How the centerlining process benefits manufacturers

Front-line worker adjusting machine settings
Key takeaways
  • Centerlining contributes to consistent product quality as it reduces and controls product and process variability
  • It offers numerous benefits, such as simplifying operations, reducing waste and improving safety
  • Digital tools enhance the centerlining process with instant access to key data and trends

Manufacturers need to ensure their products consistently meet or beat the often-changing demands of their customers. A quality product that satisfies the customer is achievable when the manufacturing process runs optimally, assisted by a process known as centerlining. This blog discusses the centerlining process and its benefits in a manufacturing environment.


The centerlining process in manufacturing

Centerlining is a methodology used in manufacturing to reduce and control product variability, contributing to consistent product quality. In addition, centerlining increases machine efficiency and assists in stabilizing a production process around a central product specification.

The repetitive four-step PDCA  (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle enables continuous improvement of processes, products and services, and it covers the two objectives of centerlining:

1. Plan and Do – determine the best settings for a process

2. Check and Act – ensure the best settings are always used

These two points are discussed in more detail below – see 4 steps to prepare for centerlining.

The underlying approach in centerlining is to Eliminate, Simplify, Standardize and Automate (ESSA) machine settings in order to streamline processes and remove inefficiencies, thereby improving Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).

Standard operating procedures ((SOPs) are step-by-step instructions for carrying out routine operations. They can help to reduce variability by outlining how machines are set up and operated. We suggest you visually display the SOP near the machine and then review it regularly so that it remains up to date.


Download the how-to guide Developing a customer-focused quality improvement plan for more tools and techniques to drive process and product improvement.

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“Cease dependence on mass inspection. Build quality into the product from the start.”
— W. Edwards Deming


Centerlining can be applied to various activities in operations, including:
  • Machine positioning
  • Conveyor guides
  • Timings
  • Infeed and outfeed of process
  • Speed and rate settings
  • Inspection points and sensors
  • Temperature settings


4 steps to prepare for centerlining

The four steps involved in preparing for centerlining are as follows:

  1. Identify the important process factors or variables

The key variables in your manufacturing process can be determined by operators and agreed upon by the relevant stakeholders. It’s important to select the correct variables if you truly expect to have a positive effect on the process and product quality. That’s why it’s advisable to get a subject matter expert, such as a process, technical or quality specialist, to evaluate your process and identify the variables you’ll centerline.


  1. Determine the best settings and ranges for all the important variables – by grade or product if multiple products are being produced

Your next step will be to create limits for these key variables. Here, you’re basically determining the acceptable range for each variable – with upper and lower control limits – to allow for flexibility to deal with outside influences. Anything falling outside of the acceptable range will result in unacceptable product quality. The implementation of these settings will be the responsibility of asset care personnel. See graph below.


Control limits and center line

Control limits and center line

  1. Determine how these variables affect the process and the product

Once your key variables and variable limits have been established, you’ll need to monitor them to evaluate your newly centerlined process. This is where access to accurate, clearly presented data is enormously important. (Although it’s possible to evaluate a centerlined process using manual methods of data recording, it’s time-consuming to record and recall that data, and the possibility of data error is quite high.) See How digital tools enhance the centerlining processs.


  1. 4. Ensure that the centerlined settings are always used during production

Now that you’ve figured out your optimal process, here’s where you refine your formula. Inform operators and engineers about your new processes and make resources available that allow them to easily understand any changes you’ve implemented. At this stage, you’ll want to make sure you have solid reporting on an hourly, daily or weekly basis to evaluate product quality against centerlines.


Download the infographic 12 steps to reduce variation with centerlining which unpacks the centerlining process in greater detail.


Important roles and responsibilities in the centerlining process

The operator:

  • Checks center lines at every shift
  • Ensures machines are running at centerline
  • Collects centerline data and communicates nonconformances to work team and multidisciplinary team meetings

A subject matter expert (process specialist, technical specialist, quality expert) will identify adjustable points and verify technical correctness of settings.

A centerline process owner (department managers, process engineer, best practice leader, quality manager) will be the coach or trainer of the centerline process and ensure that centerlining is implemented effectively.

Maintenance personnel will make necessary enhancements to machines and assist in compiling documentation.


How digital tools enhance the centerlining process

Data records about machine setups and adjustments are often stored on printed paper, which can be time-consuming to access or update. Nowadays, some forward-thinking manufacturers are using digital tools such as mobile devices or digital dashboards to retrieve and store operational data. This includes quality measurements and information about adjustments to specific machines. These digital tools can use machine learning and historical data to automatically derive adjustments.

The tools help to automate the centerlining process, provide easily accessible information about a process, and help operators complete their task faster and more efficiently.


The benefits of centerlining

Centerlining offers many benefits – it:

Improves quality: Improves safety:
  • Builds quality into the process
  • Generates fewer rejects and less scrap
  • Reduces the amount of manual adjusting and therefore the risk of injury
Provides operational stability: Improves reliability performance:
  • Reduces adjustments and randomness
  • Eliminates variation caused by unnecessary adjusting and tinkering
  • Provides a baseline for operational performance
  • Establishes a repeatable process
  • Highlights material issues with confidence as machines have been set up in the best way
  • Reduces downtime as setup information is readily available
Simplifies operation: Improves machine operating efficiency (and the OEE measure):
  • One right way to set up machines — processes are run at settings that provide the optimum performance
  • Tinkering at the beginning of shifts is eliminated which facilitates shift changeovers
  • Visual controls on machines facilitate setups and adjustments
  • Supports problem-solving as the “What has changed?” question becomes easier to answer
  • Eliminates unnecessary adjustments
  • Simplifies and enables more accurate changeovers
  • Reduces setup time (a best practice of ensuring that changeovers and setups are done in the shortest and most cost-effective way)
  • Reduces machine downtime
  • Reduces machine variation
  • Enables quicker ramp-ups
  • Enables production run to target
  • Reduces minor stops
Improves yield and reduces waste
Facilitates short interval control and problem-solving Identifies potential problems


A continuous process

Centerlining is a never-ending process, and continuous work on all of the steps is needed in order to reap the most benefits.

Centerlining alone, however, cannot achieve all of the potential benefits. The best results can only be achieved if the equipment is properly maintained and upstream processes are also centerlined. Additionally, easy access to process data and trends from past runs can enhance centerlining efforts by making it easy to determine where the process is, where it’s supposed to be, and where it has been historically.


Download the how-to guide Developing a visual factory to find out more about ensuring instant access to valuable data and trends.

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