Manufacturing Challenges Blog Series: Operator Engagement

Welcome to the fourth installment of the Manufacturing Challenges blog series. Part one focused on audits, part two on reporting, and part three looked at defects and recalls. In this blog, we'll turn our attention to operator engagement. 

Operators are busy. News flash. They wear multiple hats, perform myriad duties, and have many responsibilities. And they are time starved. Operators in a manufacturing environment are ultimately responsible for making product—whatever it is their organization sells.
 
In the real world, what we do here at InfinityQS—Quality Intelligence software—is honestly something operators see as just more time and work for them. We get that. Which is why we go the extra mile to make our software simple to understand and use…and, perhaps most importantly, do their jobs better and faster.
 
Operator EngagementOperator engagement with your quality software is crucial. Anything that stands in their way, even software that is there to help them, is considered a headache and a challenge. So, the challenge—keeping operators engaged with your quality solution, even when it may add some tasks or time to their already busy day—is worth talking about.
 

Challenges

In my experience, there are times when quality pros find that using a quality software system—like InfinityQS’ Quality Intelligence solutions—is a very positive experience…and they want to share that with their shop floor operators and have them use it, too. This is obviously well-intentioned; but an operator may view this as, “Oh, great. I’m going from not doing quality checks to having to do quality checks…on top of everything else I do.”
 
So, you need to ensure that the quality system they are being handed is simple—it has to be simple, or there will be resistance. You want the system to be fast, and you need it to be clear and error-proof. InfinityQS products can address each of those challenges and ensure operator engagement.
 

Easy to Use

The prevailing thought in manufacturing seems to be, “Paper is easy to use. We’ve been using it a long time.” And then along comes this darned computer thing.
 
Using Paper on the Shop Floor
People are used to paper because it was all we knew for a long time. It was just a case of “take the measurement, write it down.” Then computers. And it became “collect the data, type in a few numbers.” (Let’s not forget that the original software systems were pretty rough, text-based products. I’ll bet that changing/moving away from those was tough, too.)
 


Because—let’s face it—people don’t like change. In many cases, they’d rather suffer with what they took the time and effort to know than start something, anything, new. Human nature. So that’s the uphill, built-in battle we face.
 
But if the quality software is so easy to use that operators can focus on their many other responsibilities, then the change is less painful, less of a challenge.

Specifics

What makes a good quality solution so easy to use you ask? Well, to begin with, our quality software is designed to let you know when you need to perform a data collection. Don’t watch the clock. Don’t carry around a clipboard. A simple alert notifies you what, when, and how you need to take that data collection.
 
If there is an issue with something out-of-spec that needs your attention, our quality software lets you know. Don’t cull through charts and graphs, looking for the dot (data point) or two that are out of place. Again, a simple alert notifies you that an “event” has taken place and you should pay attention.
 
What does this do? It enables you, the operator, to remain engaged, to focus on the many other tasks you have on your plate. When and if you need to know something, reliable quality software brings it to your attention.
Table on Factory Floor

Error-Proof

A lot of paper-based systems rely on operators to perform calculations, too. For example, at a certain time every day the operator performs some calculation—takes a few numbers from a data collection, adds them together, then multiplies them by some other value…and puts the results down on paper. That’s rife with possibilities for error.
 
A good quality solution will just do the calculation for you—again, taking another task off your plate, saving you time, and error-proofing what could potentially be a complicated calculation. Easy peasy.
Enact Calculations

Fast

Keeping things error-proof and easy-to-use is important. But speed matters, too. Operators get frustrated if they spend too much time doing one thing. They just have too many things to do…
 
Speed comes from semi-automation.  For instance, if you can get the data collection results you need from a device that is hooked into the system, that will be fast.  The ability to connect directly to a scale or a caliper or any other semi-automated data collection device, is a real time-saver.  Pretty cool.  Set it up, hit print, and the data just comes in—and the screen turns red when things are out-of-spec, or there’s a statistical violation.
Data Collection
That kind of speed helps the operator and keeps them engaged.
 
