Good vs. Bad Redundancies in Manufacturing
Efficiency is essential in manufacturing. Every action and every component are scrutinized for their contributions to the bottom line. Redundancies are often eliminated in the pursuit of leaner operations — especially in factories where Lean Six Sigma is common practice. But before we write off all redundancies as wasteful, let’s take a closer look at their long-term value. While many redundancies equate to waste, some support effective risk management and sustainability.
A modern look at redundancy
Decades ago, manufacturing embraced redundancy. Backup systems, diversified suppliers, and overstaffing were commonplace. Production was less agile, which meant production planning was a more conservative endeavor. The “just-in-time” (JIT) philosophy challenged this approach, emphasizing minimal inventory and streamlined processes.
While JIT delivered cost savings, it also exposed vulnerabilities. A single supplier disruption, equipment failure, or even a skilled worker’s absence could bring production to a halt.
Two kinds of manufacturing redundancies
What separates a good redundancy from a bad one?
Good: Backups and failsafe measures
- Reliability: Good redundancies provide insurance against disaster. Backup power grids keep production humming during outages. Redundant suppliers ensure a steady flow of materials even if one falters. Cross-trained teams adapt to unexpected absences for consistent throughput.
- Quality: Multiple inspection points catch defects early, while redundant design elements prevent cascading failures. These redundancies ensure your products meet the highest standards.
- Safety: Backup safety measures and fail-safe systems minimize accidents and protect your workforce. Redundant communication channels guarantee critical information reaches everyone in case of emergencies.
Bad: Waste and double work
- Duplication: Duplicating entire production lines or holding onto outdated backup systems drains resources. Excessive inventory ties up capital and risks obsolescence. Underutilized skills in an overstaffed team translate to wasted payroll.
- Complexity: Overly complex systems become maintenance nightmares. They can create confusion, slow down processes, and make identifying the root cause of failures difficult. These redundancies hinder agility and problem-solving.
Identifying when redundancy is a good thing
Identifying good vs. bad redundancies isn’t always black and white. It takes careful and thorough evaluation of the process or practice, as well as an investigation into downstream impacts. Start with the right questions:
- How crucial is the function or component being backed up? Is downtime catastrophic?
- How does the cost of redundancy weigh against potential losses? Is the trade-off worthwhile?
- How likely is a failure, and how severe would the consequences be?
- Can the redundancy be implemented and maintained efficiently?
When you identify a good redundancy, ask yourself how it can be improved or optimized to be maximally efficient. Likewise, when you pinpoint a bad redundancy, ask how you can eliminate it — or, at the very least, minimize its impact.
It’s not always bad to have a backup
Embrace strategic redundancies to bolster your resilience and safeguard your operations, but be vigilant against costly baggage weighing down your efficiency. By carefully assessing your needs and implementing targeted redundancies, you can navigate the competitive landscape with confidence, knowing you’re prepared for whatever comes your way.