Brain Gain

There’s A Bit of Healthy Competition There. Something’s Clicked In a Lot of People’s Heads

Joe FeeleyBy Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

A stream of prevailing wisdom says today’s 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 couldn’t 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 you’re thinking about giving operators and supervisors helpful machine visualization tools, I reckon you’re wasting your time.

Not so fast, my friends. Meet Chuck Wolfe, senior engineer at Sony’s CD/DVD packaging operation in Pitman, N.J.

During a breakout session at last month’s 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 didn’t have real-time data.” They’d 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 it’s 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 that’s 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 operator’s subjectivity. “You now can hear them at the shift changeovers and during breaks,” he says. “They’ll want to compare OEEs of different machines and shifts. There’s a bit of competition there that’s healthy, even among some of the temps. Something’s clicked in a lot of people’s heads.”

The new system helped them show the OEE values when there’s 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 they’ll come through far more often than not.

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