Okay, I’d like to switch gears now and talk about some features of our quality solutions that set us apart, make life easier and more interesting for operators, and are crucial to enabling your organization to make transformative business decisions.
 

Visual Engagement

InfinityQS’ quality control solutions offer work instructions and images.  Being able to see work instructions at a glance can be very helpful and, again, take the sting out of working with software for operators. 
Work Instructions
At their fingertips is a handy “reference guide” of sorts for operators to quickly understand what they’re expected to do, at what time, and where. Work instructions take the guesswork out of their jobs, and that keeps them engaged.
 
Images are everywhere in InfinityQS’ Enact® Quality Intelligence platform. It’s the essence (and strength) of the interface.  Images tell operators everything they need to know—from data collections and notifications to process models to graphs and charts to dashboards. These are the core design aspects of the interface, and each is designed to make the user’s experience easy, simple, and fast. Let’s take a quick look at these visual design elements and see how they can help make an operator’s software experience a positive thing.
 

The Process Model

When you describe your manufacturing operation in a process model, you connect components, operations, processes, features, and data collections to create a holistic illustration that mirrors your real-life operations. You essentially create a visual representation of the required operations to produce a variety of products, perhaps even your entire line of products, just like if you were explaining it to someone at a white board.
Enact Process Model

Charts and Graphs

Control charts and graphs don’t need to be your first stop as an operator, but they often are. What’s most important from a control chart is the result of the chart’s analysis, not the chart itself.  When spec limits are broken, or something is out of whack in your process, you need to know about it.  InfinityQS quality software keeps you in the know about your processes with notifications, so you don’t need to keep an eye on the control charts, but they’re there if you want that view.
Control Chart 
The fact that the charts and graphs in InfinityQS software are easy to view and understand enables you to feel in control and empowered.
 

Dashboards

Dashboards are relatively common in quality software, so everyone is familiar with them and expects to get their information from them these days. Enact dashboards deliver easy access to targeted data, filtered by role so that users get just what they need when they need it. Each dashboard consists of customizable tiles that provide data at a glance and enable users to drill down into details. 
Enact Dashboard
Standardized dashboards promote consistent practices and standard operating procedures across the company. With everyone using the same tools to look at data from a central repository, users with different roles can make consistent decisions to benefit product and process quality.
 

Data Collections

First of all, it’s important to say that, in Enact, data is data. Your equipment that is supplying Enact with data can be connected into the system in many ways: via a serial port, a USB cable, or an Ethernet cable; by keyboard wedge or over Wi-Fi; and even via Bluetooth. Enact takes it all in, and it’s all just data to Enact.

Enact makes data collection visually engaging with several elements:
  • Data collection image: Located in the upper left, this is a visual reference for the user that can be expanded during data collection for more clarity.
  • Film strip: Located below the collection data field, this shows users the sequence of measurements to guide them through their work.
  • Spec limit scale: Located immediately left of the collection data field, this optional element shows where the current measurement falls in the spec range.
  • Collection grid: Located in the lower left, this shows users which measurements have been entered, which remain, and if any had manufacturing limit violations.
 Enact Data Collection

It All Comes Back to Simplicity

There are so many aspects to quality software that can make an operator’s job time-consuming, complicated, and difficult.  Keeping your operators engaged means keeping things simple.
 
As discussed, operators’ jobs certainly aren’t simple. If you can go the extra mile to make their time with your quality software less complicated, fast, and always engaging, then your operators will reward you with quality products and quick, consistent and accurate responses when things go wrong.
 
The right quality software will have a big impact on your operators. It will be engaging, enable them to do more in less time, keep them informed when they need to react to things, and will be seen as a tool on which they can rely, rather than just “one more thing to do.” Providing those improvements to your operators will benefit them, your organization, and, most importantly, the quality of the products you make.

Be sure to read the other blogs in the Manufacturing Challenges series:
Eric Weisbrod
By Eric Weisbrod
Vice President, Product Management
See Full Bio

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