How it’s made is always interesting

In manufacturing, it’s pretty obvious that the machine operator, assembler, quality control inspector, even the shipping folks know in detail “how it’s made” – they see it every day.

Although the process, materials, machinery, and technology for manufacturing most parts is usually very interesting, the folks actually involved in producing it every day have often gone “nose blind” to the amazing processes that they are a part of, not that they are no longer amazing processes, or that they require any less skill, innovation, or attention to detail to complete, but more that they have already been there, done that and the magic of it is common practice.

Sure, occasionally the new product or engineering change to an existing product comes through to break the monotony, improvements to the processes, the machinery, or the raw materials offer some spark, but the overall process continues.

The company that I lead has the good fortune to be producing many different types of thermoformed products for different industries, so we at least get a decent product mix variation, but some manufacturing companies are not so fortunate – they make the same widget or some variation of it every day.

The skilled machine operator or assembly person is often the best source of process optimization, how then do you break the monotony and spark some participation and reap the benefits of this expertise? I think a suggestion box is not the way to spark participation…

I figured I would type out (and share) some thoughts I have (and are implementing) to foster the spark –

1. “How it’s made is always interesting, how it’s used is pretty interesting as well… “ I think it is important that the people producing the parts know where and how they are used. Besides promoting a “next level” understanding of quality requirements, the employee gets to see some representation of the fruits of their labor – ie; including a photo of the beautiful boat showing the marine glovebox we are producing in the work instruction package.

2. The “why” – I have become sensitized to the direction of tasks to complete in the context of whether or not it contains the “why”. I have seen work instructions, managers, or leaders (including myself) direct employees to complete tasks or do things a certain way, which they do, often not understanding the “why”, but rather just doing as directed. An efficient process for sure, but often the next time the task needs completed, the same directive will be required. Taking the time to explain the “why” it should be completed not only sparks participation and furthers understanding, but sometime even results in a process improvement – remember the best source from above.

3. “And now for the news” – Seriously, we meet briefly in the morning prior to startup to go over the production runs for the day and any special instructions. I think it is of interest to the production people to know what is going on in our industry, in our customers industries, again, brief – and not world news or Kardashian updates, but topics that directly relate to what we do.

4. “Mentor” – I am a huge fan of the entire thought of it. I have been fortunate to have a couple of very effective mentors over my long career in plastic and rubber manufacturing and I strive to have the same effect on others, as well as promote the mentoring concept in our organization wherever I can. A mentor is “an experienced, trusted advisor”, obviously something you want to be equipped with if success is the plan….

5. “The pet looks kinda like it’s owner” – Have you ever seen that on TV or the internet where it is pointed out that people and their pets tend to look sort of similar? Comical, but I think I have actually found some OJT training effectiveness gains by matching the new employee up to the most likely matched experienced employee – obviously not by looks, but more by common interests, temperament, etc.

Still a work in progress, as management of a great team always is…

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