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Five Signs Your Plant has an Information-Sharing Problem

Andreas Eschbach
By Andreas Eschbach CEO, eschbach

The strongest and richest form of human interaction is face to face. However, the pandemic drastically upended our usual way of communicating, particularly when it came to shift-to-shift handovers and consistent information-sharing. Much of this information transfer being handled remotely caused a drift away from the personal interaction we have long taken for granted.

By necessity, though, the pandemic created new initiatives and creative adoption of remote communications and work from anywhere, even for engineers in manufacturing operations. What we’ve learned from this upheaval can be applied to any future disruption requiring agility, resilience, and transparency. But advances in technology will only reach their full potential if we incorporate human intelligence.

The complexity of a 24/7 operation means many handoffs between shift teams and other departments.

Today we want to take pertinent lessons to the shop floor. Where has sharing of information fallen through the cracks, and how can team spirit and collaboration be reinvigorated to assure the safe and successful monitoring of complex manufacturing processes?

Five Signs

Here are the top five signs that your manufacturing plant is experiencing a problem with sharing information between shifts and departments and what can be done to counteract this.

1: Lack of day shift/night shift alignment: Poor shift handover habits between day shifts and night shifts mean teams are missing out on critical safety instructions or special driving parameters. When conversation is limited or special conditions are not written down and handed over, day and night shifts are missing out on important information to operate production processes safely and reliably. Shift-to-shift communication errors have been implicated in many accidents over the years, mainly due to a lack of defined methods for handovers and/or the disciplines necessary to ensure effective execution.

2: Open tasks aren’t executed: Poor standardization of task management—especially routine tasks—means escalation paths are not automated and responses are not transparent to shifts or new personnel. Observations are often lost in the paper shuffle, scattered files, or dedicated software, making it difficult to gain oversight on latest findings and non-executed tasks from previous shifts.   

3: Monthly production targets keep getting missed: Even if you ask, people often don’t know the production targets, or the answers may differ. The main problem would seem to be that production accounting is too complicated to be understood by everyone and that actual production numbers are not transparent. This leads to missing accountability among shift teams. If the teams don’t account for losses and are not involved in the accounting process, observations from the line are not recorded.

4: Small problems take days to get solved: Process upsets are endemic to plant operations within the chemical industry, despite the latest AI technologies meant to keep operations stable and predictable. Consider when the senior team instructs the current shift to change driving parameters: Without a standardized communications process in place,  this new instruction is not transparent to the next shift. This leads to a lack of resilience in a crisis or dealing with process upsets.

5: Finger pointing among shift teams: When shift teams are finger-pointing at other shifts, it restricts the opportunity for constructive criticism and a path to improvement. A culture of blame and cover-up impedes team spirit and morale, making it difficult to determine root causes and what training needs are necessary. Low morale is often triggered by miscommunication or simply a lack of information-sharing between departments and/or between shifts.

Solving the Problems

Transparency and accessibility in information sharing during shift-to-shift handovers is critical. This is particularly complex in a 24/7 process manufacturing operation with multiple shifts and the necessity to deliver status reports to a crew of maybe 50 people or more. Paper-based processes like Excel spreadsheets and word processor logs require processing time by the shift relief team. Information falls through the cracks.

According to 451 Research analysts, shift supervisors have the most insightful knowledge of the plant. They have a considerable role in ensuring timely communication.

A Communications Platform Brings a Single Source of Truth

Along with renewed opportunities for personal collaboration, Plant Process Management (PPM) software brings a structured communications platform that delivers transparency and deploys a single source of truth to all levels of plant process management teams. Information flow is smooth, providing a clear picture of operations at any given time. This ensures a shift handover protocol so the outgoing team has collected and handed over to the incoming team all necessary data and information before they leave the control room.

Managing complex processes is a team sport. Teams on different shifts at every level of the corporate structure are critical conduits to ensure that relevant events and conditions will mirror the state of manufacturing processes. This information-sharing through a common platform provides important insights and alerts teams to issues before they become problematic.

While we’re re-establishing face-to-face communications as we move out of the pandemic era, upsets will continue to be a fact of life. It’s important to have the right tools in place to assure structured, transparent and accessible information exchange.

“When we rolled out our shift-to-shift handover solution, it was much easier for folks to collaborate—from home and at work—to stay in touch and keep the finger on the pulse on a shift-by-shift basis,” said Gene Shields, CIO of specialty chemicals provider Ascensus Specialties.

Having all communication in one platform reduces the risk of miscommunication. PPM becomes not only a daily management tool:  The information and human intelligence captured allows for a search of historical records that will serve as an ongoing knowledge base accessible by current and future team members.

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