The Amper Way, Part 2: How Context Gives Your Data More Power

We’ll be the first to say it: Data is great. But context is (way, way) better. That brings us to Phase 2 of the Amper Way: Increase capacity and efficiency with downtime reasons and CI initiatives. This is all about adding context to your machine data from Phase 1 to help you up your game and take action. The best way to do this is by logging machine downtime reasons and conducting continuous improvement initiatives. 

Phase 2: Increase Capacity and Efficiency

By adding context like downtime reasons with operator input, you can better understand what's going on in your shop and make improvements around capacity and efficiency for more productive operations. In other words, context gives you actual answers to work with.

This is where the foundation of Phase 1 starts to shine. Without the data, you wouldn’t know where to start making changes to increase capacity. Now, in Phase 2, you get to keep building on that foundation.

It might seem like a lot of data collection, but here are a few steps you can take to get started:

  1. List out your shop’s most common downtime reasons (so operators can have a list to choose from).

  2. Aim to label a focused area’s downtime—like a few hot machines or cells—and expand from there. (Tip: Identify a more senior operator and work with them to ensure they are labeling downtime first before expanding out to the rest of the team.)

  3. Establish an auditing system to check for unlabeled machine downtime each day, make adjustments, and hold the team accountable.

  4. Set up downtime reports and/or integrate downtime labeling into your KPIs.
  5. Review data and identify the top reasons for downtime.

  6. Take action with CI initiatives (e.g. reducing late starts, conducting a SMED event, restructuring planned downtime, justifying new hires or equipment).

  7. Analyze results.

  8. Repeat.

The Benefits of Operator Input

Some companies are all about eliminating operator input from the process. But is this actually helpful to manufacturers, or is it just leveraging the power that the word “automation” has in sales? What happens when your PLC can’t determine why a machine is down when an operator is out sick? At Amper, we think you should empower your operators—not eliminate them from the process entirely. Why? Let’s get into it.

Understand Shop Activity and Main Downtime Reasons Better

Without the big picture—painted with personal experience, industry knowledge, and specialized nuance—it’s easy to misinterpret or misuse data. With incorrect conclusions, only ineffective solutions will follow.

By having operators log downtime reasons, you can make the list of reasons (and therefore your insights) as specific as you want. As you continuously audit this data, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of your shop activity that you wouldn’t have without operator input. This means you can finally change your efforts from reactive to proactive and effectively reduce downtime, optimize production processes, and increase capacity.

Differentiate Between Planned and Unplanned Downtime

Operators have firsthand knowledge of what is happening on the shop floor, and their input can be invaluable in pinpointing the root causes of downtime and identifying potential areas for improvement.

Encourage Buy-In for Smoother Adoption

Involving your operators can not only improve your operations but also foster a culture of collaboration, engagement, and continuous improvement among their workforce. If they feel like they’re involved in improving your shop, they’ll be more likely to participate.

Answers Derived From Data + Context

Which downtime drivers are costing me the most?

Once you identify the main downtime drivers, you can calculate how much it’s costing you. How much production time are you losing due to setups? How much of your downtime is planned and unplanned? Understanding the factors that are costing you the most will help inform your first few continuous improvement projects.

What are the right things to be working on?

The right things to be working on can be difficult to identify without the proper context. By utilizing data analysis tools and operator input, you can gain valuable insights into your production processes and identify the areas that require the most attention. This allows you to make informed decisions and implement targeted improvements that have the greatest impact on capacity and efficiency.

What happened yesterday and how does it compare to the quarter?

Understanding what happened on a given day and seeing how it compares to the quarter can be critical for identifying trends and taking proactive measures to improve operations. By monitoring production metrics and analyzing the data over time, you can identify patterns, measure progress, and adjust your processes to optimize performance.

What was the ROI or payback period on my improvements?

ROI and payback period are important metrics for determining the value of improvement initiatives. You can evaluate the effectiveness of your improvement efforts to determine if you should adjust what part of your operations you’re changing. Continuously working on improvements and making data-driven decisions will maximize your future investments and increase profitability.

Data-Driven Continuous Improvement Projects

We often hear that it can be hard to find time to take on continuous improvement. Of course, we’ll say it’s worth it to make the time, but you can also make use of slowdowns to take on lean projects.

How to Get Started

  1. Plan your project. Use downtime data to justify doing a CI project. Understand your current state of operations and figure out what you want your future state to look like. Then perform a root cause analysis and identify areas of improvement. 
  1. Do your improvement changes. Implement the solutions. Experiment! We suggest you test out your solutions across just a couple of machines or areas first to keep your experiment as controlled as possible.
  1. Check to see if the change is working. Audit the change to make sure all involved participants are adhering to the change. Monitor the results for at least 30 days and check your utilization to see if it increased. You might repeat steps 2 and 3 until you find the right combination of solutions. The "plan", "do", and "check" cycles should take up 80% of your project time.
  1. Act on the proven solution. Implement the change across more or all areas. Document the new process and standardize it across all machines.

Examples of Continuous Improvement Projects

  1. Create more cost-effective maintenance schedules. One major reason for downtime is machine crashes or breakdowns. If you notice this happening frequently, particularly on your high-runner machines, it may be time to reconsider your preventative maintenance practices and the structure of your maintenance team.

  2. Conduct a SMED event. One of the most powerful lean manufacturing tools available to manufacturers is the SMED event. In a nutshell, SMED enables manufacturers to identify—and remove—the waste in their setup and changeover processes. Typically, SMED events reduce changeover time by 30–50% on average.

  3. Improve late starts/early stops. To maximize uptime and profit margins, you'll want to avoid unnecessary late starts and early stops of your equipment. You can measure these late starts and early stops to see, on average, how much time you are losing each week, month, and year. Finding the root causes for LSES and testing solutions is an easy-to-implement and highly impactful project.

  4. Restructure breaks/lunches and planned meetings. Typically these downtime reasons account for 3-5% of total available time. Although it doesn't seem like much, this could cost upwards of $250,000 per year across a 20-machine plant. However, there are a few changes you can make to reduce downtime surrounding these unavoidable reasons.

  5. Introduce 5S to your factory floor. 5S is a specific philosophy within lean manufacturing that is often characterized by "a place for everything and everything in a place." These principles focus on organizing the workplace, reducing waste, increasing cleanliness, and establishing consistent processes.

We understand that continuous improvement might still sound like a hassle to start and maintain. That’s why we like to pair Amper customers with a Customer Success Engineer (they all have a background in manufacturing!). Our CSEs can help you identify the right projects to start with and work with you to bring impactful improvements to your shop.

The Secret to High-Impact Capacity and Efficiency Improvements

Once you adopt the mantra “Data is great, but context is better,” you’ll be delighted by how focused you can make your shop improvements. There is truly no greater power than knowing the ins and outs of your operations and understanding what tweaks will make an impact.

To make sure you keep your operations streamlined, your margins up, and your customers happy, it’s important to use your new insights to fuel continuous improvement initiatives. In fact, the general mindset to always be improving is central to lean manufacturing. With this mindset and these practices, you'll make your business significantly more resilient and successful. 

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