Lean Manufacturing, Smart Manufacturing, OEE

So you have OEE Software? Yeah, not so much!

By Eric Whitley
24 Jun 20

As a customer rep, I often go to manufacturing plant locations to advise and get a feel for their operation. I was standing in a clean room at a well known pharmaceutical company recently.  I watched a piece of packaging equipment stop due to a minor fault. The operator of the machine quickly stepped up on a small ladder, reached into a vibration bowl, and removed the jam that kept the next bottle from flowing past the sensor and onto the machine. He then stepped down from the ladder, walked to a panel on the wall, and used a touch screen to input the reason code for why the machine faulted out into their new OEE software.

Interested in the system, I approached the operator and asked what this system was that he input this data into. He said it was their new OEE tracking system that was installed a couple months back. He told me the reason for stoppage needed to be selected from a dropdown list in order to get the machine back up and running.

When my escort and I returned to the offices, I asked to see the results of the data being taken from the OEE software. As we reviewed the data, something seemed totally off. We looked at the reasons recorded for the minor stops, and the number one reason on the spreadsheet was, "Aluminum Apply". My only issue with this reason was that this particular machine did not apply an Aluminum safety seal, it applied a paper seal. So why would the operator have selected "Aluminum Apply" as the reason for the stoppage?

As we dug into this a little deeper, we realized that 'Aluminum Apply' was the most frequent cause cited for this packaging machine. Now we were really scratching our heads. Nearly every time this machine faulted out, the operator running the machine attributed the fault to 'Aluminum Apply.' Stranger and stranger. This machine does not have or apply an aluminum safety seal. Hmm. More head scratching.

Then, like a bolt of lightning, it hit us! Why was Aluminum Apply the number one reason time after time? Because Aluminum and Apply both start with the letter 'A'. This put Aluminum Supply at the very top of the dropdown list I saw the operator accessing to enter the fault code. 

Because the system shut down the machine and required a reason be input before the machine could restart, the operators figured out that instead of scrolling through the list of 50 reason codes, they simply needed to select the one at the top of the list to restart the machine. Or perhaps they were trying to get back up and running as quickly as possible. They spied the word 'Apply', and bingo! They were not trying to circumvent the system. But the system, as it was configured, did not lend itself to speedier resolution. Think of L2L and the use of Reason Codes and Why Codes. The input options available to and required of operators have logic applied: only those Reason and Why Codes that pertain to the department, area, value stream, line, machine, etc. are available for selection. 

Apply (pun intended) this same logic to your own life. You are at the grocery store, "Ah, yes, simpler times." Imagine if you had to walk the entire floor of that giant supermarket to find every single item you wanted to purchase. You might give up and load your cart with those items that were close at hand, rather than spending all the time required to make sure each item was actually the one you wanted. That's the position we sometimes put our associates in, even if we do not intend to, just because we haven't thought it through. 

OEE Software Should Make Your Job Easier

True, legitimate OEE data needs to be trustworthy. If you cannot take your data and drill down to the true root cause of failure, then why are you wasting your time inputting and recording the data in the first place? Additionally, your OEE software should work in conjunction with your operators and maintenance, rather than being a hindrance to their performance. Think of the reports you pull in L2L, where the data is paretoed for you? All of that glorious, true data is right there, just waiting for you to make good, informed decisions. 

So check your systems. If you have data you cannot trust, or data you cannot access to help solve problems, then you may not really have a true OEE software system. Almost any software can replace tick marks on a dry erase board. And almost any software can populate a spreadsheet. 

The point of investing in software is to illustrate and highlight opportunities for improvement. Software alone will not make your processes more efficient or increase throughput. Every industry still has the human element to keep in mind. Your associates want to do a good job. However, when the tools provided for them do not facilitate improvement, they are left to their own devices. The path of least resistance is often the one taken. 

When that happens, we must look to ourselves as leaders to understand how we have created this situation. As leaders, it falls on us to make sure the right path is also the path of least resistance. 

L2L's LES has everything you need to reveal your true OEE and what to do to improve it. LES (Lean Execution System) points you down that right path and leads you through to the other side. That path is well lit, easily accessible, and comes in familiar green packaging.

Learn more about L2L's LES here


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