Large machines and processes that can’t be moved or relocated in the factory exist in many operations. And while these may typically be considered “shared resources,” it’s important to understand if they truly are since shared resources present many unique challenges.
Shared Resources Defined
To identify shared resources, it’s best to start with a clear definition, which is: a process that produces parts for multiple product families. A product family is a group of products that go through similar downstream processes or “assembly” steps.
Shared resources are usually found in one of three situations:
- Parts Producing Departments: These locations, such as a stamping area or a machining area, are sometimes called feeder cells. These processes are typically, but not always, the first steps in an operation and are responsible for supplying parts to the rest of the operation.
- Stand-alone Machine Shops or Job Shops: In these shops, the business model is to sell the capability and capacity of their processes. An operation may make a part once, and then never see it again. Within larger manufacturing operations, there might be a small section of the shop that functions like this.
- Monuments: Monuments are defined as any process that prohibits an operation from creating continuous flow for a variety of reasons, including its large size, fixed location, or excessive cost to duplicate, among others. Examples of monuments are heat treat furnaces, autoclaves, and stamping presses.
Shared resources can be found at many places in an operation. In fact, in complex operations such as those found in aerospace or precision machining, they could be the first, fifth, and last process – or anywhere and everywhere in between. While the number of shared resources will vary depending on the business, the challenges they present are always the same.
The Challenges of Shared Resources
Shared resources present unique challenges both in the operation and an organization’s culture. Some of the most common business issues that arise include:
• Multiple managers and supervisors placing demands on the shared resources available
• Long and complex changeovers
• A lack of a guaranteed turnaround time, or the inability to predict how long it will take to get a part back from the shared resource, since many different inputs compete for the resource’s time and priority
• Uncontrolled Inventory and, often, the wrong inventory to satisfy customer demand
In addition, one of the biggest cultural challenges of a shared resource is that many different managers and supervisors need it for different products. When employees compete for time, wielding their influence or power, it can cause frequent reprioritization. Sometimes, operators even tear down setups before a part’s been run, which can impact morale. This competition can also lead to confusion among operators at the shared resource about what they need to make next as well as frustration stemming from last-minute scheduling changes.
Strategies for Success
Since shared resources can affect the overall success of the business, it’s important to be able to identify them so an operation can apply techniques like supermarket pull systems to address their inherent challenges.