By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief
A stream of prevailing wisdom says todays machine control and operator panel design has to accommodate a brain-drained, ill-prepared pool of operators. That means creating, in the most unflattering terms, idiot-proof systems.
The companion line of thought is that these operators couldnt care less about the capability and health of their machines, will do anything to bypass steps that make their job more complicated and have no interest in improving things.
If youre thinking about giving operators and supervisors helpful machine visualization tools, I reckon youre wasting your time.
Not so fast, my friends. Meet Chuck Wolfe, senior engineer at Sonys CD/DVD packaging operation in Pitman, N.J.
During a breakout session at last months 2008 Siemens Automation Summit Users Conference in Chicago, Chuck presented the results of his work to date on a packaging productivity improvement project to increase uptime and throughput while reducing costs. He focused this discussion on upgrading the data-collection system from a cumbersome, semi-automated, paper-centric approach that, in his words, almost required a degree in database and spreadsheet technology and from which operators and technicians would not get the results for several days, losing the time-relevance of the data.
Chuck would ask: Did we have a good day today? Answers were vague and not quantifiable. Did we make any money? he continued, framing the larger question. Nobody really knew because we didnt have real-time data. Theyd take data off the screens, and write it down or enter it on an Oracle screen, with staff using different phrasing to describe the same event. Try to correlate that data once its tabulated.
Chuck spent some time explaining the implementation of Siemens WinCC-based Downtime Monitor, the software tool that stands to make the data collection an easier, more-standardized success that will provide actionable OEE data.
As I listened, I realized thats not the real story. The important thing is how the factory responded to it.
Chuck talked about how receptive the operators and supervisors were to a real-time status being generated by the machine itself, eliminating the operators subjectivity. You now can hear them at the shift changeovers and during breaks, he says. Theyll want to compare OEEs of different machines and shifts. Theres a bit of competition there thats healthy, even among some of the temps. Somethings clicked in a lot of peoples heads.
The new system helped them show the OEE values when theres a machine event and when things are running normally, said Chuck. We can show the differences these things make and have a value that goes with it.
An exception to the brain-drain rule? I doubt it. Give folks a fighting chance and theyll come through far more often than not.