WITH RIGIDITY OR FLEXIBILITY?
One of the reasons operators are trained to do a task the same way is to ensure uniformity and reduce process variability. However, this approach may not take into account how operators should react to slight process variations.
Yes, we want consistency from operator to operator but, we also want the operator to be aware of process fluctuations and adjust accordingly. One of the benefits of having an operator do a job rather than a robot is that they can observe the process. However, operators need to know what to do when slight changes are observed. Should they modify the process or stop production and notify management?
Some argue that operators should all do the same thing and not make any changes to the process. Others suggest that it is best to have operators aware of the overall process and the desired end result and then give them the flexibility to modify the steps based on their perceived best method. I see benefits and challenges with each of those approaches.
If operators are instructed to follow the process exactly as they were trained, the following questions come to mind:
- What is the impetus for making improvements to the process?
- What if a shift in the process impacts the final product?
- How do the operators provide input for a better method?
- Who decides whether this new method should be implemented?
If the operators have the flexibility to modify the process based on their perceived best method, I start to question:
- How do the operators know that their modification won’t impact product quality?
- Is their modification the most ergonomic method?
- Will other operators try the same modification but achieve a different result?
Regardless of the how you approach improvements to a process, it is critical that the operators have input. They work in the process on an ongoing basis and will detect subtle changes that might otherwise go unnoticed. Establishing a method for incorporating process improvements will go a long way towards reducing process variability.
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