Why the easy way is the right way

Modern factories are endlessly complex. But that doesn’t mean operations on the factory floor have to be equally complex. In fact, the modern mandate should be that factory operations should be simple, clean and efficient.
By Bob Argyle, Chief Customer Officer, Leading2Lean September 19, 2017

Modern factories are endlessly complex. But that doesn’t mean operations on the factory floor have to be equally complex. In fact, the modern mandate should be that factory operations should be simple, clean and efficient.

The good news is that simplicity doesn’t always have to be difficult to achieve. In fact, the easy way is often the right way.Courtesy: Bob Vavra, CFE Media

Below are three common plant floor issues faced by all manufacturers. In each case, we’ll examine the road to making them simple, and easy.

Visibility

Plants have many moving parts—employees, teams, production cycles, maintenance and materials. The more parts in the production process, the harder it can be to have a clear understanding of what’s happening on the plant floor.

Visibility is the key issue. Without being able to see problems on the floor, managers fly blind. They are expected to fight fires without knowing precisely where the fires are. Problems happen in real time. Solutions must happen the same way. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

Identify the danger early

Learning the right information early enough to take quick action in real time can have major savings for a company on the plant floor. Making equipment or production issues visible isn’t just about putting information on a whiteboard or wall chart where everyone can see it. It’s about making sure that information is actually seen, and acted on, in real time, not two days later when a paper report is read. What is needed is a dynamic system that displays current statuses and sends notifications to the right team when problems occur or action is needed. It’s action that matters, not just identification of a problem. It’s simple to say, but accurate and impactful: if you can focus on the problems and fix them quickly, operations improve.

Current technology is available that can make it easy to see what’s happening, or needs to happen, on the floor. This technology allows data to be seen and updated in real-time, increasing accountability, instead of getting hidden in spreadsheets or difficult to access databases. Today it’s relatively simple to have the data right in front of your people, on mobile devices, in real-time. From there it’s a simple process to send alerts to the right teams to fix the problems.

Traceability

When investigating a product quality issue, it’s common to have to go to multiple system experts just to get the data needed to identify the source of the issue. This can take days or even weeks, delaying the ability to act on a solution. Everyone knows that if time is wasted, it means increasing costs and downtime for the manufacturer and their customers.

When multiple plants, with different systems in place, are involved, time needed to resolve the quality issues is extended.

One solution is to remove the various existing systems and replace them with one uniform system. This may improve the company’s ability to manage production quality issues, but this comes at a high financial cost and potential for data loss.

The answer, again, is to find an easier solution. Technology is available that can tie all those existing databases together, allowing you to aggregate traceability data in one place without ripping out and replacing a single system. You have the complete and continuous genealogy that you need without the cost, risk, and headaches.

Compliance

The manufacturing industry is facing more regulations and compliance standards than ever before. Specific areas such as product safety, data protection and employment law have become an increasing concern for manufacturers. The problem will only accelerate.

Again, the advantage goes to an electronic system with total floor visibility of all workstations. When everyone who works the floor is visible, they are also accountable. And every transaction is part of the electronic record. When compliance and regulatory agencies require a review, reports are generated with ease. This is a far more reliable system than trying to keep an accurate record on handwritten notes on paper.

For example, if maintenance technicians know that their notes on preventative work performed will be difficult to access when they need it, they’ll be less likely to record thorough information. Often times I see technicians quickly recording important notes at the end of a long shift or even week, skipping details for brevity sake.

If we look at these challenges through the lens of making them easier and better, finding a much more intuitive and real-time solution to act as a front end to the more difficult ERP system, this can accomplish a few things. It makes it much easier to input the data while in the task, fostering more complete and accurate data. This better data becomes the historical and equipment specific data that will make a maintenance technician’s job easier in the near future. This positive cycle will foster much better data going forward, and ultimately drive ongoing improvement.

Moving mountains

In the end, you can make it hard, or you can make it simple. I’ve seen over and over where manufacturers make things more difficult than they need to be. And in my experience, most plants aren’t performing nearly as well as they think they are, or could be. It’s true, but it can change.

In today’s dynamic world, technology is providing ways to simplify and improve our work and lives. Manufacturing has lagged behind this modern world. The time has come for technology to transform the factory floor. 

Bob Argyle is the Chief Customer Officer for Leading2Lean, a Nevada-based manufacturing tech solution provider.