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Operator-Driven Production Data Key to Manufacturing Success

Why Operator-Driven Production Data is Key to Manufacturing Success

May 14, 2020

You’re driving.

It’s a familiar route. The first time you drove it, however, you used your GPS app to find your way. So, why is your navigation app on for this trip, showing you the way?

Well, maybe you want to know if there are construction sites ahead. Or, if an unexpected detour has popped up due to an accident. Or, it’s just nice to know how much longer you’ll be on the road. You definitely appreciate getting immediate information.

Production data in a manufacturing plant does the same thing for operators. Even if operators know the task, they still refer to the data to see their performance and measure their success.

To Improve, You Need a Benchmark

“There’s always room for improvement,” you’ve often heard. That’s likely true 99.9% of the time, but to improve, you need to have a benchmark.

There may be many ways to establish your starting point, but if you use a manufacturing execution system (MES), you have the added advantage of a system that allows you to measure the effectiveness of the decisions you make as you’re working to improve. And after you’ve made a change, you can now see if you’re ahead or behind the benchmark.

People like to know how they’re doing; in real time, if at all possible. Looking back at numbers at the end of the week, or even day, does little to help. Getting instant feedback on performance is key for operators, and it’s another main benefit of an MES solution.

Why Does an MES Rely on Operators?

Most of the data that goes into an MES system is generated and influenced by operators, the ones doing the work and making a difference in the manufacturing process. Operators help design, implement, and optimize processes and solutions that provide performance feedback.

An MES also allows operators to share the tribal knowledge passed on from the best operators to new operators. Years ago, operators stayed in their positions for years, using their learned knowledge to enhance their performance. Now, however, the workforce is more flexible (temp agencies filling positions, shorter stints at companies, etc.), so tribal knowledge is more likely to be lost.

An MES system identifies the best operators (top production and quality numbers) and helps transition important knowledge from them to the system. New operators can now benefit from that knowledge and see how their own performance stacks up.

Uncovering Hidden Inefficiencies — A Real-World Example

MES systems accomplish numerous things: organize production scheduling, share operator insights, uncover process inefficiencies, establish continuous improvement, increase operator engagement, and more.

This example of hidden inefficiencies involves a manufacturer not hitting the numbers the line was designed for. The cause was unknown and, although the manufacturer had some theories, it wasn’t until an MES system was put in place that the inefficiencies were discovered.

The system collects data on when workers log in and when they start to produce. Applying analytics to production data uncovered that operators were not starting the day and returning from breaks on time. It took them a while to get into their stations and be ready to start production, which put overall production output goals in an instant hole.

This poor performance was happening four times each day (start of the shift, morning break, lunch hour, afternoon break), which added up to huge inefficiencies. This operator metric uncovered a cultural defect as much as operator deficiencies.

Culture’s Effect on Manufacturing Success

In their book, School Culture Rewired, Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker stated, “The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”

“Worst behavior” doesn’t have to mean some sort of deplorable action. It can take the form of gossipping, poor communication, or a toxic employee hurting team morale. These may not seem like major offenses, but damage done can spread quickly, including operators on a manufacturing line whose daily behavior actually defines that company’s culture.

That brings us back to our real-world example. If operators are allowed to straggle in after breaks, that’s the culture. So, no matter what a company’s official culture statement may proclaim, it comes down to leadership clearly articulating the culture they want and reinforcing it by holding people accountable.

Once an inefficiency is uncovered by an MES, key performance indicators (KPIs) can be established around the behavior and communicated to workers. In the case of our example, simply logging in on time is the KPI.

Changing the “worst behaviors” is impossible without having the right information to identify and address it. That’s the power of production data.

An Alignment to a Common Goal

Do operators feel that an MES system creates a positive working environment? Or do they see an MES system as “big brother” looking down on them and digitally cracking the whip? It turns out that operators’ opinions go deeper than that.

Operators, in general, understand that an MES is an investment in them and in the company’s future. Efficiency goals are the company’s way of staying profitable, which means keeping the company and local jobs safe.

Operators know that they have a role to play to remain competitive globally, and they now have a high-tech tool to help them do that. Production data is seen as an opportunity to get better collectively.

When businesses considering investing in an MES system take a plant tour with one in use, the message from operators is clear: having instant information helps create a repeatable process and makes error-proofing easy; if something requires fixing, it can be done now.

In general, the signs of successful use of production data are a united company focused on the same goals; top-performing operators influencing new operators; flexible staffing (if needed) being brought up to speed quickly; and company culture being in alignment from top to bottom.

Before implementing an MES solution, uncovering manufacturing issues was hit or miss (mostly miss). Maybe a time study was done to observe and record operator performance. Yet, the mere presence of a manager with a stopwatch can throw off performance; you’re not getting a true measure of what normally happens.

So, instead of sampling performance, an MES system provides accurate data of every station all the time ... in real time!

Now, go beyond operator-driven production data and learn more about what an MES solution does and how to select the best one for you. Get our guide, MES for Discrete Manufacturers, by clicking on the image below.

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