In modern manufacturing, data collection is already a common practice, but utilizing this data effectively is another story completely. The compiled information can be a lot to dive into and although there are BI tools available such as Power BI and Tableau to help guide manufacturing companies, it’s important to find the right solution that integrates into your existing business practices.
Of all the tools available for manufacturers to apply data analytics to performance improvement, alert systems are often overlooked. But when used effectively, these systems can help catch errors before they become production issues, expose procedural bottlenecks, and make emergency response protocols clearer when something goes wrong. However, these alert systems only achieve these outcomes when they are efficient, accurate, and notify the right people at the right time.
Each person has a different understanding of the word “emergency.” What may require an alert and follow-through for an operations manager isn’t necessarily the same for a person whose responsibility is to operate an individual machine on the manufacturing production line. But, if the manager is receiving every alert no matter the relevance, these quickly become a nuisance. Not to mention, if their heart is constantly jumping at the buzzer or ding of an alert, they’re overstimulated, distracted, and always reevaluating whether a response is actually their responsibility. If your employees are left guessing, then there’s a serious bottleneck that needs addressing. In manufacturing, efficiency is crucial.
This efficiency can come down to letting workers in different roles choose how they want to receive alerts in real-time. For example, a machine operator might want lights and a buzzer to signify an alert, since they’ll be there in the moment, while an operations manager might want text alerts through an application since they might be anywhere. Of course, you may have to do a little management of expectations for your employees by explaining what your capabilities are, but it is possible to distribute control of these alert notifications to the users themselves. By doing so, you can allow each person to individually determine what constitutes an emergency for them and how they’d like to be notified.
If the data driving your manufacturing alert system isn’t correct, your alerts won’t be useful. For example, an alert that doesn’t explain what the risk is or where it’s happening would serve relatively no purpose to an operations manager juggling a variety of responsibilities.
Ensuring the correct data is being applied to your alerts is only one part of the contextualization process; you also have to create definitions for each alert level. You can set a spectrum for these definitions – from just a warning to a three-alarm fire. This provides more immediate information to the person being notified and helps prepare them for the situation they need to address. In the same way that you can define the types of alerts, you can also define appropriately parallel responses for each alert. Every manufacturing situation and plant is unique, so having flexibility in the context of your alerts and responses is key.
Unfortunately, sometimes an alert may not come in time to prevent errors. What’s the use of getting a notice that a machine isn’t operating at full capacity twenty minutes after the operator detected the issue? In some cases, the alerts need to come before the collapse, which is where your manufacturing execution system and broader data collection strategy comes in.
Timing is another compelling reason to create the alert level spectrum we mentioned earlier. When you’ve clearly defined the different levels of alert, and what an individual is expected to do in response, you’ll be in a better position to address the issue and have a better idea of whose job it is. A high-impact alert requires a quicker response time and maybe the involvement of a higher-ranking person. In other cases, a manager may get a lower-level alert as an FYI knowing that an operator will handle it immediately so they can follow up in a few minutes. With this kind of forethought, you’re giving your team the tools they need to do their very best in what can become a high-stress incident.
The initial organization of a successful manufacturing alert protocol is a time-consuming job, and it’s not something that can be done once and then put away. It’s crucial to evaluate your needs periodically — manufacturing processes are always changing, and your strategy has to keep up in order to protect your bottom-line. If you don’t know where to start, we’re happy to talk strategy. Our experience in both manufacturing and software makes it—dare we say, fun—for us to develop a manufacturing alert system that meets your team’s needs and work style.
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