Cimlogic works with a variety of UK and Ireland manufacturers, integrating MES software solution TrakSYS as a platform to drive continuous improvement and lean manufacturing strategies. Chris Borrowdale, IT Manager, talks about the conflicting needs of the lean manager on site , the IT Manager and the operator.

We’ve all seen systems that we just know can work better but can’t quite put our fingers on why or how.  This is the basic starting point for many manufacturing IT projects whose intention is to improve efficiency and so make more money.  Resolving those two pain points requires that others be caused, addressed and overcome.  These additional difficulties –  adoption of new technologies, changes in working practices and resource constraints – impact operators, lean managers and IT managers in unique ways and demand targeted approaches to minimise the time required to make manufacturing IT projects work.

An operator craves understanding and familiarity with their environment; the regular rhythm of their working environment is crucial to their sense of security and confidence.  One of their key skills is that they will instinctively pick up on the slightest change in a machine’s regular beats and so predict a failure.  This correlation between change and negative outcome is one of the reasons why clear, simple explanation, reassurance, early involvement in the adoption process and above all good training is essential to smoothing the changeover from one production method to another where operators are concerned.

Knowledge of, and proximity to the manufacturing processes and regular patterns must be seen as the asset it is and we must make it work to drive us forward on our journey.  The pain of new functionality on a screen not quite working will be felt every time operators use it; this can be hundreds of times a shift, every shift, day in, day out, year after year.  They will most likely demand “that button needs to be made just that little larger” or “that text isn’t quite big enough” – above all they will insist that the system responds quickly and predictably. They will also, rightly, resist anything which will increase their workload unless they have been consulted and communicated with along the journey.  These requests can be seen as equally important as removing the smallest stone from the shoe of those who must walk the most steps on our journey.

Many times our best approach is to identify the natural leaders amongst the shift teams and encourage them to choose to buy in to the reason for change then allow them to blaze the trail – this supports the “train the trainer” model which is also most efficient for project acceptance on the human level.  When it comes to the system level, the needs of the lean manager to have our project fully integrated and not standing alone – regardless of how bright a beacon it may be – is one of the key selling points, demonstrating value added to the business using the measures most familiar to those judging and highlighting the improvement in results both in our project’s immediate area and across the business.

This multi-system integration can involve many parties, will be the most likely area for projects to spread their scope wider than initially envisaged or planned for and can be the biggest source of frustrations and delays; everyone can see the attraction of the destination ahead like an oasis in a desert but getting agreement on the detailed reality of the shimmering nirvana is as easy as carrying sand in a sieve.

Everyone in the business will see their own vision and want to shape the projects goals along the way to suit. It is the role of the lean manager to act as guide.  They must demonstrate knowledge of what is possible, interest in learning and listening to other’s viewpoints and, most importantly, the vision and persuasive powers to keep everyone moving towards the goal.  Whatever else is at our journey’s end there must be clear, demonstrable benefits.

Many times, so long as our project is seen by all as one of a series of steps on a continuous improvement process the challenges faced by lean managers need not be obstacles to making it happen.  We must ensure that the ideal what we aim for, that what falls out of the project along the way we account for and can return to collect on another journey.  Above all we must complete our journey, as near to our initial estimated time and with sufficient funds left in the budget to enjoy the benefits of our labours.

The facts and figures about our arrival on time and budget will make the IT manager’s job of demonstrating the value of undertaking the journey easier.  As all the travellers are kept aware of these and advised of any changes they are more likely to wish to travel with us again.  Our familiarity with having travelled before will help avoid common potholes along the way and so increase everyone’s chances of arriving unscathed and better educated.  Having walked routes requiring knowledge of this system or that protocol previously we can assist in ensuring that the process is less of a challenge and thus the journey more of a pleasure.  Our ability to pick a route avoiding the loose stones of rigid, inflexible screen design will reassure the operators and reduce delays associated with their attention to detail.  Our keen eye for the shortest path, learned by having travelled many times, will ensure that lean managers get the result required and arrive willing and eager to travel again.  Above all the journey itself will be seen as means to an end, an opportunity for all to grow, improve learn and be better placed to make IT work.