Chemical manufacturing needs to be safer, more sustainable, and more efficient than ever. Achieving sustainable continuous improvement requires an enterprise-level transformation program. Still, ultimately it is about people and losing sight of that is one of the critical reasons for the failure of such initiatives.
The Toyota style is not to create results by working hard. It is a system that says there is no limit to people’s creativity. People don’t go to Toyota to “work”, they go there to “think”.Taiichi Ohno
When designing and implementing the transformation program, have you considered that process operators are vital people in this process? We must find ways to better connect the shop floor to the company’s strategy and objectives to deliver real performance improvement.
Digitisation is critical for delivering Sustainable Continuous Improvement in a way that provides users with integrated, contextual information, automates tasks, and enables collaboration. It guarantees traceability and keeps the feedback loop working, building organisational engagement.
Here we explore how digital technology can not only bring improvements in safe and efficient shift operations but can play a crucial role in embedding Continuous Improvement, making it genuinely continuous, shift by shift.
When thinking about working in a control room, the image that comes to mind is people sitting in front of the process screens, focused on their work. But the number of opportunities to lose focus is numerous. Process upsets, safety permissions issues, maintenance requirements and quality issues will all cause disruption and delays. Keeping communication clear and complete among all shifts is an additional challenge due to shift timetables and quick shift handover.
The lack of digitised, structured shift working process and tools play a vital role in missing big CI opportunities. Many operators use multiple tools with data duplication, making shift management and shift handover complex and inefficient.
Typical shift management systems are legacy software applications which lack structure (e.g. fault classification) and are disconnected from other tools. Also, they are very unagile, expensive, cumbersome to maintain, and difficult to change.
Even then, shopfloor people often identify continuous improvement (CI) opportunities, but they are frequently missed among daily operational challenges. And when the opportunities are pointed and registered, they often seem to go into a black hole where feedback is never provided, undermining the willingness to improve.
These opportunities could add to significant performance improvements, with annual cost savings of $0.5M – $1M per plant plus substantial reductions in carbon footprint.
Three key steps must be addressed to build a focused operation which delivers sustainable Continuous Improvement and operator engagement, one shift at a time.
The starting point is to define shift working processes and implement practical management tools to make those processes happen. This first step enables the work to be done in a visual, organised and timely way. This gives the operator time and energy to look for CI opportunities.
Visual management tools make lives easier, bringing quick alignment which is crucial when working in shifts. Going digital can bring many advantages since a single source of truth (SSOT) can be easily visualised. It brings together different sources of information such as distributed control systems (DCS) and other data platforms.
More than great visualisation, using user-centric digital tools enables collaboration and increases efficiency with automation, combining functions like log entries, task management and task tracking. All events and data from the shifts are stored and auditable. Technology gains far stronger user acceptance if it builds on existing practices and knowledge.
Production operators can primarily deliver Continuous Improvement at the shift level by acting on raw material consumption and asset efficiency (OEE). They are often tracked daily, weekly or even monthly, giving no opportunity to recover losses, directly impacting the manufacturing cost.
Increasing the number of opportunities to avoid waste requires accurate, timely and contextual data, enabling users, especially production operators, to quickly recognise deviations and act based on data.
One of these tools is the short interval control (SIC), which encourages operators to ask three main questions about their process every one or two hours:
When implementing SIC, everyone is working with a single source of truth and can collaborate on problems, identify opportunities, add context to observations, make better data-driven decisions and share them with the team, both in and beyond the control room.
During the shift, numerous continuous improvement opportunities can be identified. It is expected that some are “just do it” actions. These are quickly implemented by the shift itself, removing waste as soon as it is identified. This is the essence of lean.
But some opportunities require more technical and multidisciplinary analyses and execution, more time or capital. To guarantee that these opportunities show up and people keep on identifying and reporting them, it is essential to have a structured digital continuous improvement funnel.
A CI funnel ensures that the suitable workflow happens throughout the organisation, guaranteeing transparency and tracking:
There is an opportunity to implement truly sustainable CI for the enterprise. To do this, it is necessary to embed these processes within the most basic cycle of operations for each and every shift.
By empowering operators with user-centric tools and creating a transparent lifecycle, we can successfully embed CI behaviour by focusing on operations from the shop floor upwards.
We have learnt that a key to a successful implementation of CI digital tools is users recognising the solution’s value. This happens when:
Would you like to make your continuous improvement process truly continuous? Book a demo.