HSE Knowledge

How seamless collaboration in production leads to large savings

Cooperation in the workplace was paid little attention until recently. We can tell by the many different practices between (and even within) plants, for example managing the shift teams, the shift handover, tackling problems or ideas by technologists, production staff, HSE and others. We also see that production uses paper, Word, Excel and Access as the principal means for communication.

Improvements in the communication in production bring a plant of around 300 men, in addition to increased safety and environmental performance, annually between € 70,000 and
€ 100,000 in savings and additional revenue.

Our experiences are confirmed by the literature. Partly prompted by mergers, globalization and the need for better collaboration with suppliers, plants have mobilized considerable resources to streamline and standardize their financial, administrative and logistical processes. IT has responded to that trend with the implementation of ERP systems and process automation. The question obviously is whether attention should be paid to cooperation. Are there for example problems, are improvements possible and do these bring in enough.

The problems we encounter in the cooperation mainly consist of work that is carried out beyond the single team or between teams and other disciplines. The shift handover and "walls" between disciplines are obstacles preventing work from flowing properly. Communication is an important component in this respect. Examples of problems:

  • Maintenance receives too many work requests with constantly changing priorities, which prevents the most important disturbances from being tackled and more is being done than is strictly necessary;
  • Assignments of production staff, technologists, lab, maintenance or engineering (such as sampling, testing) to teams are not carried out because they get lost in other emails or via an oral route or are not planned properly and therefore carried out too late;
  • Recurring production losses due to the same causes (e.g. pollution in the same place) that can be avoided easily;
  • Production losses because previous solutions could not be retrieved in time;
  • Devices are no longer incorrectly set without anyone knowing this or knowing why; production over a longer period is not optimal.
  • Problems (messages in the log) are not picked up, with disturbances as a consequence;
  • In retrospect it is difficult to find out how a problem arose.

The cause of the above is the ad hoc creation of work (insufficient gate-keeping) and walls between disciplines that are partly the result of unstructured communication. The result is a rigid production process that is not performing optimally.

What could be improved?
Looking at the work process, 'benefits' can be found in the improvement of:

  • the management of teams and reports of the teams to the production management and staff: ensuring that teams do not receive their orders through various channels (e-mail, verbally, notes) and disciplines, and that a good reporting management is established about what has been achieved (and not only about what has been done).
  • the use of experience: taking care that it is perfectly clear who needs what information (inside and outside the teams), that this information is recorded completely and accurately (by the teams) and that the experiences can be retrieved with less effort.
  • the method and quality of information during the shift handover: a method wherein a set pattern of questions and answers is followed and in which it is clear in detail what topics should be addressed.
  • bringing forward issues and ideas of teams to engineers and HSE: ensuring that problem reports are picked up with certainty and that everyone can easily record any ideas, here it is important that the person reporting gets feedback.
  • work requests in case of maintenance: for instance ensuring that problems with a higher risk of production loss or OEE effect get a higher priority and that work with a smaller priority or ideas are postponed to a later time or a stop.
  • the overview of teams: ensuring that teams can track the status of the plant more easily (especially the critical components) or whether any safety devices have been switched off.
  • Management of Change of settings and the plant: ensuring that production and maintenance are always aware of what has been and is being changed in the plant 

Business case
Our experience is that these improvements, in addition to increased safety and improved environmental performance, result in savings and higher revenues of somewhere between € 70,000 and € 100,000 annually in a plant of around 300 people.

How to improve?
Aforementioned improvements can be made by strengthening the work processes and the communication that surpass teams and disciplines. This applies to procedures for assigning tasks to teams, for the shift handover, for picking up on ideas and problems. It is also about complying with information needs (who should know what) and IT systems that help with the communication; think of systems that assist with the structured recording of shift information and with gradual acting on problems and ideas.

The key to all this is tearing down the walls between the teams and disciplines, introducing a good ‘gate-keeping' and providing feedback when addressing instructions, problems and ideas. This will result in solving or even preventing disruptions much faster. It will also help to reduce production losses and problems with the quality of the product, and contribute to higher efficiency, safety and responsiveness to changes. Ultimately, it will contribute to operational excellence: a stable process that allows higher production averages and results in information for a continuously improving organisation.
 In 2007 Paul de Vries has written a white paper on this subject titled ‘Better practices for communication in production’.

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