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Capturing insights by connecting things and people (3 of 7): Feedback from connected people and processes

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Previous: Capturing insights by connecting things and people (2 of 7): Feedback from connected things

In the last post about connected things, I hope it was apparent that machines can quietly increase visibility into your part production status and performance with no impact to their productivity. If this data is accessible in conjunction with what you know about change orders, shipping, labor hours and other factors from your business, the advantageous cost (virtually none on a day to day basis) to benefit (important facts at your fingertips in the context of other important facts) ratio is obvious.

People are different. They get tired, experience stress and forget things. Often, and certainly in my case, in that order. Add something else for the machine software to collect and communicate and you won't stress it or impact it's productivity. For a person it can be the straw that breaks the camel's back.  People know this and will resist new tasks, especially if they can't see the benefit to them and their work. 

There is a magic bullet

I recently read an interesting blog that claimed there was a magic bullet for learning multiple languages.  Nonsense, right?  Actually you probably already know that they are right. Take any 2 year old and have them spend much of their time with someone who only speaks an alternate language.  No special curriculum or teaching method is required. The child learns both languages because that's the period of their life when they absorb these things as part of all of the necessary daily interaction.

Capturing data about people and processes can also be a side-effect, something people can do without even thinking about it. This is easier to set-up than a machine and there is almost always a direct effort-saving benefit to the person doing the work.

It requires a different way of thinking though:

Stop using software after the work is done, to record and communicate your work. Instead, insist that the software is used to do the work and expect logging and data capture to be automatic.

Already doing this?  Let's find out:

  • Does someone in your office find and gather the latest revisions of fabrication drawings into a single file folder from time to time?
  • Is there a regular process of pulling change order summaries together into a document that accounting or management can consume?
  • Does someone update a spreadsheet with percentage of completion information (data? or guesses?) before every production meeting?
  • Do you find out that sometimes fit-up is reported as 80% complete because 80% of the labor budget is spent and in fact you do not really know where your are on fit-up of that critical batch or sequence?
  • When you send a transmittal, is the status impact on each drawing tracked? If so, does someone go on to note the change in status for each of the drawings on that transmittal?
  • When a machine operator processes a part or cuts raw material, do they search on the network (or a thumb drive) to find the CNC files to match the paper cut list or production list they are looking at?

These are all signs that you use software to record and communicate your data--but not to do the work itself. 

You can eliminate much of this effort and gather more accurate and up-to-date data as a side effect.

If software was doing the work:

  • The latest drawing revision would be available to the iPad in your shop without relying on someone to organize the latest revisions into file folders.
  • Budget impact of change order requests would automatically be apparent as they are submitted and approved or denied.
  • Percentage of completion could be fetched on demand and would be based on actual work complete vs work scheduled on a batch.
  • Sending a transmittal would automatically update the status of drawings on that transmittal and add a record of that status change to the drawing log.
  • Files to process the next beam into parts would automatically arrive at the machine together with the relevant line on the cutting plan or production plan.

Thinking this way, it's easier to connect feedback from people than to connect feedback from machines. Why? The processes and tools that collect this data make it easier to do their daily work. They see the direct positive impact to the speed and quality of their own effort, and don't have to remember to pull together summaries or log what they did. Then the connected data starts flowing and delivering the valuable insights you need to drive your business. 

We've been assuming that the data from these connected things, people and processes isn't isolated by vendor, brand or department. For more about that, read the next post, Capturing insights by connecting things and people (4of 7): Integrated data from the things, processes and people.

Brian Williams has spent his adult life working in steel fabrication and technology. Starting as a grinder/wire brush operator in college he worked as a fitter, CNC programmer, production control manager, and VP of Operations for a 4-shop industrial plate and structural fabricator. At FabTrol he has delivered training and implementation services to some of FabTrol's largest customers and designed software as FabTrol's Product Manager. Today, he continues to work in product management and serves as the General Manager of FabTrol Systems.