Manufacturing Challenges Blog Series: Efficiency

Steve Wise
By Steve Wise | April 4, 2019
Vice President of Statistical Methods

Fact checked by Stephen O'Reilly

Welcome to the sixth installment in the Manufacturing Challenges blog series. We’ve looked at quite a few challenges to manufacturers over the previous weeks: audits, reporting, defects and recalls, operator engagement, and waste reduction. In this blog, I’m going to focus on efficiency. We all know efficiency can be a challenge to manufacturers. And it can be complicated. But when you increase efficiency on the shop floor, chances are you increase productivity; and that affects the bottom line.
Factories need to keep up with the times in order to stay competitive. And that can mean many things, from supplying the latest technology to the production line, to up-to-the-minute software, to developing new ways of looking at problems, to finding ways to constantly improve—such as efficiency. Adapting is essential for factories.
So, I’d like to talk about the things that I look at when I think about improving efficiency in manufacturing:
  • Pinpointing issues on the production line
  • Striving for standardization
  • Keeping a sharp eye on data collection
Let’s start with issues on the production line.

Things Happen

Breaking news: everything does not always go your way in manufacturing. That’s right, things happen. Things break. Things get jammed, pieces fall off, and machines stop working. Materials fall off rollers, for crying out loud…

For Example

Years ago, I did some work with a toilet paper manufacturing company. I was standing near this very large production line, discussing things with the operator. In one end went magazines and all sorts of paper things that we're familiar with, and out the other end comes really nice, soft toilet paper. It was pretty impressive.
Things HappenThey had these giant rollers, as big as two-story houses, and they were picking up this wet pulp through a slurry. The roller would then spin around and dry the paper, and off the other end would come these wide sheets of tissue paper that would then go through what they called “slitters” (for cutting into appropriate size). This all happens really fast.
So, here I am with the operator, having a nice chat and watching the machines in action, and for whatever reason the paper just fell off the rollers. Rather than being fed into the slitters and then magically becoming toilet paper, instead it was shooting all over the floor—like silly string from a cannon. Believe me, everyone went into panic mode to get that all sorted out.
The point behind this story is that, yes, things happen. Usually, when something breaks, it’s pretty easy to determine the cause of it. You just work backwards until you find the break in the process. And, typically, there are documented fixes for those sorts of occurrences. But, sometimes, more insidious things happen. The things that just wreak havoc on quality and schedule and leave people, at the end of the day, scratching their heads and wondering what in the heck is happening, what's going wrong…and what's the root cause? Determining the root cause of unwanted variations can be a time-consuming, exhausting effort.

That’s Where We Come In

Manufacturing is all about transformations. Every step in the process, every input and output, from raw materials all the way to finished product, is a transformation. It's a series of transformations. So, organizations need to make a real commitment to quality—to looking at all the right data—to improve quality. You need to put sampling strategies in place where necessary, to confirm that transformations remain effective:
  • Did the transformation occur?
  • Was the expected outcome achieved?
If you’re checking the right data—along the entire production line—then the data you’re collecting will pinpoint any undesirable variations and help you isolate when and where the detection of these “abnormalities” occurred.
At the very least, by correctly collecting data and looking for these transformations and determining when things didn't quite go as expected, you start looking around and asking the right kinds of questions. You can get to these root cause problems a lot faster.
Sniffing Out Root CausesI've experienced endlessly looking for root causes myself, and boy, it would have been great to have had data to help isolate the problem, at the very least. It's like a murder mystery—you’re sleuthing out where the problems are. Trying to find out who the killer is.
Because things just happen. Some things are harder to detect than others, and if you're collecting data in the right places, looking for the abnormalities, looking for the signals on the control charts, then the events (broadcast as notifications and alerts) that our products create, will help you isolate those root causes more quickly.
We can help you wade through potentially hundreds of sources of variation and point them out in a very efficient way. The time you need to commit to investigation and discovery of the root cause are greatly shortened using InfinityQS Quality Intelligence solutions. That's efficiency.

