In manufacturing, productivity and efficiency are everything. The more you improve in these areas, the better your output will be. However, if your business is like most, you’re looking for clarity on the specific steps to take. The question is, how and where do you start?

Try These 5 Productivity-Boosting Tips

Before we dig into some of the specific ways you can increase productivity, let’s get clear on what it actually means to be productive.

“How good is your company at taking a pile of raw materials, a bunch of machines, stacks of paperwork, and groups of employees, and turning out useful goods or services? That’s what a productivity index should address,” W. Bruce Chew wrote for Harvard Business Review many years ago. “It is, as much as possible, a relationship between physical inputs and outputs.”

Chew’s definition of productivity, which has been used for many decades, looks like this:

Productivity = Units of Output/Units of Inputs

In other words, what are you doing with what you’ve got?

So the desire to increase productivity is always predicated on the inputs you have available to you. And keeping this in mind, here are some specific ways you can give your numbers a boost:

1. Set Strategic Goals

Goal setting is, unfortunately, a lazy practice for many businesses. They set goals because they know they should, but very little thought goes into setting the right goals – ones that nurture improvement.

As you set productivity and output goals, gather your team and identify the key bottlenecks that are holding you back. Give them each a dollar value and priority ranking. Now coalesce your goals around these points of friction.

2. Collect and Analyze the Right Data

Goal setting is just the beginning. You also need to carefully consider how you’re moving toward these goals. Objective metrics only, please!

To get the right data, set the appropriate key performance indicators (KPIs). Some good manufacturing KPIs include throughput, cycle time, demand forecasting, inventory turns, production attainment, cash to cash cycle time, etc.

Every KPI or metric that you track should have a very distinct purpose attached to it. Anything else is just outside noise that will detract from the pursuit of your strategic goals.

3. Improve Employee Engagement 

While you need to take an objective/analytical perspective with data, not everything is black and white. You have to remember that you’re dealing with people. And when you’re dealing with people, there’s a softer side of things.

Process efficiency – and ultimately output – suffers if employees don’t feel like their work is meaningful. They need to be engaged in order to produce the sort of results you’re expecting out of them.

Work on improving employee engagement by increasing collaboration, providing more relevant training, and giving employees more freedoms and flexibility.

4. Invest in Preventative Maintenance

Nothing will kill productivity quite like manufacturing equipment breakdowns. In some cases, downtime can cost thousands of dollars per minute. (At the very least, it’s frustrating and disruptive.)

One of the best ways to avoid unforeseen equipment malfunctions and breakdowns is to invest in a preventative maintenance plan that addresses common problem areas before the fact.

Preventative maintenance can feel like a waste of time and money in the moment, but track the data over the course of a year and you’ll see that you truly are saving significant amounts of money (both in terms of repairs and downtime avoided).

5. Automate When Possible

Okay, let’s talk automation.

The more you can increase automation in areas that don’t require a human touch, the better your output will be.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is something to look into. It involves the use of software to automate tasks that are traditionally completed manually. It prevents much of the repetition that sucks up man-hours.

Not only does RPA reduce costs, but it also frees up employees to focus their time and energy on more productive tasks. The result is dramatically improved output across the board.

Do More With Less!

At the end of the day, maximizing productivity is about being resourceful, strategic, and purposeful. And hopefully this article has supplied you with some keen insights on how you can move the needle in a positive direction. Good luck!

Jenna Cyprus is a freelance writer from Renton, WA who is particularly interested in travel, nature, and parenting. Follow her on Twitter.

Manufacturing stock photo by Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock