Development of a four stage continuous improvement framework to support business performance in manufacturing SMEs
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AuthorsSmith, Paul G.
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AbstractFor over 30 years, authors have documented continuous improvement techniques that can help to improve the performance of the manufacturing sector. However, recent research has found that the uptake of these available techniques for the purpose of improving business performance is comparatively low as a result of barriers preventing their adoption by manufacturing SMEs. The aim and focus of this research is to develop a user-friendly framework which would guide both industry practitioners and other researchers to achieve business process improvements in an SME manufacturing environment. The framework developed in this study consists of four stages: 1) review of the current process to be improved; 2) identification of possible improvement in terms of prompts; 3) knowledge know-how to support transfer of proven continuous improvement techniques; and 4) continual review of the process to quantify the improvements. The framework uses a combination of three continuous improvement techniques: histograms, brainstorming and Five Whys to identify actions for management implementation. Such techniques have been merged to speed up and simplify the process of root cause analysis, thus encouraging SMEs to document their successes. This will enable other SMEs to learn from their experiences as well as from the knowledge gained by being part of the communities of practice. The methodology used in this research is mixed methodology and involves a combination of literature review, pilot study, a postal questionnaire with 50 respondents and two case studies. These case studies were then used to validate the framework, based on five structured interviews. Case studies involving two manufacturing SMEs include manufacturers of high-volume, low-cost components and low-volume, high-cost components. It was concluded that the root cause of a problem can be found by using: brainstorming, histograms and Five Whys. Sometimes, it was also possible to merge these techniques as one, thus reducing the analysis time. The case studies generated substantial savings, £27,500 and £1,366,055 for SME 1 and 2 respectively. Overall the benefits of the framework to SMEs include: using the developed user-friendly framework for improved business performance, knowledge transfer of learning continuous improvement techniques, learning about other SME successes and potential cost savings that could accrue for SMEs when they apply it. The framework developed in this research, therefore, has reduced some of the barriers which have prevented uptake of innovative techniques over the last 30 years.
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
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