How to improve efficiency in High Mix / Low Volume manufacturing?

How to improve efficiency in High Mix / Low Volume manufacturing?

The demand for adaptable and efficient production methodologies due to the desire for higher customization is constantly growing. For leaders in High Mix / Low Volume (HMLV) manufacturing, like those overseeing the assembly of medical devices in the life science industry, the challenges are manifold. 

Balancing regulatory compliance, workforce fluctuations, and the growing need for decentralized production can feel like walking a tightrope. However, these concerns are not unique to life science. Industries worldwide grapple with similar complexities, searching for resilient, future-proof solutions to remain competitive. 

This article aims to provide strategies for improved High Mix / Low Volume production to satisfy the individual needs of varied sectors. No matter your industry, with our deep insights in automation, you should be equipped to navigate the evolving terrain of modern manufacturing.

HMLV manufacturing & its challenges

From electronics to aerospace components, from fashion items to medical devices, the spectrum of our manufacturing world is vast. Yet, a common challenge that runs through many of these sectors is the increasing shift towards low volume manufacturing. But what exactly is this manufacturing method all about, and why is there a continuous move towards it?

High Mix / Low Volume manufacturing: a definition

HMLV manufacturing refers to scenarios where a wide variety of products is produced in relatively low quantities. Instead of mass-producing a single item, manufacturers are tasked with producing smaller batches of diverse products. This model is especially prevalent in industries that prioritize customization, rapid product changes, or specialized items – such as the assembly of medical devices.

In contrast to high volume manufacturing, where efficiency is derived from repetition and scale, HMLV poses its own set of challenges. The need to frequently switch between product types and adapt to changing customer requirements can be critical. However, this approach also offers flexibility, allowing companies to quickly respond to market demands, reduce inventory costs, and minimize waste.

Challenges in HMLV manufacturing

High Mix / Low Volume manufacturing is not without its hurdles. The looming demographic changes and the resulting shortage of a skilled workforce make reliable labor planning a challenge. Add to this the unpredictable costs associated with human capital and the threat of human errors, and the intricacies of HMLV become even more apparent.

Moreover, in a world that has experienced global crises and embargos, the push for decentralized production is strong. Companies are recognizing the vulnerabilities in centralized manufacturing and are seeking strategies to distribute their production capabilities, ensuring resilience against unforeseen disruptions. The aim for decentralized production is a big opportunity for HMLV manufacturing approaches. However, it comes with the challenge to install an efficient production system in contrast to existing high volume manufacturing sites. 

Yet, with challenges come opportunities. There are strategies that address these challenges and that make your production technology fit for the future.

Strategies for increased efficiency in HMLV manufacturing

Efficient High Mix / Low Volume manufacturing requires a paradigm shift in operational strategies. Traditional mass-production techniques fall short in addressing the unique challenges presented by HMLV. Therefore, to ensure a seamless and efficient production process, a fusion of innovative methodologies and advanced technologies like automation becomes imperative.

Lean manufacturing principles

Lean manufacturing is a philosophy rooted in eliminating waste while ensuring quality. Originating from the Japanese automotive sector, its principles are universally applicable, offering solutions to the unpredictable labor costs and stringent regulatory challenges many industries face.

In the context of HMLV, the lean manufacturing principles include:

  • Waste reduction: By identifying and eliminating non-essential processes or steps, organizations can streamline operations, reducing lead times and costs.
  • Continuous improvement (Kaizen): Encouraging a culture where every employee is invested in routinely refining processes ensures adaptability – a crucial asset in the HMLV environment. Furthermore, modern automation software systems allow a precise analysis to optimize performance. 
  • Value stream mapping: This tool allows manufacturers to visually represent the production flow, identifying bottlenecks and areas for improvement, especially vital when switching between diverse products.

Flexible production systems

The volatility of the global market, the push for decentralized production, and the drive towards manufacturing of personalized goods have underscored the need for flexible production systems. 

One key solution lies in modular production lines. By designing systems that can be swiftly reconfigured, manufacturers equip themselves with the agility to respond to varying product demands. Such a modular approach minimizes downtime between product switches and ensures that the production line remains active and efficient.

Further enhancing flexibility is the practice of adaptive scheduling. By leveraging advanced planning systems and tools, manufacturers can dynamically adjust to disruptions or changing demands. 

However, flexibility is not just about machinery and scheduling; it’s also about people. Decentralized decision-making serves as a catalyst for quick problem resolution. By eliminating bureaucratic delays and fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility among staff, companies can reduce downtimes and boost efficiency.

Automation in High Mix / Low Volume manufacturing

The term “automation” is often deeply rooted with mass production. While automation has undeniably revolutionized mass production, its value is by no means restricted to that domain alone. In High Mix / Low Volume manufacturing, when applied correctly, automation emerges as a game-changer.

HMLV requires a shift in the automation approach. Modular and flexible automation systems are needed to truly harness the potential that HMLV offers. Unlike fixed systems that remain optimized for repetitive tasks, flexible systems can smoothly shift between varied product types. This keeps downtime minimal. 

Furthermore, re-configuring needs to be an easy task, since it is constantly applied. Every employee, regardless of their technical proficiency, should be empowered to make adjustments, ensuring that production never skips a beat.

As a pioneer in this niche, we at ESSERT Robotics have recognized and addressed these very needs, crafting solutions that are tailor-made for HMLV’s unique requirements. 

HMLV automation solutions

With challenges like swift product transitions, reducing downtime, and ensuring consistent quality, how do we elevate efficiency in HMLV manufacturing? ESSERT Robotics provides innovative solutions addressing the specific demands of flexible manufacturing for small batches.

ESSERT MicroFactory: A modular approach

Traditional production systems can sometimes struggle with the unpredictable nature of High Mix / Low Volume production. The ESSERT MicroFactory offers a different approach. This system integrates the ADVANCED Robotic Workstation process modules with conveyor technology. The outcome? A production line that embodies flexibility. 

Embedded within this framework, the ESSERT OS offers centralized control, a recipe database for product switching, data analytics to monitor processes, and a unique “Easy teach-in” feature allowing effortless teaching of new products and robot positions.

Solution for medical device assembly & many more industries

The MicroFactory presents a solution for diverse industries, ranging from electronics to luxury goods and even automotive – whenever there’s a need for heightened flexibility in producing various product variants. 

In the life science sector, there’s a growing demand for future-proof manufacturing solutions. As medicine becomes more personalized, especially in advanced treatments for ailments like cancer, there is a pressing need for efficient manufacturing solutions.

Manufacturing solutions for medical devices need to ensure absolute precision and maintain efficiency, even for minimal quantities, starting from quantity 1. Specializing in precision instruments like syringes, PENs, and auto-injectors, our stainless steel MicroFactory provides rapid, automated transitions between products and absolute precision for the assembly of medical devices in personalized medicine.