How Courage and the Right Mix of OpEx and Technologies Can Keep Operations on Track in 2021

Leverage manufacturing technology to make decisions

As we move deeper into fall, it’s become very hard for many manufacturers to predict how the next 8 – 12 months will look. That why it’s a good time for another discussion about navigating, and ultimately getting out of “manufacturing Oz.” In a recent post, we examined the Scarecrow effect and the importance of a strong and agile “manufacturing brain.” We talk about the following uncertainties around the corner with a volatile election underway and long winter of potential virus spikes:

  • On time supplier performance and lead times
  • Customer demand pattern changes
  • Product mix demand changes
  • Absenteeism and high turnover
  • State of the health crisis

…there’s no time like the present to talk about finding the courage for addressing what’s to come.

In the Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion joins Dorothy on her quest to Oz to ask the Wizard for courage. Given all of the unknowns in the near-term in the U.S., a fear of the unknown and a desire to wait and see what happens are certainly understandable. But as a leader in a manufacturing organization, that could also spell disaster. Merriam Webster defines courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.” And Walt Disney once said that “courage is the main quality of leadership, in my opinion, no matter where it is exercised.” In this blog I will dig in on the growing issue of absenteeism and high turnover and how a combination of good operational thinking and technology can create a stronger sense of courage to make tough decisions that will keep business on track during times of disruption.

Navigating difficult hazards on the Yellow Brick Road

When it comes to the difficulties and dangers manufacturers are currently facing, we’re hearing that absenteeism and turnover have become a major issue for clients. Many are saying that absenteeism has increased between 5 and 15% of what it was before the pandemic began. The implications of these types of numbers on on-time delivery to customers and the overall business are potentially huge, lending urgency to the following types of questions:

  • Who will show up for work today?
  • How do we need to configure our processes?
  • What is the best way to teach people new standard work?
  • How can I accelerate onboarding and training of new people?

With business profitability or even survival on the line, avoiding action or going with your gut are both huge risks. To minimize disruptions from absenteeism, or whatever other key issues you are currently struggling with, it’s important to make sound decisions based on accurate and timely data. And in many cases, including dealing with absenteeism and onboarding, there are cost-effective technology solutions that can help smooth out rough patches on the road out of Oz. It’s just a matter of having the courage to try a new approach and go digital. In the case of staffing challenges, you could build a staffing playbook that outlines standard work and line balance for different scenarios. And then using technologies, such as video and sensors, to train people and validate work, helps optimize productivity and quality regardless of how circumstances shift from day to day and week to week. Let’s look at a couple of quick examples of how this could be done in the very near term.

Tools for building an adaptive staffing playbook and approach

One low-cost and effective tool that’s invaluable for ongoing optimization of production processes is AVIX. Through a combination of video and task structure mapping and analysis, AVIX enables manufacturers to digitally integrate standard work and line balancing. AVIX can display a video of a task along with key details about the task structure, tools or items related to a task and even a value-add versus non-value add analysis. The information in AVIX can also be used to align and rebalance processes. It provides intuitive visual maps of work sequences, enabling users to move tasks around (drag and drop) based on shifting circumstances, such as social distancing requirements. One manufacturer used AVIX to regularly balance processes on a line with 70 – 80 people and workstations, gaining roughly 10 – 15% improvement in productivity. It also helped with training once the COVID pandemic hit.

Another manufacturer had encouraging success using AVIX to create digital work instructions using a standard work template. They simply input details around billing materials, tools and quality parameters and AVIX formatted the data into work instruction on the client’s standard template. This enabled the client to capture years of tribal knowledge and create a new standard.  These activities will set the stage for long-term success by providing the basis for training, a baseline from which to start improvement activities, and drive short-term productivity and quality improvements.

The beauty of a solution like AVIX, is you can start simply by capturing video of a task and then filling in the details and eventually using it to support line balancing—and there are operational benefits each step along the way. Read this blog to learn how Dploy Solutions’ parent company, TBM Consulting Group, has worked with AVIX to improve efficiency, productivity and streamline continuous improvement work.

Drishti video analytics software is another highly effective tool for standardizing and monitoring processes in support of more flexible operations. It can help with automating training and also make sure that everyone from line operators to engineers are following processes, providing real-time alerts as issues arise.

Beyond helping you address HR-related challenges, video technologies and similar concepts can also be used to help optimize machine uptime. Tying video of a line to IIoT sensors, so you can analyze what caused a jam, for example. By synching video with tag or sensor data, you can more quickly get see what happened and take the right corrective actions.

More flexibility and visibility = more confidence

Despite today’s unprecedented business circumstances, there have never been so many good—and affordable—digital options for addressing the fast-evolving challenges. Virtually every manufacturer will struggle with absenteeism and turnover for the next six to ten months, so the right actions are essential to minimizing the impact on your customers and business. The types of technology outlined above provide a way to make the most of people who show up and create more value from your business. All it takes is a willingness to figure out which digital technology makes sense for your ongoing needs and the courage to step up and try something new. We can help navigate the road out of ‘Oz’ with our pragmatic approach to bringing digital manufacturing technologies to your operations. Reach out to schedule an introductory meeting.

About the Authors

Ken Koenemann, VP of Supply Chain and Technology at TBM Consulting Group (parent company of Dploy Solutions), is a 25+ year veteran of manufacturing, operational excellence and supply chain optimization. At TBM, Ken is actively leading the effort to our suite of services to include emerging technologies that improve productivity and convert complex data into information for improved decision making.

Wes Turner, Senior Management Consultant at TBM Consulting Group, is a highly experienced engineering and operations leader with a record of developing and supporting high return projects and solutions. He has 20+ years of experience providing hands-on operational leadership in manufacturing, engineering, and continuous improvement. His areas of expertise include lean manufacturing, lean product development, management system implementation, project management, cost reduction, facilities management, technology, value stream and process mapping.

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