January 15, 2014 / costs, root cause analysis
Let’s paint a possible scenario in an industrial metal-cutting environment: After reviewing monthly costs, a manager notices that tooling costs are up. Upon further investigation, the manager discovers that operators have been replacing blades more frequently than usual. In other words, a blade the company has been using for years is now failing. What does the manager do?
A. Contact the supplier to complain about a bad shipment
B. Research new blade options
C. Check equipment settings
D. Evaluate operator performance
In most cases, the answer is likely going to be A or B. When a problem happens on the cutting room floor, most managers want to fix it and move on. And if the problem appears to be mechanical, the natural instinct is to blame the machine. However, these issues can also be symptoms of larger, operator-based problems such as improper blade usage, lack of training, and poor maintenance.
When a performance issue arises on the cutting room floor, managers should have procedures in place that help determine the underlying causes of the failure. This will not only solve the problem at hand, but can also weed out any “hidden inefficiencies” that could be negatively impacting the bottom line. In the aforementioned scenario, for example, premature blade failure not only increases tooling costs, it also creates bottlenecks and decreases quality. If the real source of problem is a poorly trained operator, a new blade isn’t going to solve any one of these issues.
Forward-thinking managers know the key to optimal performance is identifying the root cause of failure so that it never happens again. Below are a few strategies managers can use to uncover the source of operational issues:
- Ask why. While this strategy may seem a bit simplistic, it is actually a lean manufacturing concept. According to online resource Lean Production, a common problem-solving approach within lean manufacturing is to ask “why” five times. The idea is that every time you ask “why,” you are moving a step closer to discovering the true underlying problem.
- Work with suppliers. No one knows your tools and equipment better than your suppliers, and many offer value-added preventative maintenance (PM) and troubleshooting services that can help you determine whether or not the issue is truly mechanical. They may also offer documents and online tools that can help aid in troubleshooting. Reference guides like this one from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), for example, can help managers identify whether or not the source of premature blade failure is due to user error or machine error.
- Evaluate your operation. This includes everything from inventory levels and safety scores to cut times. As pointed out in the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, high scrap rates, excess inventory, and low safety scores are often key indicators of operator-based inefficiencies. Cuts times are also critical to identifying the source of error. This, however, requires a baseline for comparison. If your facility hasn’t already undergone a time analysis to measure operational efficiency, this article from thefabricator.com gives a great overview of the process and how you can get started.
- Be proactive. Don’t wait for failures to occur to start looking for inefficiencies. Implementing proactive management strategies such as PM programs, formal training procedures, and lean techniques within your industrial metal-cutting operation can ensure that your equipment, operators, and processes are running at optimal levels. In essence, the more undesirable effects you can take out of the equation, the faster you can identify and respond to problems when they occur.