Avoiding the Output Dip at Shift ChangeoversHow leading manufacturers are supporting factory workers with better communications tools
The production line runs continuously, but three times a day output falls below the target rate. Track Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) on an hourly basis and you'll see those dips line up with shift changeovers.
Changeovers are when inter-shift communication takes place. The outgoing team relates what’s been happening, along with any problems the incoming team needs to know about. The new team takes stock and reviews inventory, maintenance items and housekeeping.
A poorly-done handover doesn't just mean extended downtime: it can increase stoppages throughout the shift and can even compromise safety. But accidents and lost output from shift changeovers aren't inevitable. What's needed is a better way of communicating essential information between shifts.
This article discusses how some manufacturers are introducing digital communication capability to the factory floor to help workers to improve information exchange during shift changeovers.
Unstructured and Informal Communication
Few manufacturers have taken the time to formalize shift changeover procedures. Far too many get by with informal supervisor-to-supervisor conversations. During these brief moments, comments are exchanged on how machines are running, ongoing maintenance issues, quality problems and other pertinent information.
This all takes time, during which machines aren't running. Inevitably, some points are forgotten. As backup, some on the factory floor scribble notes for their next shift colleagues. Hopefully these are legible and left where they can be found.
Some companies do go further. They use shift reports, logbooks and checklists to capture and pass on essential information. Completing these is usually the supervisor’s responsibility, which takes time and is dependent on factory workers and maintenance technicians telling them what they need to know. A diligent supervisor might get everything written down. A busy one that’s trying to put out multiple fires may forget or just run out of time.
When the Handover Goes Bad
The most common consequences of poor shift changeover are lost output, reflected in OEE drops, and possibly, accidents. Consider the following scenario:
Finished product flows into a packaging hall on a vibrating conveyor. Prolonged service has caused a cover to work loose. After a while that shuts off the conveyor, quickly bringing the packaging machines to a halt. Maintenance is aware of the problem and is waiting for a replacement part to come in. In the interim they’ve given the factory workers a workaround. Fitted to the guard is a clamp that needs hand-tightening every hour.
Ideally, this is explained to the second shift. But what if the message gets garbled, lost or just forgotten?
In this only too common event, the conveyor shuts down once more and the packaging hall falls silent. Maintenance is called, but this crew has also been through a shift change. If they have a record of the problem, it’s buried on someone’s timecard or job sheet. So they go through the same diagnostic process as before. Perhaps they even order a second replacement part. After some minutes, the conveyor restarts and packing resumes. But what happens at the next shift changeover?
In this example, it wasn’t the shift changeover that led to the lost output, or even the faulty cover. It was the lack of communication. And situations like this can occur on any production line anywhere. Today it was a problem with a cover, tomorrow it might be a faulty temperature sensor that factory workers need to watch, or a worn tool that must be handled in just such a way to avoid jamming.
Efficient multi-shift production depends on factory workers sharing information, ideally without stopping the production line. Shouldn’t they have a tool to help them do it?
Digital Communication for the Factory Floor
Your office workers have been using messaging and communication apps for years. They’re sharing updates, collaborating around ideas and offering suggestions and support. Wouldn’t these same capabilities help avoid the shift changeover dip? Leading manufacturers like Danone, ABB and Barry Callebaut certainly think so.
Rather than rely on word-of-mouth, handwritten notes and people’s memories they’ve handed their workers tablets and given them the ability to share and receive important production updates through Poka - a performance support app that includes communication capabilities. By enabling real-time and effective communication, this makes it easy to share information and updates across shifts and between teams. Workers are no longer forgetting or mislaying information or claiming they didn’t know.
A tablet placed at each workstation equipped with Poka gives factory workers and management:
- A live news feed that centralizes all updates related to equipment, quality, safety and other production issues that occurred during a shift.
- An effective way to post messages, tag colleagues, and collaborate across shifts and plants.
- The ability to easily post and share a video or photo of an issue for better clarity and insight into a problem
- Posts organized by channels and categories to keep distractions to a minimum
Recommended best practice, based on the experience at hundreds of Poka factories worldwide, is for workers to connect to the app as soon they arrive at their workstations to see what’s new and review messages from the previous shift. Supervisors for their part use shift posts from the news feed to shine a light on and escalate new and ongoing issues during their daily huddles.
Ideally, communication from maintenance is also centralized here so that line workers and the incoming team of technicians are aware of what has been done. For example, “Part has been ordered but won’t be here until Thursday”, with a picture or video of the workaround to follow in the interim.
As a result, the shift change-over would be brought about smoothly and efficiently with ongoing production problems avoided.
Specific benefits reported by manufacturers include:
- 20% reduction in equipment downtime at a global food manufacturer who used Poka in conjunction with new equipment and centerlining procedures.
- Up to 90% reduction in the time to find training materials and standard operating procedures at a leading confectionery manufacturer
- 4% increase in productivity at chocolate manufacturer, Barry Callebaut
Giving People the Digital Tools They Need
Shift changeovers are a complex, high-risk activity. But that doesn’t mean that output dips at shift changeovers are inevitable. Experts suggest improving the handover process by supporting the people involved with better systems, tools and competencies.
Improving communication across shifts raises OEE by letting production lines run longer, avoids and prevents ongoing problems on the factory floor, and even guards against accidents.
Give frontline workers what they need, and they’ll take care of the problems and issues that reduce output.
Andrea Masterton is vice president of marketing with Poka. In this role she oversees the company’s marketing strategy including demand generation, product marketing, and industry thought leadership. With more than 15 years B2B SaaS experience including time at eSignLive and Vasco, she is passionate about bringing innovative, disruptive technology to market. Andrea is a frequent speaker at industry events and has authored dozens of articles and white papers.