The Top Manufacturing Challenges – and How Enact Can Help: Part 1

Rick Sloop
By Rick Sloop | March 9, 2022
Director, Service Programs

Fact checked by Stephen O'Reilly

A few times a year, I get together with a couple of old friends of mine from the manufacturing industry to catch up, grab some dinner, and talk into the night. I met up with an old friend back in December of last year and enjoyed a nice dinner and the usual conversation topics. He’s worked in production for years and visits various plants all around the country for his company. We usually talk about the manufacturing things we have in common: Statistical Process Control (SPC), quality control, waste reduction… those sorts of things.
 
So, one thing led to another, and we started talking about Enact®, InfinityQS’ quality management platform. I know what you’re thinking: Aha! Took advantage of the situation to shill your company’s product, eh? But no, it just came up. Honestly. This is just the kind of stuff we talk about!
 
Anyway, we're talking about Enact and he said, “Well, we really can't focus any resources right now on quality control or SPC.” He went on, “We've got much bigger problems than just collecting data and quality control.” Okay, that got my attention. “So, what are your biggest challenges?” I asked. And that’s when things got really interesting…
Enact Helps Manufacturers Tackle Challenges

Biggest Challenges for Manufacturers

My friend walked me through a whole list of challenges that he’s experiencing that—as it turns out—are topmost on the minds of lots of other manufacturers, too. What I’d like to do with the rest of this blog is walk through our conversation and how Enact can help manufacturers with the first three of those big challenges he mentioned. And they are: onboard training, losing tribal knowledge, and system usability. And then I’ll continue on with the rest of the challenges he enumerated in Part 2 of this blog series next week. So, on to the first big challenge:
 

Onboard Training

So, the first thing my friend points out is: “For lack of a better term, I’d call it ‘onboarding,’ he says. “It feels like we just keep training people. It never seems to end.”
 
Well, that got me to thinking. You see, the thing I’ve always liked about Enact is that a new user doesn’t have to dive right into anything complex and figure things out as they go. Instead, Enact offers the operator everything they need, right at their fingertips, in easy-to-understand fashion. The information they need is presented through a simple-to-navigate dashboard tailored to their role and responsibilities.
Sample Enact Work Dashboard
Sample Enact Work Dashboard
 
This is a typical Enact dashboard, in this case for an operator on a production line for a company that makes toys. Not only is the interface easy to read and understand but Enact also uses alerts and notifications to help operators focus on what they do best—operate the machinery that creates the products your company sells—by taking away the need to watch the clock and worry about what task is due next.
 
Enact lets the operator know when a checklist or data collection is due (via the notifications on the left of the dashboard), or when a process is out of whack (via an alert)…
Sample Enact Alarm
Sample Enact Alarm
 
To make sure that Enact fits your needs, we start you off with a simple, straightforward (pilot) process that you know can yield results in just a few weeks; this ROI will in turn help fund the next step—aiming for that “high priority use case.” You can then continue on (expand/scale) in any direction you choose. When you’ve seen the software in action, and your operators are comfortable with the interface, you’ll know exactly where to turn next. But there’s more, too. A whole host of tools at your disposal.
 
To quote Steven Voight, InfinityQS Knowledge Development Manager: “We call it the ‘extended Enact experience.’ It’s an extensive library of Enact self-help tools, where you can learn about all things Enact on your time and at your pace.”
 
In his blog, Shift to eLearning, Steven explains the emphasis on this new kind of user experience: “Momentum for eLearning has been gathering. It’s become increasingly obvious that the cost savings incurred with the shift towards eLearning swings both ways: for students and for companies.” 
 
Enact doesn’t overwhelm new users. It’s the perfect tool for onboarding new employees and getting them up to speed quickly.
Enact on the Shop Floor

System Usability

Another aspect of getting new people up to speed quickly is this: how easy to use is your quality system? Is the fact that it might be fairly complicated at least part of the reason why it takes a long time to get new users comfortable with the software? Or perhaps you are using a paper-and-pencil-based system that requires extra training and product knowledge to be sure that operators are using the correct forms?
 
We’ve been saying the following since Enact was first launched. The system just “knows” what an operator is responsible for; and it asks for them to only perform the checks and collections that apply to them.
 
This is because roles and responsibilities for users are established when you first set up the system. Then, when they use Enact, the system knows what line(s) they are responsible for, the checklists they need to complete, and the associated data collections. And they can focus on making sure things are running smoothly.
 
