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Seeing shop-floor steps clearly helps workers quickly learn on the job

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

A talk with Shannon Bennett, implementation and Sales Engineer at Visual Knowledge Share Ltd.

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Shannon Bennett of Visual Knowledge Share

VKS [Visual Knowledge Share] develops an electronic work instruction solution designed to improve quality, productivity, and efficiency; tell us more about VKS.

VKS software was made for manufacturers by manufacturers. We were born in a company called CMP; back in 1969, CMP opened under the name Chateauguay Machine Parts on Montreal’s south shore in Quebec, Canada. That’s where VKS was born. It wasn’t available to other manufacturers at that time, but through a couple of evolutions, in 2011 CMP created the company, Visual Knowledge Share. We started selling VKS to other manufacturers across the world.

What was the main reason CMP created VKS?

CMP was experiencing a lot of the same problems, the same gaps that a lot of manufacturers were facing then and today. They were having problems with standardization, variability in their processes, and they lacked visibility to the data that they were capturing. Either they weren’t capturing data, or they were and they just didn’t have access to leverage it in the right way. They were, of course, facing manpower issues. VKS was targeted to solve the problem of knowledge loss. You have best practices and tribal knowledge built up in an organization over time. When those people leave, if that information is not documented properly, the knowledge and the experience, all that viable information just kind of walks out the door with that person.

What kind of results did CMP see from implementing VKS’ Visual Work Instructions?

They saw improvements across the board, but it didn’t happen overnight. The evolution, as I mentioned, started back in 2005 with the creation of initial work instructions. As VKS matured, so did the results that CMP were experiencing. Today, the company has seen dramatic improvements in quality, productivity and a 90% reduction in defects over that period of time. That didn’t happen overnight. That is a culmination of years of work, years of improvements in the software, and then leveraging improvements in the manufacturing plant. From a productivity standpoint, CMP gained in excess of 20% in productivity across both facilities.

What does a typical VKS customer look like?

There’s really not a typical VKS customer. We have customers in just about every industry; in aerospace, automotive, defense, and over the last year or so, we’ve started penetrating pharmaceuticals. From small mom-and-pop shops that have a single plant and maybe 10–15 employees, to big multinational companies with tens of thousands of employees—all these companies find value in VKS. Part of that is because the kits are modular, so we’re able to deliver a tool that benefits or works for a company of a specific size, of a specific industry, that doesn’t give them a lot of stuff they don’t need. We have a presence and customers in over 30 countries and at least 15 languages.

What are the key strengths of VKS?

I think VKS offers a lot of different benefits over a lot of our competitors. I always tell customers about the flexibility and the usability of VKS, and use the analogy of a three-legged stool. On the author end, when we’re creating this documentation, taking that knowledge from a shop floor and documenting it using VKS, we’ve really made it super-simple to do that in lot of different ways. We’ve made author-mode mobile, so you can create work instructions on the fly, on the shop floor, while the author is standing there at the workstation where the work is happening.

The second leg of that stool is management. One of the major complaints or problems of creating this type of documentation is not necessarily the creation, but managing it. Creating the workflow to get these documents approved, managing the different versions, managing access to all of it; that is something that VKS makes very simple within the application. You don’t need a third-party application to do that. And deployment is really intuitive. It’s a browser-based application and we designed the interface, based on our manufacturing experience, to be intuitive for the end user.

Another thing we do [really well] is traceability. You get 100% traceability with VKS. One example is our event wall, where basically everything every user does is tracked and recorded. If you want to know who did what and when, VKS is the right tool. And from a standpoint of process control, we take a different approach to work instructions. Some traditional work-instruction feeds [are based on] a PDF-type approach. We’ve taken a more process-controlled approach to it. We provide a step-by-step work guide, where the operator is really not allowed to skip steps or do things in a different sequence. VKS controls their progress through the activities, or through the specific tasks that make up the process. And I think, lastly, VKS provides an MES [manufacturing execution systems]-like experience. MES applications are extremely powerful, but they’re also extremely expensive. VKS attempts to package the most valuable components of an MES and provide it to manufacturers at a more affordable cost.

What do VKS customers typically see as the most valuable component of the application?

It really depends on the user, but generally speaking, I think engineers appreciate the quick and easy authoring that VKS provides. One of the things I hear from engineers is that it’s just so difficult to create effective work instructions that are actually going to be used with traditional tools, like Microsoft Word or Excel. VKS makes it simple for the engineers to do that, and they appreciate the ability to integrate VKS with other applications, like ERP applications, so that important data can be fed over automatically.

From an operator and technician standpoint, the intuitive interface is easy to learn and that simplifies the change management component that so many users like in VKS. They also appreciate our ‘tool connect’ capability. [With this capability,] an operator [doesn’t] need to tell the application what to do; the application can see in units the operator’s activities by receiving signals from a tool or a piece of machinery. Operators don’t want to have tasks and time added to their existing work. If we can inform them without adding non-value added tasks, they definitely appreciate that.

The access to data, whether it is quality data that is gathered and processed right from the shop floor, or TPIs, where managers are monitoring production, efficiency and productivity in real time, is vital; [using that data] to make decisions is extremely powerful.

Where does VKS go from here, specifically regarding Industry 4.0? What changes do you see for VKS’ solution?

We’re really focused on the connected worker—using advanced technology like augmented reality to deliver work instructions directly to a different interface, not necessarily a touchscreen on the shelf, as we are today, but something more realistic. This includes connecting the system to smart tools so that we can do things like auto advance work instructions, receive and send live data to and from the tool, and collect things like torque values in real time from the tool. You let the operator do what he needs to do without having to [perform] the data-collection piece. VKS can bring all of those different components together to work in unison instead of as separate components.

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