It starts at the car park
Sometimes you get a piece of advice that makes so much sense that it sticks with you forever. 20 years ago WBS Group sought advice on how to find a good dentist and was told, “Look at the waiting room. If it is messy, walk away”. The inference was that the state of the waiting room reflected the clinical standards of the dental practice.
A clean and tidy waiting room does not in itself guarantee high clinical standards, but a messy waiting room near enough guarantees poor standards.
Obviously, this is not about waiting rooms – it is about mindsets, standards, and pride in what you do, and for factories it starts at the car park.
Customers often want to visit production plants. Perhaps they are vetting potential new suppliers or perhaps they are doing an inspection. First impressions count. If the sign at the gate is tatty, if the security guard has a bad attitude and if the car park is littered with pallets and old rusty production equipment your products may be first class, but you already have a harder job convincing anybody.
The journey continues through reception. What did it look like, how was the greeting, what paper work should be filled in and signed? Then you get to the offices, which are another indicator of things to come. What do they look like, do people smile and laugh or is there a glum atmosphere?
Finally, you reach the shop floor. What rules are you told to follow, what personal protection equipment (PPE) are you given to wear? Once inside, can you clearly see what happens where? What can you hear? What smells do you detect? What is the mood amongst the operators?
These are just high level questions yet their answers reveal the kind and level of standards that a manufacturing organisation employs and accepts.
The way we do things here
Manufacturing standards are simply a statement of how things should be done and measured. They decide the way in which you achieve a quality product delivered on time and at the right cost. A structured shop floor and a disciplined, engaged and motivated workforce gets you there with the least amount of firefighting. If your manufacturing standards are lacking, inconsistent, out of date, or ignored you will be amongst the many who do things the hard way.
There are two main types of manufacturing standards: Compliance and Voluntary.
Compliance standards are typically imposed by government agencies, authorities and customers and relate to areas such as hygiene, food handling, traceability, documentation, health & safety, and environmental health. These we have to live with if we want to do business in our chosen field and we need to have systems and processes in place to demonstrate that the standards are being followed.
Achieving and maintaining the relevant certifications and ratings is crucial to staying in business and winning new business. Therefore they attract a lot of management attention. Unfortunately, this often happens at the expense of the voluntary standards, which risk being left behind.
The voluntary manufacturing standards bind everything together. They are the behaviours that make you proud of showing visitors round your factory; they give you confidence that production is in safe hands all the way.
Can your factory pass a surprise inspection?
Most people like to keep their homes in a state where they are not embarrassed if someone pops in for a cup of tea unannounced.
The same should go for manufacturing plant and there are some basic steps to take to achieve this:
- Tidy up
- Put up clear and durable signs
- Design and enforce simple processes, procedures and KPIs
- Communicate and display performance data
- Train, develop, and empower staff at all levels
Five fundamental steps that all need to be addressed with individual objectives and targets. This is not a pick-‘n’-mix counter where you can chose what you like best and leave the rest. If you want your manufacturing standards to elevate your plant to the top of the class you must address all steps as they are closely interlinked.
Tidying up is easy, but it only makes sense if you set measurable standards for what tidy looks like, who is responsible for regular housekeeping and by what method.
When you have worked in the same place long enough you know roughly where things are and it becomes second nature to head in the general direction of where you expect to find what you need. As a visitor, new employee or temporary worker, for example, it can be quite daunting to navigate a manufacturing site. If however, there are clear signs showing production line numbers, storage areas, process areas, restricted access areas etc. you have reduced the time people waste by searching for things or heading in the wrong direction.
A working environment that is clean, safe and well maintained is a great morale booster. No one wants to go to work in a dingy and cluttered factory. So again, the hard work is in keeping up the standards you have set. What part does each employee play in maintaining a good working environment? How is this being monitored, measured, and managed? What is the suggestion and escalation process? What budget has been set aside for this purpose?
Processes and procedures are like Marmite. People either love them or hate them. Whether you belong to one camp or the other, it is vital that your production plant has processes and procedures in place, that they are relevant and up-to-date, that they are communicated, trained and demonstrated, and that they are managed through the use of relevant KPIs. For example, there is no point in having a manufacturing standard which says that you have adequate technician cover, if you do not specify what that means in terms of technicians per shift, per line and what the response time you expect in situations such as break downs.
