A few tools for continuous improvement

An overview of techniques and programs to evaluate and improve your manufacturing.


These days everyone has a continuous improvement program of some kind. Six Sigma is used quite extensively as is Lean Manufacturing. Some companies stick to one approach while others tailor their own programs using the best ideas from a wide variety of different sources.

Regardless of whichever particular flavor of continuous improvement program you use, it seems there’s always more to do. There are always more problems to tackle.

Once you solved one problem, another problem seems to pop up to take its place. But, after all, it’s a continuous improvement program so there’s always going to be more to do.

But, there are some things that can help and some tools that work really well that are geared specifically for continuous improvement programs. These tools can make a significant impact in a program and can help people working in the programs do a lot more and solve a lot more problems.

Data collection

One category of tools is data collection. The idea here is that to analyze a problem, you need lots of hard data about the problem. Guesses just won’t do. You have to know what’s actually going on. There are a lot of different ways that you can implement data collection, but the key is to get all the data you need and store it in a way that people can use.

DCS and PLC systems are great sources of data and are usually part of any data collection system. Networking is required to get the data from one place to another. And, some type of storage solution such as a data historian or general purpose database is also necessary.

Dashboards and reports

Once you have the data collected, you really need to get the data to the right people so that they can do something with it. There are lots of ways to do this and lots of ways that this can work, but the objective is just to get the data out to the people who need it.

Some people hate the word dashboards and some people love the word, but the analogy is so straightforward that it needs no explanation. There are lots of dashboard and reporting solutions out there, but the key is that they tie back to the data historian and the database and allow all the right people access to the data that they need, when they need it, and in the way that they need it.


The idea of analytics is pretty simple. The first steps are always getting the data and then just having access to the data. Analytics takes it all a big step further by providing tools to analyze the data, slice and dice the data, look at large volumes of data, and otherwise mine the data to get the real information and the real understanding out of it all that you need.

Analytics can be a lot more than just looking at data or even developing complex reports. Analytics is all about taking the data apart and putting it back together to see trends and relationships that you never knew about before and gaining a much deeper understanding of what’s actually going on in the real world.


The idea of metrics takes a slightly different approach to things. The idea here is to define the key data that indicates the true performance of the manufacturing operation or process. Based on this idea, many people refer to metrics as key performance indicators. The idea is not merely to look at the data or even just analyze the data, but to identify and monitor the data elements that tell you how well the operation or process is actually running.

The important point here is that you have to get beyond the data to the specific measures of the operation or process. And, the measures need to indicate how well the operation or process is actually running, which is a lot more complicated that just how fast the machine is running or how many units are being produced per hour.


OEE, or overall equipment effectiveness, is one specific metric that has become a staple in a lot of continuous improvement programs around the world. OEE attempts to measure not merely how fast a line or piece of equipment is running but its true manufacturing performance.

OEE does this by combining three metrics which are typically calculated using a lot of underlying data. Availability is calculated based on runtime and downtime. Performance is calculated based on actual versus theoretical rates.  Quality is calculated based on actual first-pass quality. Together, availability, performance, and quality make up OEE and provide a very good standard approach to measuring the true performance of a manufacturing line or process.


A specialized version of general analytics is statistical analysis. Statistical analysis in manufacturing usually takes the form of SPC (statistical process control) or SQC (statistical quality control). The short definition of SPC/SQC is the application of statistical methods to control manufacturing process or control manufacturing quality.

SPC/SQC is very valuable in manufacturing because the various statistical analyses can help you anticipate problems and avoid them before they really become problems. The statistical methods allow you to analyze trends in real-time and take corrective actions to prevent situations from becoming problems.


We’ve gone through a lot of ideas pretty quickly. But, you should be able to see that there are a lot of tools out there to help you with your continuous improvement program. These tools work really well and are geared specifically for continuous improvement programs. And, they can make a significant impact in a continuous improvement program. They can help the people working in the programs do a lot more and solve more problems. When you get a chance, take a close look at these tools and see if you don’t think that they can help your continuous improvement program.

This post was written by John Clemons, PE. John is the director of manufacturing IT at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading system integrator providing industrial automation, operational support, and control systems engineering services in the manufacturing and process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, and business process optimization. The company provides a full range of automation and controls services – ranging from PID controller tuning and HMI programming to serving as a main automation contractor. Additionally MAVERICK offers industrial and technical staffing services, placing on-site automation, instrumentation and controls engineers.

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Pipe fabrication and IIoT; 2017 Product of the Year finalists
The future of electrical safety; Four keys to RPM success; Picking the right weld fume option
A new approach to the Skills Gap; Community colleges may hold the key for manufacturing; 2017 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
VFDs improving motion control applications; Powering automation and IIoT wirelessly; Connecting the dots
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me