Tip 3: Do the Right Thing
This next story in our series is very interesting regarding the dynamics of the workplace. Once there was a young U.S. Air Force officer who just graduated from the Academy and was given a position overseeing a manufacturing shop. He was only 22 years old but had worked his way up and demonstrated his leadership ability to manage a shop that made parts for an important fighter jet use by the U.S. military.
On his first week on the job, he was touring the shop and stopped to talk with a worker who was making titanium parts for the jet fuselage. The operator at the station told him about the intricacies of making and forming titanium, where as it is cooled and solidified, a certain grain direction is created in the part, which has a great effect on how the part should be milled into the final assembly.
This is kind of like the wood grain a carpenter must deal with in the way that you would build a structure out of wood. A wooden 2 x 4, for example, has a length that runs with the grain, which gives it strength. Also, a cross-cut saw is different from a ripsaw to deal with cutting in certain directions, across or with the grain. The same is true with titanium—the way you would mill it, how it's formed in relation to the shape of the part, and where the stresses are applied.
This Air Force captain was fascinated, so he asked the operator to make a part while he watched. When the operator was done, the captain asked the him if he had made the part the way he described it in relation to the grain of the titanium. It looked to him like the operator had done it incorrectly. He pressed again asking if he done it correctly. The operator started to get nervous. The captain asked if he’d always done it that way for the part he was making, and the operator got even more nervous. Obviously concerned about the situation, the captain went to his superiors to point out that he felt this operator may have been making bad parts for a while. His supervisors told him that they did not think there was a problem and that he should just keep quiet about it.
So now this young officer needed to make a potentially career-limiting decision. He had a moral dilemma to deal with. Should he push the matter knowing that having a faulty part could lead to the destruction of the $20 million aircraft and possible loss of life? Or does he keep quiet about it and hope that there is not a major problem in the field, and that if there is, that inspections will find it. He decided to escalate it up to the chief of staff of his military unit.
They recognized the importance of the issue and did a full-scale stand-down of the entire fleet until the parts that that operator had made could be traced to the aircraft where they were installed and subsequently inspected. Because the military has very stringent traceability standards and databases in place, they could do this even within the technology of the 1990s.
Today, this digital thread capability across the supply chain, which tracks the manufacturing process through data captured and MES solutions out into the field and the installed fleet of equipment, also allows traceability to quickly act on issues that are discovered.
Quality management is everyone’s business. The place to start is with secure data capture, visibility and the ability to act.
Tip 4: Change is a-Comin'
Change is something we must all deal with. This is especially important in the aerospace industry. Here’s a story about a parts supplier whose entire production line was paper based. Let’s say, for example, that one of the O-rings inside of a fuel control module was no longer being produced by one of the suppliers. Engineering would make a change to the manufacturing instructions, specifying a new part number and a new vendor. New stock would come into the supply room. Then they would go around to each workstation and each operator and update the paper instructions that they had.
The older operators, being very experienced, usually never referenced the operating instructions. If there was a different procedure for installing this type of O-ring, they would do it without consulting the manual and possibly use the old procedure. If this change order was a safety issue, then they would send a team of people around the plant to scour the inventory and find every model that was made with that old O-ring. This resulted in only a 40% conformance rate. So, for example, for every 10 units produced, six either went out with the old part or had to be scrapped.
So, this company decided to put in an MES solution to digitize the process. The immediate change that it experienced was the ability for engineering design changes to immediately be visible in the operator work instructions. Second, the more experienced operators were forced to read the new instructions and use the new procedure, as they had to validate each step before proceeding to the next inside of the system. It would not let them do any assembly without first seeing the new instructions in front of them.
Also, the company could provide less training for new operators, as work instructions enforce the operation—basically, error proofing the entire process.
The result was going from 40% to 80% compliance in engineering change orders out of the shop.
Talk about big change. Another outcome was the ability to quickly identify and trace parts in the process that needed to be reworked and doing that before the parts left the site. This is the power of going from a paper-based process to one that’s digital.
Tip 5: Turn Off the Lights As You Leave
In heavy industrial operations, energy costs are major factor in the profitability of a plant. All that power that it takes to move components down the line and provide a work environment that is safe and productive for all factory workers is important. Lighting is a major expense for an automotive plant, for example. Also, it takes time to turn industrial lights on and off. If you looked at a curve of the power demand for factory, it would look like a sine wave – a mathematical curve that describes a smooth repetitive oscillation.
During the morning, they start powering up all the machinery in the operations to a peak, and at the end of the day, they start powering things down.
What if we could get more deliberate on how we manage power in a factory? What if light could be a raw material or part that we control from an availability point of view within the production environment?
Consider this story about an automotive company that did exactly this.
The company connected lighting to the conveyor system. It is possible today to install software that allows the complex orchestration of people, equipment, and material on a production line. This also allows the ability to look up and look down the line, and to look back in time and to look forward in time to make sure that the right parts are at the right station at just the right time. Also, if things change on the line, like the removal of a car body for rework because of a quality issue, the orchestration of parts can automatically be adjusted based on that real-time event. So, all the knowledge of how the line operates can be in that software system.
In a separate system, all the lighting is controlled. You can’t reliably put motion detectors in a plant, because even if somebody is not in a location, there still needs to be light for the operation to happen. Also, if the motion detector failed to operate, it could cause a safety problem. Furthermore, by having lights on, it indicates that something is going on in that area. But it is possible to tie together the production monitoring system with the lighting system and apply some logic where under certain conditions, like a machine not operating and no worker activity in that area for the last 30 minutes and no production activity scheduled for that area in the next 30 minutes, the lights can be turned off in that area.
Once you have this automatic system in place, the shutdown of the plant at night can happen more quickly because it automatically detects when power is no longer needed for lighting and turns it off more immediately rather than waiting for human intervention to do so. So, the power use curve starts to look more like a square wave rather than a sine wave, saving a great amount of expense in energy.
A plant could save 20% in energy cost by employing a system like this.
Also, by gathering large amounts of information on the operating parameters, analytics can be applied to find even more information about how the plant is operating, so the right actions can be taken. One example may be the electricity demands vary based upon a correlation such as time of year or weather conditions. Operating instructions and policies can be changed to help make the plant more productive under these conditions. A combination of execution and analytics is the key to making further cost improvements and improving the bottom line in a production organization.