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Removing mental roadblocks to improving operations

ed potoczak
By Ed Potoczak Board member, Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) Americas, Director of Industry Relations, IQMS

It’s a familiar scenario at the factory. Quality issues have reared their ugly heads, requiring rework, causing backorders, delaying shipments, and driving tense daily customer calls. Meanwhile, the team works to address production issues using a mix of day-old post-mortem reports, shop-floor observations captured on notepads, and other operational data summarized on spreadsheets and sticky notes. And sitting there dormant are any number of features in the “new” manufacturing software installed two years ago, which could help to avoid these headaches altogether.

So how does this happen? At first, it is because when manufacturing software is installed only “core” features that automate absolutely critical processes are brought live—and then the organization establishes a new daily routine. This is actually good because it lets the company quickly realize benefits from the software.

Ideally, manufacturers then will stage the rollout of additional features over time that will help to optimize their processes. But these businesses often get stalled by one of three mental roadblocks that will take more than meditation to remove.

1. There’s software for that?

Many companies are not even aware of the additional features available with their manufacturing systems, which can help to automate bothersome workarounds and bring relief from nagging repeat problems. Commonly overlooked opportunities include: Connecting the manufacturing execution system (MES) and quality management system (QMS) to equipment sensors and controllers enables accurate real-time production monitoring. Adding statistical process control (SPC) tools allows for analysis of operating measurements and in-line production inspection, which in turn makes it possible to predict potential issues and proactively conduct maintenance. And the combination of bar-code scanning and document control with enterprise resource planning functionality can significantly simplify the creation of audit trails.

Don’t just ask teams to “stay on top” of software capabilities. Instead, designate someone to work with their technology vendor’s support or professional staff and attend vendor conferences or training to learn how to maximize use of their software.

2. It’s always worked this way.

Manufacturing teams often know their manual processes aren’t ideal but resist change. A good way to break through this roadblock is to embrace a spirit of lean and identify time-wasting, priority processes not yet handled automatically inside the software. Then create a value stream map of the top two or three most significant painful workflows. This often brings “aha” moments that open employees’ minds to change.

Then have the company’s process expert research how the software can be used to automate the manual activity. Being thoughtful at this stage will provide options from which team members can choose, fostering engagement and buy-in.

3. We just don’t have time.

It seems like there is never enough time to improve a process, but there’s always time to fix the problems that reliably pop up later.

First shine a light on how automating a specific process can improve the business—and employees’ work days.

Then have stakeholders in the manual process identify a project leader, the savings to be gained, benefits and effort needed. The team leader then can develop a project plan with goals, timeline milestones, resource assignments and simple metrics, which the team reviews. Having a consensus roadmap enables the calculation of a return on investment and emphasizes feasibility to the doubters.

Being an enlightened manufacturing leader does not mean maintaining a Zen-like patience for wasteful manual workarounds. It is about having the wisdom to stay closely connected to the factory floor and having the awareness to dust off dormant software features that can streamline processes, creating more peace for employees and customers alike.

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