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Paring Down to Lean and Efficient? Don't Forget IT

Lean manufacturing efforts can be seriously hampered when a seemingly minor detail is overlooked.

In today's manufacturing universe, cost-effectiveness is a constant battle. Every element from raw goods on up--worker efficiency, eliminating waste of time and material, streamlining processes, and even evaluating and improving supervisory expertise--is undergoing microscopic and expert examination so that companies can remain functional and profitable. The alternatives can be grim, and can include losing partial or complete business to foreign suppliers. But as manufacturers strive to root out all manner of manufacturing waste and redundancy, one important component that can easily be overlooked is computer efficiency.

The Importance of Lean

Lean manufacturing basically means paring down every detail: less human effort, less manufacturing space, less investment in tools, and less engineering time to develop a new product. And such steps have become vital. In promoting its Manufacturing in America campaign, the U.S. Department of Commerce points out, "The competitive pressure on U.S. manufacturers has forced them to cut costs, to adopt lean manufacturing techniques, and to implement quality assurance programs that guarantee zero defects in production. Innovation in products, processes, and services has become a key determinant for success."

Jim Gilbert, a lean manufacturing consultant for California Manufacturing Technology Consulting, describes the importance of lean manufacturing in today's business environment.

"The goal of a business is to make money," he says. "Lean manufacturing is an enabler. The goal of lean manufacturing is to produce to demand, and by continuing to focus on producing to demand, a number of wastes will become evident. Through the reduction of these wastes, we become more efficient. At the end of the day, it enables us to allocate our resources more effectively and it will systematically create more profits for the organization."

Just how effective can lean manufacturing be? Gilbert cites an outstanding example.

"With one company that I and another CMTC consultant directly worked with, a group of 12 people were producing 735 units in an 8-hour shift," he relates. "When we finished, a group of five people were producing 2,125 units per shift, and bragging about how much easier their jobs were. Not only were they getting more units, but their cost-per-unit was reduced, so the profit per part went up and the quantity of parts went up."

The great part is that they were able to provide this efficiency increase without cutting jobs. "Additionally, we were able to shrink the footprint to about 50% of what the shop configuration was, and this allowed them to bring a new product line in," said Gilbert. "The seven people they didn't need for the first item were now able to work on a new product and created a situation where the only out-of-pocket cost for the new product was the incremental cost of materials."

"If you do lean right, as you identify these wastes and eliminate them, you create capacity," Gilbert concludes. "The waste elimination in and of itself is a small part, maybe a negligible part, but it does allow the organization to sell that capacity and gain those kinds of economies. It's really a way of growing your business." 

The Importance of Computer Efficiency

Baldwin Filters, a Kearney, Nebraska-based manufacturer of air, oil, fuel, and hydraulic filters primarily for industrial vehicles, is currently ramping up an OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) program, and knows just how important computer efficiency is in maintaining cost-effective operations.

"Computing systems are very instrumental in the manufacturing process," says Eric Carel, network systems supervisor for Baldwin Filters. "We support a large amount of equipment on the shop floor directly in our network environment. This includes a lot of automated production control equipment, inspection equipment, and supporting systems, such as wireless RF systems which support our distribution and receiving operations." 

All of Baldwin's 52 server computers and approximately 400 workstation computers are based in Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 operating system. They are also running a database system based in SQL Server 2005 and SQL Reports.

Because every second of production counts, especially with such a high number of computer operations, file fragmentation can be a serious barrier to increasing efficiency. File fragmentation--the splitting of files into tens, hundreds, or even thousands of fragments--is a fact of life on today's computer hard drives, developed to fully utilize disk space. The downside is that accessing a file in multiple fragments adds considerable time to both employee work and automated processes.

Like many manufacturers, Baldwin Filters has long since discovered that fragmentation needs to be countered. And also like many, Baldwin originally installed a scheduled defragmentation system site-wide, which would allow the company to schedule defragmentation when the least number of users were on their systems. This took care of the fragmentation performance problem--but at somewhat of a price.

"Scheduled defragmentation was a headache to manage; on-demand defragmentation interrupted users until completed. And those left with fragmented hard drives had to deal with sub-par system performance," Carel says.

This year, however, Carel and his team discovered new defragmentation technology that is able to defragment without scheduling, in real-time, invisibly, in the background, and with no effect on computer users. The new technology, called InvisiTasking™, was developed by Diskeeper Corporation (www.diskeeper.com) and uses only idle system resources to run. As a result, defragmentation is occurring on the fly when system usage is low, and performance remains consistent. It was a great find for Carel.

"Given the sheer number of computers and operations that must be managed with limited staff, having an automated low-maintenance environment is key," he says. Carel reports that now there is no need for the "micro-managing" of fragmented systems, and they now require no maintenance.

Another feature that Carel finds very useful is called I-FAAST (Intelligent File Access Acceleration Sequencing Technology). This feature boosts access to files that are frequently accessed, and Carel and his staff utilize it to increase the performance of their disk-to-disk backup operations.

Lean and efficient manufacturing methods are vital in today's highly competitive market. When implementing them, however, don't overlook the efficiency of your computers and the primary barrier, file fragmentation.

About Diskeeper Corporation

Diskeeper Corporation, originally named Executive Software, was founded in 1981 by Craig Jensen. The Burbank, California-based company has sold more than 29 million licenses of its Diskeeper® defragmentation software, helping businesses and home users to achieve high-speed, reliable performance with Windows-based laptops, desktops, and servers.

In addition to disk defragmentation software, Diskeeper provides data protection and instant recovery of deleted files through its Undelete® file protection software. According to the company, Undelete replaces the Windows® recycle bin with a catch-all Recovery BinTM that reportedly intercepts all deleted files, regardless of how they were deleted or who deleted them.

For more information about comprehensive disk defragmentation, contact Diskeeper Corporation, 7590 North Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank, CA 91504; Phone: (818) 771-1600; Fax: (818)252-5514; E-mail: sales@diskeeper.com; www.diskeeper.com.

For more on Baldwin Filters, visit www.baldwinfilter.com.

Bruce Boyers is a freelance writer based in Glendale, California.  

The Problem of Disk Fragmentation

Disk fragmentation occurs when a file is broken up into pieces to fit on the disk. Because files are constantly being written, deleted, and resized, fragmentation is a natural occurrence. When a file is spread out over several locations, it takes longer to read and write. But the effects of fragmentation are far more widespread: Slow performance, long boot-times, random crashes and freeze-ups--even a complete inability to boot up at all. Although many users blame these problems on the operating systems, disk fragmentation is often the real culprit.

Source: Diskeeper Corporation (www.diskeeper.com/products/documentation/documentation.asp

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