Friday, August 29, 2014

Work Method Study

Optimizing Processes, Identifying Hazards, Increasing Output

Value of Work Method Study

Sometime back I was watching a random episode of MasterChef Junior on TV. By the end of the episode, I was amazed at how good many of the children were in the kitchen and the variety they could get on the plate within the stipulated time. I followed the show for the rest of the season and gathered some very basic yet interesting application of work method optimization from the children. They knew how to prioritize the steps and work towards convergence of multiple related and unrelated work elements while moving around the kitchen. The girl who had won the show said that she learnt by watching her grandmother work in the kitchen and gathered intelligent tips from her not only about food but the processes too.
Though work method study is taught in management schools as part of operations management, many of us do not use its benefits to our advantage. There are studies on improving resource utilization, waste reduction and value creation but seldom do they touch upon the depths of work method study as a long – term sustainable source for saving costs. Many decisions of capacity planning, technology selection and improvements can be done effectively by first conducting a thorough work method study (WMS). In the current context where businesses operate with steadily rising costs of inputs, labor challenges, global competition with fast diminishing margins; small businesses must focus on WMS as a source of serious improvement.
Basically WMS is nothing but calculating the time taken by an average worker to perform a particular task under a reasonably normal work environment and available resources. WMS has two aspects – motion study and time measurement.
Once I was taken around a small scale garment manufacturing company which is into outsourced job of stitching pair of men’s and women’s trousers for a well known Indian brand. The manager explained that the entire layout has been changed thrice to identify the most effective flow of material and process. He said that the number of machines has been installed after conducting a detailed walk through of the process and time required at each workstation. This was further analyzed with historical orders, projected future orders, overheads, operational cost and working hours of workmen. The production in-charge further added that, “we also factored in the time difference required for men’s and women’s trousers as the designs and cut are different.” 

WMS has maximum relevance in the manufacturing process though its benefits can be extended to the service industry too. Fixed processes, repetitive tasks like automobile, pharmaceuticals, banking to a certain extent, even airport luggage clearance area, ticket counters, number of billing counters in large retail outlets or serving coffee in a coffee shop are work methods which can be improved using detailed data of motion and time. Tata Trent, the owners of Star Bazaar are said to have conducted detailed study of the flow at the billing area before arriving at the number of counters at inception.
The premise of WMS is increasing the productivity and output of machine and men. Cutting wasteful motion and processes help in the efficiency improvement. Often with slight change in existing technology gives proportionately higher returns. Another strategic benefit of WMS is identification of risks and hazards in the workplace and options to address them. OHSAS might not be mandatory for your business but while conducting WMS, you can prepare your business processes and systems for becoming compliant in the future. Thus, with smart application multiple goals can be achieved through this single exercise.

Conducting the Study

WMS is fairly easy but requires patience and good understanding of the business, processes, product, technology and the costs. For analyzing any system, first study the motion and then the time for each work element and human movement or action. The ultimate objective is to produce the same item with less resources performing lesser amount of work. 

Step 1 – The person conducting the study should walk through the entire process without trying to intervene. The only question should be to ask why a certain activity is being done. One can also record the process using a video camera and record the time taken. Also record the activity, number of people involved at each stage, seating arrangement, layout of machinery, tools and tackles etc.
tep 2 – Chart the entire process and motion using a process flow chart. What is the purpose of the activity? What is its cycle time? Mark the time spent for search, find, grasp, position, operation, wait, delay, check and move. There are statistical data available for average walking speed, stride length etc if you intend to go down to further details. Use multiple colors in the process flow chart to mark man, machine and material movement.

Step 3 – Document the process by dividing it into parts. Start recording the individual work element using a stopwatch. You can take multiple readings of different people to establish average time. This will help establish data on time wasted due to unnecessary motion or repetitive movements.

Step 4 – The objective of WMS should be to eliminate, combine or simplify activities. Implement basic 5S arrangement for faster access, better lighting systems and ventilation which affects human output. Suggest alternate processes by simplifying them or automating processes to reduce human error. Focus on the economics – savings of cost in the long run, availability and use of technology to implement the change, constraint of existing machines to bring about efficiency gains and the human aspect – reaction to the change and impact of normal working conditions.

How WMS helps Micro and Small Businesses

My production manager always says that I must understand three things while quoting rates of corrugated cartons to our clients – clients’ carton design, our machine capability and the time taken to manufacture the carton based on number of processes and movements that should be done. Today I appreciate his wisdom more than ever.  
·         WMS helps us plan factory layout, installation of safety equipments, inventory levels, production scheduling and the daily production plan. All these affect quality of the product and timeliness of delivery.
·         One can decide whether to add machines or people as it will affect the cost of production, margins and selling price. Or maybe decide to simply increase the shifts.
·         Output of each machine and man will help decide the incentive plan for workers and staff. You can balance man – machine utilization. Measure the performance and negotiate targets with worker (or union). WMS can be a great tool to bargain for competitive wages.
·         Long term advantage of WMS is rejuvenating the business processes. We sometimes go for the latest technology to improve. Maybe all we needed is to improve the skill level of the staff. Or tweak a few steps.
WMS gives lot of benefits to all sizes of businesses. There is ample scope for research on WMS for industries belonging to the small scale sector to plan capacities, machinery, workflow as well as labor to become competitive and more efficient without additional cost.

This cartoon says it all!