There’s a Place for Everything

Manufacturers are slowly moving away from paper and pencil, and even spreadsheet files. As the world becomes digitized, so too must manufacturing. It begins with digitizing existing old documents—saving stacks of clutter and entire filing cabinets to a hard drive. Next step: moving from a localized hard drive to a server somewhere inside your company’s four walls. Finally, as we continue to move forward, we’ll all be moving our files to cloud servers. That’s just where things are headed. But as we move into that glorious future, we are reminded not to make the same mistakes we’ve made in the past. Everything has its place.
Let’s be frank, you feel safe with paper and pencil until the ice cream truck theory takes effect. The ice cream truck theory goes like this: Betty knows where everything is. She knows which filing cabinet has the info the auditor is seeking, and which folders contain a certain customer’s detailed information. But then one day Betty is run down by an ice cream truck. Where are you then? You’ll never find another thing again. (Okay, the more common version of the story involves a beer truck, but we’re trying to keep things light here. So, ice cream for everyone!)
A Place for Everything - Especially Data
Well, here’s the rub: you can create the same mess electronically. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. Betty set up the file folder structure in a very specific way that made perfect sense to her. For example, all the files for a company that makes Christmas tree ornaments went into an unremarkable folder named “Dec” because, well, December is the month in which we celebrate Christmas! Brilliant! Thanks, Betty! Who wants ice cream?
And you can do the same with your quality data. It’s easy for two people to create two different databases for their quality data. And then, one day, management says, “We need to roll this up into one, centralized database for the corporation.” Uh oh. Try to mash two quality databases together? It’s a lot of work. Trust me. And if you have a dozen databases? You’ll be praying for that ice cream truck.

Standardization is Key

Standardization is KeyThe InfinityQS Enact® Quality Intelligence platform is a shortcut to standardization. Its regimented, diligent, thoughtful, organizational structure forces your hand as a user. If you’re going to import or input a number into Enact, it needs to have a part, process, and feature assigned to it, and more. Standardization during set up is what this robust tool is all about.
The Enact database is structured in a very meaningful way. Enact prevents the introduction of data that is not properly organized, structured, and tagged. By paying the price up front, in standardizing the tool’s setup, data retrieval becomes a snap. And this is reflected further downstream, too, with easy reporting and powerful analysis.
Because there is a place for everything in InfinityQS solutions, users—operators and quality pros—experience improved efficiency and productivity.

InfinityQS Knows Data

We’re all about efficiency and productivity. Particularly when it comes to data collection. InfinityQS knows data. We understand data. We’ve seen all the many different ways in which data are collected on the shop floor: manually, with handheld devices, from sensors, from reading other files, and via timers.
InfinityQS Knows Data

Some Tools

Since we know where data comes from, we've got the tools readily available to bring that data into our systems. There's no fiddling around with using inefficient ways to get the data into the system. InfinityQS offers add-on tools like Dynamic Scheduler, which employs an easy-to-read schedule and automated data collection reminders and Data Management System (DMS), which helps customers to automatically collect measurement values from a multitude of data sources and store them directly into the database.

Gentle Reminders

Because they can be so busy, operators need to be reminded in advance of data collection tasks. We organize data collection for our customers by setting up requirements, reminders, and countdowns. Here's an example of some data collection reminders (on the left) and some alerts (on the right) in Enact:
Notifications and Timed Data Collections 
And then there’s compliance. When external regulatory bodies need to know about those data collection compliance statistics, since it’s all managed by the software, it’s easy to report: Was data collected on time? Were any of the measurements late? Were any measurements missed? You don’t need a third-party system, or paper, or even memory to get what you need. You just set up all the data collection requirements, reminders, and countdowns once and let the system do its thing.


So, we know data must be stored properly, but it also has to be retrieved properly. And manufacturers need to be able to quickly pull the information they need to get answers to questions. To do so, we need to know how our data are related. Our Quality Intelligence solutions handle data similarly. In Enact, we need to know part, process, and part feature. In our ProFicient™ software: part, process, and test. In both cases, these are three key elements related to a piece of data.
Other, lesser-known elements related to data are time stamp and source. A source could be a machine tool, or a sensor, or even an employee. This is all part of sequencing the data.
We tag data elements like this so that no matter where we are performing our product inspection we can see where the issue started: the root cause. Because things can happen upstream or downstream.
When an issue does arise, the system can then tell you where to look to seek resolution. That’s time-saving and efficient.


InfinityQS Quality Intelligence solutions help you to visualize the data. There are the histograms, control charts, Box and Whisker plots, and Pareto charts offered by both our solutions.
But if you then would like to drill down into data streams from across multiple sites, Enact offers stream analysis, stream grading, and site summaries.
Stream Grading and More
Stream grading is a way in which Enact can really simplify looking at process performance. You can easily zoom from a site level view to an individual data stream view to understand where process improvements can have the most impact on product yield. See more about Enact’s grading capabilities in this white paper.
The key point here is that visualizing the data can help you be more efficient. It’s easy, at-a-glance technology that enables operators to keep an eye on things without adding to their daily routines.

In Conclusion

So, there it is. A whirlwind tour of what goes through my mind when I think about improving efficiency in manufacturing: pinpointing issues on the production line, striving for standardization, and keeping a sharp eye on data collection.
When you increase efficiency on the shop floor, chances are you increase productivity; and that affects the bottom line. And we can all use a bit of that, right?
Please read the other Manufacturing Challenges series blogs:

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