Process Simulation

Written by Elisabeth Forsythe
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The world is changing. When the Industrial Revolution dawned in the late 1800s, new ideas like the assembly line turned traditional craftsmanship on its ear. Today, the face of production and manufacturing is constantly evolving. Methodologies like Lean Implementation, Six Sigma, and Just in Time are enabling companies to create a new revolution of efficient, fast production lines with fewer defects. Many use process simulation to help streamline their operations.

Using process simulation software, companies can create sophisticated models of their business practices. They enter in crucial data to create a virtual copy that looks, moves, and works like their company. Many types of software employ 3-D graphics and animation to create realistic displays. These models can provide the real-time feedback and statistics company leaders need. What is their production rate? How well are their resources being utilized? They can then experiment with new processes, and see the projected results.

If you feel your production lines aren't moving as fast as you'd like, the problem may not lie in your equipment or your employees. Instead, it may be your processes that are to blame. In small and midsize factories, studies show that 60 percent of their processes add no value to the finished product. That means more than half of your day could be devoted to wasteful activities that can keep your from realizing your full potential. Simulations allow you to map out your "value stream"--all the actions that take raw materials and assemble them into products, which are then delivered to your customers.

Create Lean Implementation with Process Simulation

Defining and eliminating waste is the main idea behind Lean Implementation. The Toyota Motor Corporation of Japan pioneered Lean Implementation in the 1950s, and did what no one expected--an unknown company with next to no inventory space became one of the largest and most successful car companies in the world. Oh, what a feeling! With Lean Implementation, you study your value stream and ask yourself, "Would a customer pay for this?" If the answer is no, the process is wasteful, and should be jettisoned.

One of the most influential movements implemented by Toyota Production Systems is Just in Time. Traditional manufacturing giants kept huge inventories in stock--"just in case" demand spiked. But in Japan, land is scarce and extremely expensive. Japanese corporations simply couldn't maintain large warehouses. So they started keeping only one or two parts of each kind in stock. When these parts were taken off the shelves, new parts were ordered to arrive "just in time." This not only saved them money on inventory costs, but their suppliers had to apply strict quality controls, as each part had to work perfectly.

To notify employees and suppliers that new parts needed to be ordered, the Japanese used the Kanban system. "Kanban" means "visible record" in Japanese. Every part had a Kanban card with that part's information on it. When said part was removed, the card was placed in a bin. Then bins were emptied, and new shipments ordered. Today, businesses like supermarkets use the Kanban system. After all, many of their items are perishable, and it isn't practical for them to keep a large number of them on hand. But instead of Kanban cards, they use the latest technology in the form of scanners. These little electronic wonders do more than total up your purchases--they send a signal to suppliers when it's time to send more macaroni and cheese.

Sensational Six Sigma Systems

One major area of waste for many companies are defects. They cost time and money: businesses have to go back and repair or remake products. It can also cost them their reputations: if they have a history of defective products, their customers may stop buying. That's why Six Sigma is so revolutionary. The goal of Six Sigma is to have any product failures occur beyond the sixth step of standard deviation. What does that mean in English? Your company could theoretically design processes that will result in fewer than 3.4 defects per one million. Guess what can help you create these processes? The answer is process simulation.

Whether you want to identify current problems within your system, experiment with new processes, or revise the procedures you already utilize, process simulation can be a great tool. Process simulation is also a handy way to create presentations for investors or shareholders, or train new employees. Seeing is believing--if you truly want to know how your business is functioning, process simulation can help.


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