Why More Businesses Need to Consult Process Engineers
Whether it be moving documents between departments, stocking shelves, or even making sandwiches, many businesses have processes that can be refined. These processes are often inefficient, can produce waste, and use up valuable time and resources – particularly in the case of bad sandwich making.
So, what’s the solution? Consult a process engineer. Unfortunately, many businesses do not consult a process engineer because they don’t even know that they should.
What is process engineering?
Raw materials are turned into an end product through process engineering. Process engineering is also the design and optimisation of production or throughput processes so that waste is minimized and output is maximized. Process engineering isn’t only limited to production processes. Any process in any field can be optimized. Shipping packages, patient processing in an emergency room, and communication in a chain of command are all examples of non-production processes that can be optimized.
How do process engineers optimize processes?
Process engineers ultimately look to eliminate inefficiencies, but sometimes all they can do is minimize their impact. In either case, the process becomes more optimal than it was before the intervention.
To optimize a process, a process engineer will seek to learn as much as they can about the process so they can pinpoint inefficiencies. When working with a production process, they will look at process drawings, speak to plant engineers, and study process equipment to familiarize themselves with a process. It is also common for a process engineer to walk through a plant to see a process in action.
When working with a non-production process, the process engineer may run through the process with a sample. For example, in a shipping company, the process engineer may track a package through the company to see what happens to it along the way.
Once they are familiar with the process, a process engineer will seek to identify inefficiencies and find ways to minimize them or eliminate them completely. Common ways to improve a process are to increase throughput, reduce time, recycle waste, decrease distance, and automate the process.
Increasing throughput can make any process, especially production processes, more efficient. An excellent way to do this is to debottleneck the process by finding points where the process slows down and causes delays. For example, in a bread factory that can produce 1,000 loaves of bread per hour but has a slicer that can only handle 800 loaves of bread per hour, there is a bottleneck in the slicing operation. The process engineer would replace the slicer with one that can handle 1,000 loaves of bread or more per hour so that more sliced loaves of bread can be produced by the factory every hour.
Reducing the time it takes for a process to be completed is another great way to improve process efficiency. For example, a restaurant may cook their French fries for 3 minutes. If the fries could instead be cooked for 2 and a half minutes while maintaining food safety standards and customer satisfaction, the restaurant should do so to shave 30 seconds off the cooking process.
Regarding recycling: consider a chemical manufacturing process where only 80% of the feedstock chemical is converted into the desired product. Rather than discarding the feedstock chemical after it goes through the reactor, it can be recycled back to the reactor for further conversion. This recycling will minimize waste of the feedstock chemical and will produce more of the desired product.
Decreasing distance in a process might mean physically moving important equipment closer together, or it can mean eliminating unnecessary steps in a process. For example, consider a document that must receive three levels of approval before reaching a manager. A process engineer would look to see if all three people were actually needed to approve the document, or if the process could be optimized by having fewer approvals while maintaining the same level of quality.
Automating a process can make it much more efficient by reducing variations due to user error. Having a lab technician write information on sample labels manually is prone to error. Having them print out a label that is automatically generated with the information they need makes errors from manual entry a non-issue.
How do you become a process engineer?
Process engineers usually hold four-year degrees in process engineering or another relevant engineering discipline. Disciplines related to process engineering include chemical engineering, industrial engineering, and manufacturing engineering.
Many companies with production processes with a lot of throughput or a lot of value, such as oil and gas companies or mining companies, have job positions for process engineers. Companies with smaller production processes or with non-production processes typically work with process engineers from a consulting company.
There are also certifications that help process engineers to further optimize processes, such as Lean Six Sigma. These certifications help to improve process performance and change organizational mindset so that processes are continuously improved.
What happens when a process engineer isn’t consulted
There are many examples of process inefficiencies that can result from the lack of consultation of a process engineer.
The healthcare industry is notoriously inefficient. This industry, where annual spending in the United States totalled $2.9 trillion in 2013, would save billions of dollars if even a marginal change was made. Insurance eligibility verification is a particularly inefficient undertaking. Different insurance providers have different eligibility rules, which staff must continuously learn and adhere to. Each insurance provider must be contacted individually. A process engineer would take a look at insurance eligibility verification and would likely conclude that a centralized, government-sponsored eligibility verification website would be the best solution. This solution would cut down on the time and money spent to verify insurance eligibility.
A children’s hospital recently opened in a Canadian city. A process engineer was not involved in the design of the patient intake process. Because of this oversight, there are several bottlenecks where patients must wait to be served, and patients must double back in hallways to get where they need to go. Patient waiting time is higher than it should be due to these inefficiencies. To solve these issues, more desks should be built at patient reception so that processing capacity exceeds patient numbers, and places where patients must stop should be placed linearly so they don’t have to double back.
A major Fortune 500 automotive company uses one program for document storage, another for collaboration, two more for document management, and email. Each process flow is separate. The company would do much better by amalgamating the document storage program and the document management programs into one, finding one platform to use for collaboration, and developing a thorough business process so that these programs can be integrated with one another.
The application and renewal process in the insurance industry is infamously inefficient. This process can take up to 25% of the average brokerage or agency’s energy or productivity. A process engineer could take a look at this process to see where it could be automated, what tasks take the most time, and where there are redundancies. This would save the average brokerage with an annual revenue of up to $1.25 million an average of $63,825.87.
What do businesses get out of consulting process engineers?
Process engineers help to make the processes that businesses use every day more efficient. Most businesses, however, don’t know that they should consult a process engineer, which can end up costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours. It’s time for businesses to become aware of their need for these engineers so that they stop wasting resources and throwing away profits.