By Jay Fisher, Senior Systems Engineer
There are plenty of factors that affect overall efficiency on the plant floor, but even with advancements in technology and automation, efficiency still greatly depends on the employees operating the machines and making their way around the factory floor. But when you’re dealing with as many full-time line operators as most factories employ, it can be a challenge to optimize and even monitor their placement and activities.
In order to increase labor efficiency, it’s crucial to place workers in the right place at the right time with the right resources. Managers also need to know how long it takes their workers to complete different tasks so they can compare it against their defined production standard and how many pieces per hour are expected. So how do plant managers make sure all these requirements are met, and how can they make strategic decisions if the requirements are not being met? In the era of Industry 4.0, the answer is simple: insight derived from “good” data! There are a couple questions you may be asking: how do I get this “good” data, and how do I get value from it once I have it?
Calculate Total Earned Hours for Production
When gathering this data, a time and attendance system is a good place to start. Time and attendance systems deliver data on labor hours and location of labor. When managers are able to see when an employee clocked in at a work station and how long they were there, they’re able to do a lot more with their production data.
The production data gathered will often come from one or more sources like an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, Manufacturing Execution System (MES) or a third-party production tracking system. This data will reveal the part numbers of the pieces produced, which allows managers to map a part number to a work center and determine who worked on it and for how long. Once all this data has been gathered, operating managers can compare it against the defined or budgeted work standard to determine if the utilization of labor was efficient or not. Multiplying the pieces actually produced for a given day by your work standard (typically pieces per hour) will indicate the total earned hours for production.
Now, you can compare that number to how many hours were reported in your time and attendance system. The resulting number should be very similar to the first number you got when you multiplied your parts produced by your work standard. If it’s not, take a deeper look at the data to find out where the inefficiencies lie or where they may be stemming from. If inefficiencies are indicated, it could mean a number of things– the issue could be process-related, equipment-related, operator-related, or perhaps the work standard had been incorrectly defined.
Implement Continuous Improvement Plan
Regardless of what the determined inefficiency is, proactive managers will implement continuous improvement efforts. Managers should have a strategic plan in place to either find out where the inefficiencies lie, take action to solve these issues or a combination of both. These efforts could take the form of operator training or time studies on each work station, for example, and could span over the course of a month, a quarter or a year. If management determines that the inefficiency lies in certain workstations that aren’t meeting their targets, they can execute ongoing time studies of those particular workstations. Perhaps one of the operators out of the four at a workstation takes a very long time on the piece, but the other three are finishing their part before another is ready. This is great insight to have because it allows operations to confidently make a decision. They could add more work for each of the three operators, implement training if they see it’s more of a widespread skills gap, or relocate the slower operator to another workstation.
If your data reflects that your line operators are efficient, it may be a mechanical issue or even an inefficient use of equipment. In this case, you could tweak the code on the machines or further investigate for mechanical issues. For example, the inefficiency may be coming from a 10-second wait time on the machine between two steps in production when it required only two seconds. This change alone could greatly accelerate production and significantly improve efficiencies.
Adjust Your Work Standard
Regardless of what changes are made, the plant’s work standard will have to be adjusted to reflect the reduced or increased labor hours. This will allow operating managers to actually forecast their work standard and see efficiency trends so it can continue to be improved.
Just being able to see how you’re performing to your work standards with the existing pool of resources, human and technical, allows you to identify if there is a problem or not. When operations has this type of data available and are able to make real-time management decisions based on the data, they’ll get closer to being able to forecast what their numbers will look like in the future and how you can work with your employees, the technology and the process to optimize these numbers.
Now you know how to increase labor efficiency– let’s take it to the machines! Read our blog on calculating your risk priority number (RPN) for the steps to make sure you avoid equipment downtime.
Senior Systems Engineer
About the Author: Jay has been helping clients solve difficult operational and technical challenges at Pyramid Solutions for the last 12 years. As a skilled drummer, Jay loves to jam with his band in his free time.