Flexible production processes, shorter lead times and dedicated employees. These are just a few of the many advantages of implementing Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) as a growth strategy in a high mix low volume production company. Provan, a metalworking company located in Genk (BE), experienced these advantages as well. They have emerged as a true QRM leader over the years. That is why the QRM4.0 project organized a company visit at their factory. As such, other companies got the opportunity to learn about the potential of QRM and to become inspired by Provan’s story.
Before Provan changed it course towards QRM, the company had to deal with several issues: delivery times were often not met, the production process wasn’t flexible enough and orders were often placed in small series, which Provan wasn’t used to. As a consequence, Provan’s competitive position was compromised. It became clear that the traditional way of producing no longer sufficed to stay relevant in the market.
For this reason, Provan launched an internal workgroup to shorten lead times by rethinking the production process. One project was chosen to test alternative production methods: the production of complex stoves. Finding the appropriate solution was an intense learning process with ups and downs, as will follow.
A first solution consisted of producing the stoves in relatively large batches (of 60 pieces). This worked well, until the client asked to produce two other types of stoves, next to the existing one. First of all, there was not enough space on the shopfloor to store the stock needed for production. Furthermore, adjustments of the product were only possible after building up quite some work in progress (WIP). Moreover, it was difficult to manage product changes on the shop floor.
Another way of thinking was required: the QRM way. Implementing QRM means shifting focus from ‘reducing costs’ to ‘reducing time’. A QRM cell, which was solely dedicated to producing stoves, was
installed on the shopfloor. In such a QRM cell, machines needed for the production of stoves were physically brought together. This eliminated waiting times and shortened production lead times. Further, it was also decided to work in smaller batches (of 15 pieces) and to only produce to order. Another important decision was to make machine-operators responsible for the workflow within the QRM cell. In addition, visual aids were used to create an overview of the QRM cell. For instance, colored flags were used to indicate which next steps should be taken and in which order.
The results of this production method were promising:
– The workflow within the cell was completely self-directed. Employees were cross-trained, which means that they were able to perform different tasks within the cell. Because of this, they felt more involved.
– Lead times were drastically reduced.
– More flexibility: products could be easily and quickly adapted.
– Less stock was needed.
– Because of visual aids, the cell remained organized.
The next challenge consisted of switching the rest of the organization to the QRM production method. Apart from reorganizing the shopfloor and training employees, digital tools were also used to support this transformation. All kinds of digital systems, such as planning, digital work instructions, administration etc., were integrated into the organization. As a result, the organization has a full digital overview of what should be produced next, of the products’ status, of how a product has to be made … In short, all information that one needs, is available the moment it is needed.
Each of these decisions was made based on the principle that it should be good for the organization, the employees or the customers. By implementing QRM, employees are trained to take care of different activities. In addition, they become responsible for the production within a cell. This creates more engaged and dedicated employees. Provan also tries to get customers as involved as possible in the QRM idea, to make good agreements and to build long-term relationships with them.
Provan introduced QRM to the organization in 2012, and it was followed by a digital transformation over the years. The result of this transformation is that Provan obtains a strong competitive position in its market and has been able to grow strongly by focusing on QRM