Editorials

How to Optimise Factory Floor Computerised Data

In the race to become more efficient and competitive, it is easy to see the resultant huge investment in new, faster and more automated manufacturing equipment.

The poor relation in performance improvement is up-to-date, analysed and prioritised information to reduce wastage and improve performance. Factory floor paperwork still reigns supreme for so many, some even seeing paperwork as a necessary evil to prove due diligence in response to a legal challenge. (e.g. weights and measures) or a supermarket batch rejection.

Whilst it’s easy to see the initial attraction of paper recording, because it is so simple to put in place, major weaknesses include; it provides no reliable information about performance due to the fact that it exercises little or no discipline over operational personnel. In addition, even if paperwork is always diligently completed and provides, therefore, an accurate record of factory floor actions, it is still only data collected. The third weakness is the ever-increasing filing requirement of paper and the difficulty in tracing paper records when required to do so. Another major weakness is that the data within the paper records can never be made available in real time to the operational and management teams.

Paperless Factory

The good news is that all these weaknesses are easily remedied through the installation of a fully integrated performance information management system, whereby factory floor paperwork will virtually become a thing of the past, giving way to analysed, prioritised and distributed, real-time information, which the whole manufacturing team can see and act upon, whilst the issues to be addressed are still relevant.

Apart from the obvious requirements of ease of use, robust electronic archive and ease of traceability, such a system, to be of optimum value, must simultaneously minimise production risk and help to improve efficiency.

Compliance Alone can be Costly

Some companies have implemented compliance only systems such as automated coding and labelling verification, whilst some others have chosen to implement efficiency improvement systems limited to OEE. We have often challenged the thinking of these unilateral approaches due to the fact that systems which only deal with compliance and quality issues always cost money to put in place, but the benefits of such expenditure are very difficult to quantify. This is because quality and compliance systems are generally installed to ensure that the customer gets exactly what they ordered and that the product batch does not become the subject of a batch rejection or a return to manufacturer.

The trouble with this compliance and quality only philosophy is that management can easily challenge the thinking on the basis that if you didn’t install such a system, but continued with existing paper recording then you might never have another batch rejection problem anyway. When compliance issues are picked up by automated, paperless systems, you can never be 100% certain that the same problems would not have been identified, prior to despatch, using only the paper-based system, which the automated system expensively replaced.

Efficiency Improvement without Compliance

On the other hand, some companies who tell us they are installing an OEE system to improve efficiency often say that they are not, at this stage, doing anything about paperless quality or compliance as, they continue, this is already covered by their paper-based systems. Their priority is to increase efficiency.

We find this efficiency only approach equally difficult to understand as it seems to us to make little commercial sense to concentrate on improving efficiency without simultaneously ensuring that the increased efficiency is still producing consistently high quality and totally compliant products which will go out to the customer and stay out.

Wastage Reduction

One other major reason to take a more holistic approach, to improved performance, is to reduce overall wastage in manufacturing and in the supply chain. We hear a lot about the need to reduce wastage, but we still see considerable quantities of waste during the numerous site visits which we carry out each year.

A recent article in the Trading Standard’s Review states that there are over £622 billion worth of goods sold in the UK each year based upon their quantity. Just a 1% wastage, therefore, within the supply chain from manufacturers’ goods inwards, to the end user, will cost £6.22 billion per year. Our own experience tells us that the percentage wastage across the supply chain is far higher and is generally caused by poor yields due to poor weight/volume control, spillage, out of date raw materials, batch rejections due to compliance issues and, of course, lost manufacturing efficiency.

When all aspects of wastage are totalised, so far as they can be, the potential risk and estimated cost is huge and often considerably greater than the company’s annual net profit margin.

Computerisation Without Optimisation?

To be fair some companies have recognised the importance of moving off paper and the potential benefits of computerisation. Unfortunately, some of those, so enlightened, have gone about this in a piecemeal fashion sometimes as a knee-jerk response to retailer pressure or some other external demand. Consequently, they have achieved computerisation through a variety of different systems which do not communicate with each other. As the whole picture is not available in one place such systems might lead to over-zealous efficiency improvement to the detriment of quality or yield control and vice versa.

Even where a fully integrated approach is not possible as a first step, due to financial or other constraints, we believe that it is still essential to have an overall vision of the eventual paperless outcome desired, such that each modular step moves the company closer to their optimal vision.

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