My wife credits me with having laziness down to a fine art. I cannot argue. For years, I have spent my time looking for ways to avoid, as my wife would put it, the things that I don’t want to do, or as I would put it, things that don’t add value. It’s a natural process for me, I didn’t study, or get any training, to be honest it just comes naturally.
Now I have worked for a little time in the distant past as a manufacturing operator, yes, putting parts on boards, running SMT machines, running the ATE and even functional test. The way I normally tell the story is that “I was looking for experience”. While partly true, the reality was more to do with several very bright “fires” burning in the manufacturing area, it was all hands on deck.
Though the work was very repetitive, it was quite enjoyable, right up to the time things went wrong. Contributing to the making of a product is quite fulfilling, trying to track down materials that had run out, leaving me as the bottleneck in the line for a product needed to have been shipped yesterday, not quite so much.
Yes, I did learn the hard way. Though not my regular “day job” at the time which was manufacturing systems software development, populating boards was actually quite restful, it appealed to the lazy part of me. Just sit there, do the same thing all the time, get paid. How bad can it be? If only then to get rid of the problems, the disruptions, the fire-fighting.
So, the challenge was set, trying to avoid these problems in manufacturing rather than having to address them. If we can fix the causes of problems before they happen, how much better would that be. The later the problems are detected, the more costly and difficult to rectify. Detecting them before they happen, has to be free then, right? Examples are around us already. Preventative maintenance for example on your car. Nowadays, cars tell us when they need to be serviced, the brake pads changed, the oil replaced etc. They are measured and monitored so that lazy people like me are alerted to the service need in a timely way and do not break down any more. It works. Maintenance related problem prevention is one thing, but how about operational problem prevention?
It is all about visibility, turning it into opportunity to identify potential problems ahead of the time that they become actual problems. You don’t need to be psychic for example to know that if any part of the production process runs slower than expected, that there is going to be disruption to deliveries, knock-on effects to other lines and products. Using real-time data collection and dashboards, we can see the start of the trend as soon as just a few products are made, focus somebody immediately on the task to find out what is the problem and correct it. This is one of many solutions that the Valor MSS suite can provide, the benefits of which are enjoyed by many customers every day.
The less well recognized but specific example that I got caught up in at the time I was doing the manufacturing work was to do with SMT materials. They ran out. There was no new material. The machine stopped. I asked myself how that could happen, after all it was no secret what product we were making, the bill of materials, the manufacturing process was all out there in the open, everything was said to have been prepared. It is not rocket science, surely. I decided to ask the production manager about it. After receiving a 30 minute lecture in response, I realised that our production manager was firmly laying blame on the materials manager, who he claimed did not understand the nature or needs of manufacturing. The materials manager was sitting at this desk. I went and asked him the same question. I had no idea that not only manufacturing, but engineering were the ones responsible, that Engineering could not make their minds up which materials to use, and that production would steal materials whenever machine stopped, from anywhere, no matter what, and for that reason all the important stuff had to be locked up. I thought about talking to the engineering manager. Just as well I decided on a quick “bio-break” before asking him the question. At length, he put me straight on quite a few topics related to purchasing, scheduling, equipment breakdowns, unexpected spoilage. Ultimately, I realized this was complete chaos. Oh yes, and in all that time, still there were no materials found that my machine needed. This day felt way too much like hard work.
I made it my mission to find a way to break through this problem, as by far, it was the most major factor affecting manufacturing that I had seen, and it was making people upset. There had to be a better way.
It took some time, some effort, but finally we created a nice working solution. It is the realisation of the Japanese “Just In Time”, or as I prefer to put it “minimum commitment”, translated for electronics. The most difficult thing about this solution is for people to believe that it works. It does work though, spectacularly in all the cases that I have seen. Actually, the production manager, materials manager and engineering manager were all a bit embarrassed about how much difference it made. They had not realized the true cost of their chaotic old methods.
Well, I would not say that everyone in manufacturing is as lazy like me. Far from it. But the good work they do should always be adding value, contributing, and not fire-fighting or even problem solving. Maximum result for minimum effort, that is good enough for me.
Check out my “Improve Materials Management With Intelligent JIT” webinar on September 21st to hear the full story of how this solution works. This is all getting very interesting…..