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The Journey from Process Improvement to Continuous Improvement

Smart Manufacturing, Manufacturing Intelligence
November 20, 2023

Improving production processes is a priority for every manufacturer. For decades, companies have devoted enormous resources in the form of teams, training, and methods to focus on processes and make them more efficient and profitable.

However, continuous improvement and process improvement are not the same thing. And despite the difference, it is how data is collected and utilized that impacts the effectiveness and longevity of each.

Process Improvement vs. Continuous Improvement

Process improvement can take many forms. It is essentially a project management methodology that can be applied through manufacturing teams to focus on a specific action or set of actions. It is purpose-driven and often confined to that specific process or set of processes to improve efficiency, quality, cost, or other variables.

Continuous improvement is a more holistic approach often used by advanced improvement methodologies in Lean and Six Sigma. It seeks to systemize improvement processes across the manufacturing environment and extend them to all facets of production.

Manual Data – The Speed Bump to Improvement

While continuous improvement is a lofty goal, and many have successfully achieved it, keeping it is another matter. Some companies use the term continuous improvement loosely, as if undertaking the project and realizing initial success is the end.

This is where manual data acts as a speed bump to continuous improvement. Many find that once the project is underway, maintaining success becomes increasingly difficult the more manual a company’s data strategy is.

Manual data used in continuous improvement efforts is:

  1. Slow – Manual data and analysis will always be time-lagged. This means that many events that would be useful for analysis for  improvement will have passed or insights made murky by the time they are compiled.
  2. Error-Prone – Manually compiled data is inherently error-prone. Transposed numbers, omitted data, bias, and other factors mean that what improvement teams are looking at may not reflect the real picture.
  3. Shallow – Humans can only track, process, and analyze a certain amount of data manually. This means that deeper insights and trends that may help identify the root cause are left undiscovered.

In the end, manual data means that changed processes may drift and the system becomes burdensome to manage, making continuous improvement not so continuous after all.

How Automation and Software Remove Barriers to Improvement

There have been many companies that have undergone a lean transformation and achieved immense success in improvement. Other companies undertake improvement out of necessity or as the availability of resources and staff ebbs and flows.

Regardless of where a company is in its improvement strategy, the slow, error-prone, and shallow analytical value variables will always act as barriers if its efforts are manual. The path to true continuous improvement is through automation and software.

An advanced automation and software platform from Plex can provide real-time digital tools and analysis to overcome these barriers. Plex MES Automation and Orchestration helps control information flow and deliver actionable insight so your improvement teams can respond immediately to what is happening now.

Because data is harnessed in real time, there is no lag. Analysis will help your teams get to the root cause faster. Human error is also eliminated because data is collected directly from production and other processes through automation. And because Plex uses advanced analytics, it empowers teams with more granular insight to identify trends and patterns for improvement that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

With digital collection and analysis of production data, companies can be strategic about their improvement process. They can quickly identify issues and focus on the ones that deliver the greatest returns first. As improvements are made, these changes are systemized and immediately available across the enterprise, making improvements truly continuous without the chance of process drift inherent in manual data analysis.

The Next Chapter of Continuous Improvement

Digital transformation through automation will deliver many benefits. Importantly, it opens up a new strategic era of improvement that allows companies to leverage their data so that improved processes stay that way and lead to even deeper insights. With the right software and strategies, you too can supercharge your production efficiency, gain control over your data and processes, and create an agile environment for your improvement teams to realize unprecedented success.

To see a real-world example of how Plex MES Automation and Orchestration helps manufacturers harness the power of data and unlock continuous improvement, read this case study.

About the Author

Plex Team