Welcome to “Ask Deb from QA,” a new column from MxD.
Every week, Deb from QA — with decades of experience on the factory floor — will answer your questions to demystify and explain the digital manufacturing industry.
Please submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Deb, I keep hearing about why my factory should have a digital plan. I don’t think we need it, and frankly, it sounds intimidating. Can you convince me otherwise? Where should I start?
I get it. Your process has worked fine all these years and the thought of “going digital” sounds as intimidating as joining TikTok. (Lacey, my dear: If you’re reading this, Aunt Deb will never sign up!)
But your company would like to be more efficient, wouldn’t it? Getting back more of your time sounds enticing, no? It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s never too late to start digitizing.
Let’s use an example of three factory workers: Andy, Bonnie and Charlie.
Andy and Bonnie have been working at the factory for under a year. Charlie’s been there for a decade. Anytime Andy and Bonnie run into trouble, they go to Charlie and ask for help. This happens several times each week. Charlie stops what he’s doing and fixes what needs fixing.
Sure, this setup might work. But what if there’s a better, more streamlined way? A simple system that frees up Charlie to do more of what he does best, and for Andy and Bonnie to have all the answers at their fingertips. Lucky for you, I’m revealing my three-step program for factories to wade into the digital waters. Come on in, the water is warm.
STEP ONE: INVENTORY
The most important step is this first one: Understanding what you have on hand.
Do you have documentation of all your equipment and processes — what you do, what you produce, a step-by-step account of how you do it? In manufacturing, often we can do what we do with our eyes closed. But the intent of this first step is to consciously think about the process. This can be difficult, because it’s muscle memory. You’ll be surprised by how much is revealed through this simple exercise of a top-to-bottom inventory.
Your value proposition, if you don’t know what it is already, will become much clearer. You’ll start to see which parts of your factory could benefit from a digital upgrade.
It’s a bit like having your annual physical: You feel fine, you don’t want to do it, maybe you’re a bit afraid of what you’ll find out. But it’s necessary and worth the hassle.
STEP TWO: ANALYZE
Let’s go back to Andy, Bonnie and Charlie.
You’ve written down on paper how the three interact daily. You’ve noted the protocol, the chain of command. In your inventory, you’ve identified that Andy and Bonnie don’t yet have the institutional knowledge to be fully self-reliant at their jobs. So they turn to Charlie. Charlie’s a wealth of knowledge, but relying on him to troubleshoot isn’t the most productive use of his time.
Now you’ve analyzed where the bottlenecks occur, and where there are potential issues. Guess what? Digitizing can help. And it can be as simple as having SharePoint or a company Dropbox.
STEP THREE: EXECUTE
What if you sat down with Charlie for one afternoon, and brainstormed a list of potential questions and issues employees might encounter, along with his solutions? You’re essentially writing a FAQ together. And then you would create a Word document that’s accessible to those inside the company. This, my friends, is level one of digitizing.
Feeling more ambitious? Film Charlie on your cell phone demonstrating a difficult process, and upload those videos into SharePoint or Dropbox. Heck, buy an Oculus VR headset and have Charlie standing next to you thanks to augmented reality. It all depends on your budget and resources.
The bottom line is Andy and Bonnie — and any new employee in the future — can access these Word documents and online videos, without bugging Charlie.
Down the line, digitizing your factory can become more involved, such as installing sensors and software that analyze real-time data. But if your company is just starting out, and you’re intimidated by this idea of a digital plan — and there are a lot of you out there — know that the first step doesn’t have to be complicated.
Deb from QA wants to hear your questions. Send ‘em to email@example.com and she’ll answer as soon she’s done with her shift.