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Work Standards Are Essential For EFFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE ‘On The Line’ Problem Solving

March 14, 2022
At Warburn Estate, in the last 6 months, it has become very apparent that without Work Standards effective and efficient problem solving on the production line is tough. There’s a high risk of going around in circles. Before going deeper into this, clarification around terms will help.

Work Standards come in many forms, but they have one primary function. That is to define ‘normal’ where ‘normal’ is the pre-determined acceptable standard. Work Standards need to exist for outputs (product or service), materials used in the process, machines and people. (So often just SOP’s are written – they are only part of the story.) We’ve quoted Mr Isao Kato before – ‘Without work standards, there will be no standardized work.’ The raw truth of this statement is becoming clearer and clearer to us.

What’s meant by ‘effective and efficient on the line problem solving’? It could mean getting to root cause and reducing risk of reoccurrence to an acceptable level. That’s a purists view and it is right. But the current practical view in an intensive production environment may not be so. For the purposes of this discussion the practical view of resolving the problem is ‘getting the line back to producing ‘normal’ as quickly as possible with the minimum of fuss’. (Beyond, there is work to reduce risk of reoccurrence, but that isn’t always something an operator or frontline leader can tackle. It is the utopia, but it is usually not a place got to overnight. Lots of cultural development is needed and needs to be driven from above.)

The cask line at Warburn Estate has reasonably robust Work Standards in place now. We’ve recently introduced an ‘on the line’ problem solving card that has 6 stages:

  1. Be clear on the problem.
  2. Setup as per Work Standard?
  3. Materials or consumables.
  4. Mechanical.
  5. Automation or electrical.
  6. Communicate.

Stages 1, 2 and 3 in particular cannot be done effectively without robust Work Standards.

What we’re starting to find that a high number of problems are being resolved (remembering the definition from above) within Stages 1 and 2, some get into Stage 3, few go beyond. (Whereas before, much more often, wheels just spun and/or problems were incorrectly associated with ‘maintenance’.)

As anticipated, following the 6 stages is a discipline proving challenging to filter toward operators. It will take time; it is quite a cultural adjustment.

I had a call (18 February) from the line Supervisor frustrated because he was called out of hours with a line stoppage problem. He got the operator to follow the 6 stage card over the phone. Three things were evident. The operator isn’t yet naturally thinking this way (6 stages), the machine wasn’t set to normal, and the associated machine Work Standard needed refining a little to make ‘normal’ even clearer. The best thing was that Stage 2 was easy for the operator to apply because the Work Standard was ‘robust enough’.

The Leaders here will continue to follow this cyclical development – follow the 6 stages and strengthen our Work Standards, and around we go.