“A picture is worth a thousand words”
– Napoleon Bonaparte (source)
This adage originated during a simpler time when computers, software and modern manufacturing processes didn’t exist. Yet today it is more relevant than ever, indicating the vision of Napoleon back in the late 1700’s.
Today, manufacturers must embark on their own vision on how to steadily increase product and process quality. Competition is keen, so any manufacturer that can’t continue to reinvent how they perform will eventually lose market share, profits and ultimately fail.
An effective strategy to maintain continuous improvement is to ensure sufficient collaboration exists between product design, planning and manufacturing operations. This strategy is best executed upon with a three-platform strategy, consisting of IT platforms for managing Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) for design, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) for planning and Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) for production or “building.” One way to improve the effectiveness of this strategy is to add visual components. As Napoleon so aptly stated, a great way to convey information is through pictures, which can then be used as part of your continuous improvement program.
Let’s take an example to better explain. Picture Sally as an operator working on the shop floor. She notices a defect within a specific region of the product she is assembling. If she is working with a system supporting visual Quality Defect Tracking (vQDT), she can precisely pinpoint the quality issue on an image of the product. This action could then be linked with annotations of improvement suggestions and forwarded to the engineering and design team via their PLM system, provided their IT system can support such collaboration. Each of these comments and annotations could then be used by engineers to warrant introduction of new product or process improvements, based on historical data analysis.
Those operating with a three-platform IT strategy could then know that their product or process update would then be reflected in their planning or ERP system. For example, if new specifications are now required from their suppliers that triggered a new cost structure, that information could be conveyed to ensure the change was effectively executed throughout the enterprise. Updated designs and new work instructions – based on the improvements Sally uncovered – would then become part of the manufacturing operations management system for improved execution.
In the end, operators on the shop floor start using the updated (and improved) product quality data (characteristic limits, instructions, schematics etc.). Those using a strategy with seamless integration between each of their PLM, ERP and MOM systems may have this type of update occur multiple times per week – without the shop floor workers even knowing that an important change had occurred!
If a picture can indeed tell a thousand words, then I say: “Bring on the pictures.” Can your manufacturing execution system support the use of imagery? Can your shop floor workers annotate custom comments and indicate on an image the specific location of a quality issue? And, can you run reports showing “scatter” type diagrams to indicate recurrence of quality issues to help you better continuously improve? If you can’t, realize that some of your competitors can.