By Leo Jolly, Kepner-Tregoe

Manufacturing processes have a lot of moving parts (people, machinery, equipment and raw-materials) that all must come together seamlessly to enable the production of finished goods consistently and with the quality that customers expect.  Unfortunately, processes with a lot of components and moving parts are prone to breaking down and solving problems when they occur can be difficult.  It is essential to have the right people trained and ready to act when a problem is encountered – in the case of manufacturing problems, the right people are the ones who work on the shop floor.

Here are 5 reasons why the shop floor is the best place to solve manufacturing problems

1. Equipment operators know the processes better than anyone else – Manufacturing employees interact with the machinery, equipment and operations processes every day.  This gives them the hands-on experience to understand how things should be operating and what needs to be done when something goes wrong.  Designers only understand how the process was intended to work and most mangers lack the hands-on experience to implement fixes.

2. Remote diagnosis is limited by the data being collected – Automation is a wonderful thing in manufacturing and most modern machinery is equipped with a robust set of sensors and monitoring capabilities to provide operations staff with real-time indicators of how the equipment is performing.  Unfortunately, the embedded sensors only cover the scenarios that were considered at the time the equipment was designed – rarely taking into account the environment in which it is operating and interactions with other equipment.  Shop floor employees know how the manufacturing process should look, sound, feel and smell – enabling them to identify and diagnose subtle changes before they become full-blown problems.

3. The shop floor is where early indicators and warning signs appear – most problems don’t occur instantaneously.  There are often early warning signs of an issue developing (such as production variances or subtle changes in sound/smell) that may be present for hours or even days before automated sensors alert operators to the impact.  The shop floor is where these early warning signs appear and experienced manufacturing employees know what to be on the lookout for and what the signals mean.

4. Manufacturing workers feel the impact of unresolved problems have the most to gain from problems being solved – Equipment operators and shop floor employees are directly impacted by manufacturing problems (whether in the form of degraded performance or an outage) so it makes sense that they have the most to gain by problems being solved.  This creates a sense of both urgency and importance that serves as an effective motivator to expedite the problem-solving process.

5. The shop floor is focused on action (not analysis and discussion) – Shop floor employees are actors in the manufacturing process and play a direct role in transforming raw materials into finished goods.  Their skills and mindset are focused on action (doing things and solving problems).  In comparison, managers, analysts and office staff are focused on discussion (talking about problems).  When the manufacturing line stops, your company needs action and the shop floor is where action happens.

Having the right people engaged is only part of the answer – providing them with the skills and resources to diagnose and solve problems effectively is important as well.  Providing problem-solving training to your shop floor employees and getting them engaged in the problem-solving process can enable you to identify issues more quickly, diagnose problems effectively and decrease the time it takes to bring your manufacturing processes back online so production can resume.

Kepner-Tregoe is the industry leader in problem-solving for operations with over 60 years working with businesses like yours across a variety of industries put the processes in place to achieve Operational Excellence.  To learn more about customer success stories, current offerings and explore how we can help your company, visit here

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