Measures make behaviour
WBS Group Supply Chain Consultants have mentioned KPIs and measurements a number of times, and as you may expect there is more to it than that. You should only collect performance data if you intend to do something with it. Our Supply Chain Specialists have seen knee high piles of dutifully filled in production performance sheets sitting in a corner of an office and never once looked at. Not only does such a practice not give you any information about how well your production is doing, it is also soul destroying for the operators to spend time filling in sheets that no manager would ever care to look at. Waste of time and waste of effort can so easily be eliminated.
Work with your operators and supervisors to set the performance measures that matter. In this way they feel involved and they understand the business point of having those measures and will adapt their behaviour accordingly. Whilst management is perfectly entitled to set a certain work rate, involving the operators may well throw up valid reasons why such work rates are difficult or impossible to hit. If that is the case, you have a great opportunity to fix the root causes. Furthermore, standards and work rates that are agreed by everybody are more likely to be met.
Rather than hide performance data away in spreadsheets in offices, they need to be visible on the lines. The method could be a whiteboard filled in by the operators, or it could be an electronic display. It does not matter as long as it happens. WBS Group have seen productivity go up when performance data started to be published on the line. Suddenly there was a sense of competition between operators and between shifts on doing the shortest changeovers. Shift handover meetings and short interval control meetings will also tell you where you are at and, as with everything else, you need to have a process in place for such meetings to keep them short and productive.
Do not waste your biggest asset
The eighth waste in manufacturing is waste of human potential. It is not as obvious as poorly maintained machines breaking down or operators wandering about aimlessly trying to find a tool that should have been stored next to the machine on the line. However the waste of human potential slows you down and costs you money. When WBS Group witness a machine breakdown and see the operators stand back and wait for a technician to turn up, the obvious question is; could these operators have fixed this themselves? In many cases the answer is yes as so many stoppages are minor requiring only minimal intervention.
If you talk to the people in your organisation and find out what they are interested in and what they have done in previous jobs you will likely find a lot of hidden talent and potential that could be put to good use and motivate the individuals in question. Training and development of all staff is crucial. The more people know, the more skills they have the more they can do. Offering people to take on responsibility for something is a show of appreciation and trust – if done correctly. Done badly your staff will feel dumped upon and resist. Think about what you can offer other than money when the “what’s in it for me” question pops up. If money is the only motivator you won’t get the best out of people, nor will you get the best people.
Training and development must have a purpose and be structured. You decide your standards. How much training per employee per year. How much on the job training and how much off the job training? What kind of training? Internal or external trainers? In other words you need a carefully designed training plan, one that aims to fulfil your business strategy. Too much time and money is wasted on training and development because it was irrelevant or just a tick box exercise without any clear business purpose.
Management is not immune to training and development. WBS Group Supply Chain Consultants have delivered training courses in manufacturing organisations for over 15 years and at least one participant from each course delivered has written on the feedback sheet “management should have this training” or words to that effect. So what are your standards for training and development of all levels of your organisation? Do you have any, and do they stop short of Senior Management? If that is the case, just remember that incompetent managers will soon be found out and never again respected.
Keep up the good work
Setting manufacturing standards and maintaining them is a comprehensive piece of work that never ends. Your standards are the life and soul of your organisation and they need constant attention. The point at which you take your standards for granted is the point at which they are slipping and you may not notice the tell-tale signs such as longer breaks, more absenteeism, more customer complaints, falling OTIF percentages, more scrap, and longer lead times until it is almost too late.
One of your manufacturing standards must be a regular review of the standards and an assessment of their efficacy and relevance. Often the best way of doing this is by using external resources who will spot the things you no longer see. It is human nature to complicate things and when we do our Manufacturing and Operations Assessments it is not long before we identify something that has got too complex and would benefit from simplification. When done regularly, the benefits of an independent assessment of your manufacturing standards will far outweigh the cost.
To learn more about our assessments click here.
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