Regardless of our engineering advances, smart instruments, and connected devices, modern-day manufacturing is still a mixture of art and science that depends heavily on the experience of the operators on the shop floor.

Companies strive to be as efficient as possible, run their production lines at optimal speeds with minimal downtime, and get as much product out the door as quickly as possible. However, they still need to ensure that the products they’re producing are high quality—and they rely on those experienced operators for that quality assurance.

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The trick for many companies is ensuring that the high level of expertise of their best operators is applied consistently across all their products, lines, and plants. Unfortunately, they can’t clone their top operators. But they can use modern Quality Intelligence software to identify the best practices that those operators are employing and communicate those best practices to all their operators.

That’s where they realize the true value of real-time statistical process control (SPC) data.

Art and Science in Manufacturing

The art of manufacturing is best understood by operators who have operated a production line over a long time. Operators get to know the unique sounds and vibrations—even smells—of the machines they operate. Based on these inputs, operators understand how each quirk affects the products they are making.

These details form the foundation of a machine’s personality. When an operator feels a specific vibration combined with a certain scent, it could mean that it’s time to increase conveyor speed or maybe reduce cooking temperatures. It’s just something that veteran operators intuitively know—because they know the personality of their machine.

Imagine what would happen if these experienced operators could combine real-time data and metrics with their knowledge of machine personality. They would be able to enhance their substantial expertise with raw data and analytics—the essence of manufacturing science.

By combining art and science, you can supercharge product quality and machine efficiency.

Use the Data You Already Collect—Better

In today’s modern manufacturing plants, data is everywhere. Data is plentiful on the shop floor—from process-specific temperatures, speeds, and pressures to product quality measurements, machine verifications, and safety checks.

While the frequency of checks varies widely, it is important that data be collected and analyzed in real time. This helps provide instant insight into how a machine is running and what is necessary to prevent quality issues. It’s the science that enhances the operator’s art, and it can mean the difference between a profit and a shift’s worth of products that gets tossed in the dumpster.

Case in Point: Combining Experience with Data in Paper Manufacturing

InfinityQS once worked with a company that manufactured newsprint. Just the paper. Giant rolls of paper. We asked the operator of one of these colossal machines, “What’s really important about the newsprint you make here?”

His response: “The moisture content needs to be just right.” When we asked how he knew, he demonstrated by walking under the massive machine. A long, wide span of freshly pressed newsprint was flying overhead and re-rolling at the end of the line.

The operator placed his forearm over his head, barely touching the paper that was zipping by. We walked all the way down the length of the machine, the whole time with his forearm just touching the newsprint as it continued rolling. When we reached the other side of the machine, he turned and reported the newsprint moisture content to within a tenth of a percent.

How did he know? He smiled and calmly said, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know this machine, and I know the moisture content just from the feel of the paper.”

He continued, “But I know that the moisture content needs to be a couple tenths of a percentage higher.”

He walked toward the far end again, pointing down. “I turn this knob here, which increases pressure and generates a bit more moisture. Then I’ve got to make sure that it’s applied consistently across the entire web,” he said, referring to the width of the giant roll of paper.

“Once I’ve increased the pressure, I measure the moisture at several places across the web using a moisture meter. Then I record that measurement so I can see how each value changes over time.”

This veteran operator used data analysis together with his artistic expertise to keep his machine running perfectly.

Operators with years of experience with their machines know the artistry involved in making sure things run right. And yet they also must incorporate the science of data collection and analysis with that artistry—a winning combination for producing high quality products.

No Two Are Alike

When we say that machines have personalities, we mean that every machine is unique. This is true even though we may have identical machines running identical products across multiple lines. Like humans, no two machines are exactly alike. 

An InfinityQS client company once bought five “identical” milling machines. The only difference between the machines was the serial numbers. The mills were installed on the same shop floor at one of their facilities. Before being approved for production purposes, identical tests were carefully designed and run on each machine for several different material types.

What we found was extraordinary.

We found that under the same test conditions, and for the same material types, each machine produced a slightly different quality from the others. Some machines generated inherently more (or less) product variation than others. One of the mills created dimensions that were just a little larger than the other machines. Each mill indeed had its own personality.

But it doesn’t take focused testing to understand a machine’s underlying personality. Operators who run a production line for long periods of time get to know a machine’s quirks. Operators know from seemingly undetectable sounds and vibrations when a machine is getting out of calibration or a part is wearing out. They know how different vendor products affect a machine. And they know how product quality changes based on which vendor’s raw materials are being used on the production line. 

And yet, even the best operator-artists use real-time data and analyses to further improve quality. They use data to validate that they are, indeed, doing the right things—artistically—with their machines. The data enhances their knowledge of machinery and expands their expertise in running it. The artistry is being scientifically verified by real-time data collection.

In addition, even when a machine is running perfectly, a good operator still looks at the next data collection with a critical eye. When the data indicates something has changed, they know that even though they didn’t hear, smell, or feel anything, they need to adjust the machine. Data provides insights they never would find if they rely solely on instinct and artistry.

The best operators know that the data they collect expands their knowledge of the machinery and validates their artistry.

Real-time data collection and analysis in manufacturing is the merging of art and science. When we give the artists more information, they use it to make real-time adjustments and improvements to their machines—so they can improve their ability to prevent off-quality product from being manufactured.

Okay, I Can’t Clone My Operators—What Do I Do?

Maybe you can’t clone those magnificent, experienced operator-artists, but you can clone their best practices.

You can communicate your best practices and operational successes to other operators with standard operating procedures (SOPs). Capture the best practices from the most experienced operators—from both the artistry and data perspectives—and share them with all your operators, across all your facilities.

Standard operating procedures help communicate the art of successfully running a production line. SOPs also enable companies to minimize reliance on pure artistry. You don’t want to do away with it, obviously, because (as we’ve discussed) that artistry is valuable.

When less experienced operators use SOPs, there’s only so much they can understand about the art of running a production line. And that’s when real-time data collection and analysis is a boon to these newbies.

Making machines run right and ensuring the manufacture of high-quality products is significantly enhanced through reliance on real-time data and the insights that data provides to both rookie and veteran operators.

Inspire Artistry, Empower Operators

So, all that data coming in—the sounds the machine is making, the temperatures, the humidity, the moisture, the speeds, all of it—is the inspiration for operator-artists to adjust, tweak, and care for their machines. But it can take decades to become a true production-line Picasso—time most organizations don’t have.

To expedite process control information and minimize quality issues, companies need to capitalize on real-time data collection and analysis. Doing so enhances the expertise and artistry of veteran operators while accelerating rookie operators’ expertise.

We invite you to visit our website to learn more about the benefits of modernizing your SPC toolset.