Say you’re a manufacturer who has been in business for a couple of decades. Your brand is a popular one and your activity has only been evolving. To monitor all products, you’re collecting an endless stream of data. One day, one of your lab technicians makes an error while comparing measurements manually with specifications on a separate sheet. What’s worse, this small error goes unnoticed. A batch of defective products gets produced and sold to customers worldwide. Not long after, you receive numerous complaints. Now the media speaks of the unacceptable quality that a manufacturer of your reputation provides. And, although you assure customers that this was a one-time event, their trust is harmed.
This scenario illustrates just how damaging human error can be in manufacturing. And, while you may consider the above an extreme example, it’s best to not underestimate the slippery slope. Human error can account for much time and money lost in an average day on a shop floor. How to reduce and prevent this long-standing pain point in the industry? The answer can be summarized in two important actions: Assess and Automate. Let’s discuss.
The assessment phase
Often times, human error isn’t a consequence of lack of skill or understanding. So, why is human error occurring, and how can you reduce its instances? Your first step is assessing various systems to identify process and workflow errors that may be triggering or exacerbating instances of human error.
What project management solutions are you using? What is your risk management plan? What protocols are in place for documentation control?
Workflows and Procedures
Are your procedures clearly defined and consistently enforced? Are they engineered with the user in mind? How employee-friendly are your workflows, and are they catering to human limitations and capabilities?
Is on-the-job training sufficient to protect against human error? Does your training involve giving your trainees a “big picture” view of their tasks so that they understand the nuts and bolts of their tasks but also how they fit into large-scale goals and procedures at your company?
Is communication pervasive and efficient across the manufacturing floor? What processes are in place to support effective communication and collaboration across departments, i.e. from sales to the production floor and vice versa? How effective is your managerial staff at supervising, advising, and listening when change is needed?
Automation to lend a helping hand
Remember the lab technician at the beginning of this article? He compared measurements with specifications in a different Excel spreadsheet. Even if he hadn’t made a mistake, performing these routine tasks manually can be extremely time-consuming. Even more so when dealing with hundreds of products and drowning in data. Through automation, you will be able to skip these painful tasks and focus on improvement. This will also allow you to address the internal process factors you’ve identified during assessment, streamlining, or reconceiving them so as to limit human error.
Digitize and unify data
Despite the new technology available today, much of manufacturing remains manual, including logging and processing key data. Even if everything works and organizations are managing the consequence of human error, paper-based and spreadsheet-based approaches still have a higher risk.
With the right software solution, you will be able to digitize and consolidate data. You will also be able to limit opportunities for incorrect or redundant error by allowing the smart system to monitor products and warn of any deviation. Finally, departments will be able to work more effectively together, accessing real-time data in a unified place and ensuring everyone is on the same page.
Toss out analog accessories
Part and parcel of automating and streamlining data is getting rid of the old, handheld ways of doing, well, everything. Anything from barcode scanners to tablets that replace the old-school clipboard will make the small changes necessary to support large-scale improvements through automation.
There are also countless opportunities for improvements across the shop floor via IoT devices. By capturing data in real-time, you will be able to stay on top of Quality Control more effectively and significantly reduce yet another opportunity for human error. Plus, time saved on gathering data can be spent on something much more mission critical— analyzing that data.
Leverage the right software
A comprehensive solution in manufacturing needs to be as effective for the Plant Manager as it is for the IT Manager or C-suite.
In the context of operations, a quality solution will give you access to visual representations of data via graphs and charts that make it easier for operators and QC managers to stay on top of the details. In-built data analysis tools should also give your team direct insights into priorities and non-conformities, allowing them to streamline QA/QC processes and reduce failure costs.
Quality management software for manufacturing will allow you to capture data in dashboards, analyze and assess, and detect deviations quickly, enhancing process visibility. Want to ensure that this solution fits your organization and will improve your day-to-day performance?