One of the major pressures today in production and process environments is to cut down on operational costs and aim towards achieving operational excellence. Production planning and control, manufacturing execution and operational effectiveness of the people, processes and equipment all need careful coordination if this is to be achieved. Many manufacturers fail to implement industry best practices, innovate adequately and achieve desired quality as a result of poor collaboration, mediocre knowledge management and empowerment deficiencies. The investment has been made in the assets (both equipment and people), but time and energy are not allocated to creating the right environment where excellence can be realised. Finding this “sweet spot” of operational excellence is tough.

The most advanced machinery, perfectly aligned processes and effective measurement procedures are foundational for seamless and qualitative production, but not sufficient in and of themselves to produce desired results. The “people element” needs equal attention. Of course, monitoring overall equipment effectiveness is critical – involving availability (equipment and process uptime), performance (the speed of production as compared with design standards) and quality (indicating process yield through the equipment). These factors constitute bench-marking the manufacturing assets effectiveness. Then, too, processes need to be honed to become leaner, more agile and adaptable to pressures with little waste and the elimination of non-value adding activities. Focus also has to be given, however, to the training and empowering of employees, providing them with the right amount of information to enable them to perform their respective roles effectively.

Perhaps the following elements need to be considered in creating this environment where people feel valued and thus willingly want to apply discretionary effort within their respective responsibilities:

  • Elimination of the gap between the shop floor and the top floor – management inaccessibility, aloofness and a lack of “presence” create unnecessary perceptual barriers between leadership and employees. Managers therefore need to demonstrate an understanding of production pressures, personal challenges and developmental needs of those on the shop floor and bridge the gap with effective communication and encouragement.
  • Maintaining an effective knowledge management process – information silos and other data blockages can lead to localised decision-making and negatively impact other parts of the production process. Information channels need to be planned and executed and experiential knowledge should be documented and shared appropriately, transferring the same to the newer employees in the workforce.
  • Encouraging collaboration at all levels – discussions should be held amongst all to share ideas and solve issues, including those that operate the production equipment. Suggestions should be treated seriously, modified if necessary and implemented appropriately. These conversations should take place interdepartmentally.
  • Publishing real-time data – real-time indicators are helpful to keep employees on track in the production process. Visual displays (especially in the form of digital tracking indicators where target verses actual performance is plotted) are necessary for machine operator focus.
  • Modelling, simulation and the identification of bottle-necks – getting operators involved in simulation and modelling activities accelerates learning and assists in identifying potential bottle-necks in the processes.
  • Ongoing training and developmentemployees get annoyed with static or little growth. Skills development is essential to retain good people and to grow production wisdom on the floor. This, too, will enable more focused and productive conversations.
  • Celebrating successsmall and large victories and achieving milestones should be acknowledged appropriately. This not only builds confidence and excitement in the people, but also demonstrates the type of behaviour and focus that the company values.

Finding the “sweet spot” in production environments is challenging – the sweet spot where operations (machines and people) are working together in perfect harmony to achieve and even exceed the desired results. An environment of interaction and collaboration needs to be created for all to feel valued and subsequently contribute their best towards achieving excellence.

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