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Steve Garbrecht


You Say We’ve Improved? Prove It.

There’s no getting better if you don’t know how bad it’s been

Published: Monday, August 15, 2016 - 09:56

Here’s a stat that might surprise you—according to LNS Research, 50 percent of manufacturers have implemented or will be implementing cross-functional groups to support their operational excellence journeys within a year. At the same time, only 18 percent have software or processes in place to deliver relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) to personnel in real time.

The question is this: Why, by a margin of nearly 3:1, are manufacturers implementing cross-functional groups to improve operational excellence, but aren’t investing in the  tools to best deliver needed information?

In my view, what’s missing is a focus on a fundamental element of continuous improvement: measure current performance to institute a process improvement program. Without a baseline measurement there’s nothing from which to compare future improvements. How can you optimize production if you don’t know how bad it’s been?

A lot of manufacturing intelligence projects and dashboards turn out to be more of a science project than a structured approach to improvement. Typically, managers start by defining a host of measurements necessary for a process improvement. That’s good. But when there are multiple manufacturing sites, there’s inconsistency.

The key is to understand what should and shouldn’t be on the dashboard. What will allow personnel to immediately understand what’s going on and direct them toward the desired action?

Learning from others

Wouldn’t it be great if a manufacturer could learn from the mistakes and successes of others rather than starting from scratch? You can.

In recent months I’ve talked with several customers and, generally speaking, they have foundations in place with connected systems. What’s next is extracting relevant information and sharing it throughout the plant. What’s needed is an up-to-date overview of the entire manufacturing process.

At GE, the organization where I serve as director of product marketing, we’re going through digital transformation, as are many of our customers. Some early results show that significant benefits can be gained from the industrial internet. The plan at one of our manufacturing groups is to see significant savings—to the tune of $300 million—from process improvements and software for material deflation, indirect labor, material productivity, and logistics.

You can institute a production improvement program with the right visualization tool, one that helps measure manufacturing performance. To measure, you need visibility into the quality management system. Let’s look at the house of lean in figure 1. At the top of its two pillars are just in time (JIT) and jidoka.

Figure 1: House of lean

With JIT delivery you minimize inventory, free up assets, and discover flexibility, which frees employees to find better ways to perform, to improve processes.

Jidoka refers to taking action when a problem arises or a defect is discovered. For example, if a line worker sees a defect, he can pull an andon chord that sends an alert—by sound or visually—for the supervisor go to the scene and assist. Problems are identified; defects aren’t just passed along.

Visual controls are important to both concepts.

Lean manufacturing basics: ‘This is a football’

Legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi, always started each season with the basics. His players were professionals, yet he always pulled out the ball and held it up high, saying, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” Similarly, we need to go back to the basic fundamentals of lean manufacturing. 

It’s also critical that KPIs and operational indicators be displayed easily and intuitively. GE’s visualization tool, the Plant Pulse Optimizer (PPO), uses predeveloped KPI cards proven in GE’s manufacturing plants and with input from manufacturers. They help form the foundation of manufacturing knowledge and performance management. And because the cards are predefined, the same information can be shared across an organization to show the same measurements for comparison purposes. Common standards are instituted without configuring dedicated IT resources or maintaining dashboards.

Broader visibility to all plant personnel

The best visualization tool provides a panoramic view of all production activity for factory personnel to view in real time via KPIs displayed during all work shifts. Yes, it’s possible. And what’s more, these types of tools are being delivered as out-of-the-box solutions so you can be up and running (and providing meaningful information to your operations, engineering, and business users) in a matter of hours.

Are you ready to achieve lean manufacturing?

First published on the GE Digital blog.


About The Author

Steve Garbrecht’s picture

Steve Garbrecht

Steve Garbrecht, director of product marketing at GE Digital, has 26 years of experience in industrial automation, control, and information management. Previously he led product marketing at Invensys, which is now Schneider Electric. At Honeywell, Garbrecht was responsible for human machine interface (HMI) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) solutions used in manufacturing, water and wastewater operations, and other infrastructure industries.