Help, our productivity growth is going down! Another four tips to boost your productivity (part 16)

13 April 2021
Pascal Pollet

Belgium is the fourth most productive country in the world, but our productivity growth has been sputtering. In this series, we present some practical tips that can easily boost productivity in the office and on the shop floor.

In the first part of this series, we discussed the productivity of Belgian companies. Productivity growth in our country has been substandard in recent years. A recent study by Agoria once again shows how lousy the situation really is. Productivity growth in the period 2016-2019 was only 0.07%. At this rate, it will take another thousand years before our prosperity doubles again! This is worse than our three main trading partners (Germany, France and the Netherlands), who achieved a productivity growth of 0.4%. In comparison: in the period 2000-2010, Belgium achieved a productivity growth of 0.82%, doing better than its neighbours.

In order to support productivity improvements in Belgian companies, we collect a number of tips that we publish at regular intervals. During our visits to companies, we see that there is still a lot of low-hanging fruit to be picked. These tips are deliberately not aimed at implementing advanced technologies, but on improvements that can be achieved with little effort.

Tip 67: Optimise machine cycle times

In order to increase the output of machines, efficiency (= reducing unwanted standstills) and the cycle time of the machine itself can be improved. When it comes to machines, reducing the cycle time is sometimes easier than increasing the efficiency.

Most machines are designed to run at a pre-defined cycle time. However, this does not mean it is the best they can do. Here are some options to reduce cycle times:

  • In some cases, the speed can be increased simply by adjusting the compressed air supply to the pneumatic cylinders, or the speed of servomotors can be further increased.
  • The sequence of many PLC programmes is typically highly sequential. Sometimes you can also run steps in parallel, which means they overlap and time is saved. A practical example of this is idle grippers. Often, the follow up to a robot movement is the opening of a gripper to drop off a product at a location. These movements are typically programmed sequentially. The ‘landing phase’ of a robot is typically relatively slow. If centring pins or similar are used to ‘receive’ a product, the grippers may already open during the landing and the robot can still safely drop off the product. In this way the gripper movement and the robot movement partially overlap.
  • Also check whether all conditions imposed to start a step are actually necessary. Sometimes the original programming was too strict, and you can also save time by relaxing the start conditions.
  • Another possibility is to upgrade some of the machine's components with a higher-performance component.
  • Another method is to limit the length of the back and forth movements to the strict minimum (see also tip 27).

Tip 68: Organise office cells

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