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Evan Miller


Eliminating Paper Improves Business Performance, Cultural Transformation

Boat maker transforms its approach to analyzing warranty situations by digitizing plant floor

Published: Monday, December 5, 2016 - 16:47

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Like many manufacturers, boat maker Smoker Craft has enormous amounts of data. The challenge, according to Quality Assurance Manager Dave Frey, was that all the data were on paper. All these bits and pieces of paper filled dozens of filing cabinets. Many man-hours were devoted to painstakingly digging through reams of handwritten sheets to find a relevant bit of data. Old information was archived in banker’s boxes and stored off-site. It was next to impossible to access the data in a timely manner.

Dave Frey of Smoker Craft

Trying to analyze the data was also frustrating and time consuming. “When we used a paper system, it was hard to keep up,” says Frey. This meant that at best the data were used for special situations—problems that were big enough to justify the effort to try and track down the data. When employees had a problem, and they were fortunate enough to locate documents that contained pertinent information, trying to read the handwriting only added to the struggle.

For the most part, the company managed old data, or handwritten notes, on white boards. “When we came together for a meeting we were always working with old data,” says Frey. “The problems weren’t real anymore. Mostly we had opinions.” This situation is ripe for cynicism, conflict, and apathy.

Challenge to eliminate paper and improve data analysis

Frey knew he needed to eliminate as much paper as possible, and improve how the data were analyzed and used.

Smoker Craft’s legacy paper system provided no controls or standards. Inspectors were free to base their evaluations on their own opinion of problem areas, not on common criteria. Data collection was complicated because inspectors needed to be able to climb all over the boats to perform the inspections.

Any time Frey wanted to use the inspection data, he spent many hours compiling, retyping, and sorting data from paper forms. Because it was so difficult to see the big picture through these peeks into all the data, he often missed important signals, and he’d end up taking his team down the wrong trail. They wasted time solving the wrong problem because they couldn’t see the areas in highest need for improvement.

Intuitive and precise data collection

Frey replaced their clipboard and paper-based inspection process with iPads powered by Hertzler Systems GainSeeker Suite. The new system was custom configured to imitate the best part of the paper-based system. Users can still climb over the boats as they conduct their inspections, but now they tap iPad screens to log defect information.

Just as important, the system guides them through the inspection process. This guidance means that inspectors now follow standard processes and operational definitions. They now inspect with the same eye.

Not only are the data more reliable, the guidance the system provides also makes it much easier to train new inspectors.

Rapid analysis and improved confidence

The best parts of this system, according to Frey, is “the easy accessibility to the data and the amount of paper we have eliminated. We had a lot of paperwork to file, and it was hard to access. Now we just scan the bar code, and all of that information is available electronically.” Gone are the days of digging through huge amounts of paper or having to go off site to look through a bunch of boxes. He can now simply use GainSeeker.

The inspection process has become a lot faster, and the data are now in a form that makes analyzing simple. Frey can use GainSeeker’s powerful drill-down feature on Pareto charts to quickly and easily identify the main areas requiring rework, ensuring they are focused on the correct areas. Every week Frey meets with his inspectors to review the data in GainSeeker. Now he is confident he knows exactly what is going on when he engages in monthly management meetings.

Newfound insights drive business impact

By collecting the data using iPads, the inspectors have the ability to take pictures and record audio data. This additional information has been extremely helpful during audits or dealing with warranty issues. More detailed information about the condition of the unit when it leaves the factory has empowered Frey’s team to understand the issues that arise during shipping and delivery.

This makes it possible to focus resources where they’ll have the most effect on customer satisfaction.

Better data lead to cultural change: Increased accountability and ownership

Although Frey says the company experiences better warranty resolution, he feels that the cultural impact of eliminating paper has been significant.

“Before using GainSeeker, everyone just thought it was part of life to not have easy access to data,” he says. “Now they assume the data are there and accessible. There has been a real culture change. People feel like they can do something about a problem. They own it. It increases accountability and ownership.”


About The Author

Evan Miller’s picture

Evan Miller

Evan Miller is co-owner, president, and CEO of Hertzler Systems Inc. Prior to joining Hertzler Systems, Miller taught technology education in Canada. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and his master’s degree from Ball State University, Indiana. Miller has served on the boards of IU Health Goshen (Indiana) Hospital, the Maple City Community Orchestra, and Pathways Retreat.