The Enact awareness of an operator’s process responsibilities is also a huge benefit when an operator has to change production lines or process areas. Enact dashboard information for the operator changes to their new responsibilities to reduce risk, errors, or missed checks.
 
And when data displays for them—in the form of control charts and plots and graphs and such—they see only data that pertains to their responsibilities: specific machines or lines or whatever their role encompasses. In the example below, this user’s analysis dashboard contains the Box & Whisker and Pareto charts they’re used to seeing—for their line.
Sample Enact Analysis Dashboard
Sample Enact Analysis Dashboard

Workflows Add to Usability

Enact uses what we call “event workflows.” As Eric Weisbrod, InfinityQS VP of Product Management, says in his blog specifically about this topic: “An event workflow captures valuable contextual information that can be used by anyone in your organization to better manage or prevent similar events in the future. In short, event workflows are intended to give guidance and reduce confusion.”
 
Specifically, an event workflow in Enact offers “the ability to stipulate rules for how the organization reacts when an event occurs. By ‘event’ we mean data and timing violations.
  • Data violations include manufacturing limits (specification, reasonable limits, net content control limits, etc.), statistical violations, etc.
  • Timing violations include missed or late data collections and checklists.
Sample Enact Workflow dialog
Sample Enact Workflow 

“You may define any or all of these to be considered exceptions to your day-to-day operations that occur on the shop floor. And, let’s face it, these types of violations happen to everyone in manufacturing.”
 
In terms of usability, an event workflow adds a level of clarity.
 
“The benefit of visual clarity for event workflows is obvious: nothing is left to chance, and it’s easy for users to see what is happening—and what they need to do—at a glance. This provides clarity for the user expected to take an action, but this also provides clarity for those that need to review if the right things are getting done. Clarity for supervisors and managers is key, as they are often held accountable for the right actions being taken.”
 
And (one of the things I think is pretty cool is) an operator can incorporate photos or images to notify others of issues that they may not have the knowledge to fix. Having event information and an image of the issue available immediately to subject matter experts greatly reduces response time and eases the training burden of new employees.
 
Which leads us to the next challenge for manufacturers that my friend spoke about.
Enact Safeguards Against Loss of Tribal Knowledge

Losing Knowledge

“We're constantly training people,” he said. “We bring them in, and they know nothing about the quality system we’re using. And it takes three months or more to get them up to speed. Honestly, we're really hurting trying to keep our staff going—especially line operators, positions like that.” I feel your pain, I’m thinking. And then he drops this: “And we're losing all that ‘tribal knowledge,’ too.”
 
This struck a chord for me. We’ve been hearing this a lot in recent years. Losing tribal knowledge is a huge challenge for manufacturers these days. Experienced operators retire or move on, for whatever reason, and take all their acquired, practical knowledge with them. All the little things they did every day that really made a difference in manufacturing operations. It’s truly irreplaceable.
 
My colleague, Jason Chester, InfinityQS Director of Global Channel Programs, has written extensively about this issue. Check out his blog (definitely worth a read) for some details about tribal knowledge. He says:
 
“The operators know the ‘personalities’ of the machinery, the plant floor supervisors almost have a sixth sense of how to run their production operations. And that is locked in the heads of the people who have garnered all that experience.”
 
“If you have workers being laid off or workers not able to be on the plant floor, then your company’s tribal knowledge is being lost or seriously eroded. If you find yourself having to draft workers in from different areas and roles to fill in for absent workers, then that tribal knowledge is of little use to them. And that is a massive risk for manufacturers.”
 
Enact event workflows can help you capture that tribal knowledge and pass it along to the workers who need it and can use it—and maintain a record of how events are handled for future use.
Enact for Quality Control

In Closing

So, losing tribal knowledge, training new people, and system usability were clearly the biggest challenges he and his company seemed to be facing. But there were more. “Digital transformation,” he says. And then he just looks at me. “Corporate is pushing for digital transformation, whatever that means,” he shrugs. “I guess they want to move things to the cloud, or whatever.”
 
And rounding out the “big five,” as he phrased it, was this: “Corporate is also pushing for automation. They think automation will get us around some of the employee retention issues and things like that.”
 
I’ll share the remainder of our conversation—about automation and digital transformation—in Part 2 of this short blog series next week. Thanks for joining me!
 
 
Take advantage of the technology at your fingertips today: contact one of our account managers (1.800.772.7978 or via our website) for more information.
 
 

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