Like all manufacturers, VRR is always looking for ways to compete more effectively in a rapidly changing manufacturing world. These days, customers are demanding more customized products but are less prepared to wait around for the design and engineering process.
It was clear that we needed to enhance customer satisfaction by delivering our unique products much more quickly. But how could we do that without compromising our profitability or our high standards? The solution was Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM).
What is QRM?
In 2016, after much research and planning, we rolled out the QRM strategy across the entire company. One of the best definitions of QRM comes from the Centre for Quick Response Manufacturing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:
“QRM is a companywide strategy to cut lead times in all phases of manufacturing and office operations.”
It’s an ideal strategy for companies like VRR that offer high-mix, low-volume and custom-engineered products.
A QRM strategy comprises four core concepts:
- The power of time:
Traditionally, manufacturing firms focus on scale and cost management strategies resulting in a high degree of labour specialisation and hierarchical department structures. QRM shows why this traditional setup has negative effects on lead times and generates many hidden costs.
- Organisational structure:
QRM provides principles and tools to create cells in high-mix, low-volume, customised environments. They are designed around a Focused Target Market Segment — a segment of the market where shorter lead times provide the company with maximum benefits. They apply on the shop floor and in the office.
- System dynamics:
CRM's cellular structure is complemented by a thorough understanding of system dynamics specifically tailored for high-mix environments. Application of common system dynamics principles leads to improved capacity planning and optimised batch sizes to achieve short lead times.
- Enterprise wide application:
QRM applies time-based management principles to all parts of the organisation including office operations, material planning, production control, supply chain, and new product introduction.
Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison
QRM's focus on time
Reducing internal and external lead times lies at the heart of QRM. We set about decreasing or eliminating unnecessary waiting times (non-value-added time) not just on the factory floor but across the company, from the design office to the accounts office. The focused on areas such as cutting inventory levels, improving the efficiency of the supply chain, redesigning the work flow of shop floor cells, and utilising spare capacity.
Adopting a QRM mindset
Similar to other strategies such as Lean Manufacturing, Total Quality Management and Six Sigma, implementing QRM needs every single employee to embrace its time-based principles. VRR received training to first understand the disadvantages of long lead times and then identify all time-wasting operations in their own domains. Fortunately, everyone at VRR was prepared to come on board, and the company was soon making a list of all the changes that needed to take place.
Tangible results already produced
Implementing the QRM strategy across VRR took about 6 months, and we’re extremely happy with the results. We’re seeing not only shorter lead times and improved customer satisfaction but also increased profitability. Of course, we know we can’t rest on our laurels. QRM requires an ongoing effort to address lead time issues, in addition to our other continuous improvement endeavours. But we’re convinced that QRM has already made a big difference to the company and to our customers.
We want to remain competitive in the market so we had to be able to deliver orders speedily at the correct specifications and price. That is the strength of the QRM strategy.