process needs to improve some of the questions you'll need to ask are:
- Are all the machines in the production line performing to specifications?
- Is the line running at full capacity?
- Does a particular process create a bottleneck or quality issue?
In many instances, it's helpful to involve potential vendors early in the planning process to get a “fresh” view of the issues that you're having. Collaboration and partnerships with companies that design and build the machinery you need to produce your products and generate a profit are an invaluable resource when used properly.
Look for a competent supplier that has a good understanding of your company's manufacturing culture. They should have an intimate understanding of what has worked for others in your field and work with you to find a solution to your problem—as opposed to just selling a machine to fill a hole in your factory floor.
Now that you've identified the need and selected your machinery partner, you must prepare your plant and personnel for the arrival of the machinery. For most fabricators this process starts in the office.
Due to the technology present on most machines, this could mean involving your company's IT department to make any necessary changes to manufacturing software or preparing network connections for file sharing. In the plant, you'll want to be sure enough space is cleared and cleaned and verify that the required utilities—electrical power, compressed air, water, etc.—are available and ready for the installation.
Once the plant is prepared, you'll need to prepare your plant personnel. Most suppliers offer to do an acceptance or run-off of the machinery in their facility prior to shipping. This environment is a great opportunity to involve key production personnel as well as engineering and maintenance staff because it gives them an opportunity to focus on the new machinery without the typical in-plant distractions. This is also an excellent time to expose key people to alternative processes and methodologies that they seldom get to see.
Finally, take this time as an opportunity to work with the vendor to develop any recommended spare parts lists and maintenance schedules so you'll have the parts you need on hand (especially consumable items) from the first day the machine is in production.
The machinery has been delivered and installed. Your production personnel have been trained by your chosen vendor in the proper operation and the maintenance staff has been instructed in the care of the machinery. Spare parts and consumable items are in the storeroom ready to be used. Everyone involved with the project should be fully invested in making sure the new machinery is a resounding success. If all the steps have been followed, you'll be well on your way to improving your process.
If things don't go as planned, it's important to look for the cause and work with your vendor to correct it, keeping in mind that the ultimate goal was process and product improvement. If you've truly formed a partnership with the vendor, they'll be more than willing to work with you to help achieve your goals.