Study Reveals Keys to Lead-Time Reduction in Manufacturing

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Fourteen Midwest firms are learning valuable lessons on how they can reduce lead time by 75-95 percent while improving product quality and reducing costs, thanks to part one of a recent study conducted by the College of Engineering’s Center for Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM).

A primary finding was that while companies were concerned with lead time, few were measuring it, and even fewer were taking into account major lead time components such as queue time, scheduled and unscheduled downtime, order processing and setup time. In most cases, only run time and change time were measured, factors that make up less than 10 percent of lead time. After examining the systems in terms of lead time, improvement opportunities were discovered at each participating plant, according to Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor Rajan Suri, director of the CQRM.

A second key finding was that work cells play a significant role in reducing lead time for both shop floor and office operations. Cellular manufacturing involves producing a family of products with similar manufacturing operations in a “cell” consisting of all the necessary machines, along with multi-skilled workers. At nine of the firms studied, it was found that a cellular production system could slice lead time by as much as 80 percent, in addition to providing such benefits as reducing scrap rates. Another benefit of cellular manufacturing, according to Suri, is increased job satisfaction due to more responsibilities, teamwork and task variety.

Papermaking machine

Professor Rajan Suri, center, is shown with representatives of the Beloit Corporation which achieved a 30 percent lead-time reduction while working with the college’s Center for Quick Response Manufacturing. (large image)

In a third area, the study found that a firm commitment by top management is integral to reducing lead time. This includes a willingness to invest in training, education and production capacity, and to give employees responsibility and authority, said Suri.

The study was funded by a three-year grant from the Wisconsin Industrial and Economic Development Research Program and by contributions from the participating companies. In November, approximately 150 industrial representatives gathered on campus to hear the results of the study’s first phase.

In addition to Suri, four other UW-Madison faculty members and their students participated in the landmark investigation: Urban Wemmerlov, business professor and director of the Joyce Erdman Center for Manufacturing and Technology Management; Franklin J. Rath, program director for Engineering Professional Development; and Assistant Professors Rajit Gadh (Mechanical Engineering) and Dharmaraj (“Raj”) Veeramani (Industrial and Systems Engineering).

The firms studied were ABB Flexible Automation, Inc., ALKAR, Beloit Corp., Deltrol Controls, Ingersoll Cutting Tool Corp., Marathon Electric, Microelectronic Modules Corp., Pensar Corp., Phillips Plastics, Inc., Printing Developments, Inc., Research Products Corp., Vogel Wood Products Corp., Wilson-Hurd, and Worzalla Publishing.

More information on this study and other related issues is available from the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing: phone – 608/262-4709, fax: 608/265-4017, e-mail: