Knowledge Management as a driving force for Manufacturing Optimization and Plant Continuity in times of COVID-19

Posted by

Luc Reaskin

Making essential information readily accessible to your operators lies at the very basis of your manufacturing and maintenance processes. This means that exactly the right policy, Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), manual, One-Point Lesson (OPL) or Out of Control Action Plan (OCAP), etc. is retrievable - or pops up - at the right place on the factory floor at the right time, enabling workers to do their job autonomously. Now, in times of COVID-19, this has become more relevant than ever due to higher absence rates. When implemented well, knowledge management enables AI, nudges operators, mobile apps and cognitive interfaces to make operators more productive on the shop floor and your operations more cost-efficient – safeguarding plant continuity during the Corona crisis.

The need to redefine knowledge management

The 4th Industrial Revolution is disruptive, impacting work, operators and factories. Importantly, shifting work demands and skills requirements are leading to a huge demand for new skills and capabilities in an ever-tightening labor market. At the same time, employee turnover is high in the manufacturing industry. And now the coronavirus is adding another problem to the table – high numbers of staff calling in sick – forcing you to do more with less. Within this context, organizations are being challenged to change the way in which people learn and access information. In order to stay competitive, continuous, always-accessible skilling solutions that capture and provide essential information to workers are a must.  A recent report on human capital by Deloitte reveals a trend of learning becoming more integrated with work, more personal and shifting to lifelong.

So how does this impact knowledge management in and across plants? Digitization of knowledge is nothing new, but we see that it often brings little added value to daily operations, and it’s not exactly enabling learning opportunities. Still, we see operators waste time searching and scrolling through endless pages or lists of valuable, but at any point in time, non-essential information. Or shop floor workers struggling to find information to perform a task that unfortunately, hasn’t ever been recorded. As long as this is the case, manufacturers are missing out on the real benefits knowledge management technologies can bring, including production optimization, factory continuity and a happier, autonomous workforce.

Turning knowledge into a valuable asset

Why is it that factories still aren’t seeing big-picture results from their digital technologies? What we see is that despite such solutions, within many factories, expertise is not shared or passed on efficiently. Why? Because too little attention is given to the human factor and the challenges and issues faced by workers in conducting their daily work on the shop floor.Take, for instance, an engineer in your factory. An experienced engineer will have a whole range of fixes, recommendations and warnings internalized based on his experience. Take away such an engineer – due to sickness or leave – and all that knowledge is lost, if it hasn’t been captured beforehand.  Or imagine how much time is wasted if an operator needs to search for information about a certain SOP or an equipment manual.Most production floors are hectic.

To ensure safe operations and minimum downtime, operators have to be able to focus on their task. Not on searching for information. Any manual, policy or OPL that is not instantly available or retrievable is a potential disruptor of the manufacturing process. And could even impact worker safety. Or take a novice operator -- how long is he likely to spend searching for the information he needs before turning to a colleague for an answer? Think about what consequences this has in terms of lost production, costs and employee frustration.

Knowledge management based on the shop floor – the way forward

It’s no use having a wealth of knowledge hidden away in a digital solution, if such a solution is not able to offer the right SOP, manual, safety instructions, OPL etc. at the right place, at the right point in time to the right person. Yet, designed and delivered in the right way, digital work instructions are a powerful way to bring efficiency and quality to the shop floor. They provide workers with the precise bit of information required to do their jobs autonomously, enabling them to make the right decisions or take quick action according to the right policy, SOP or OCAP. Such technology not only increases production efficiency and minimizes downtime, but also results in happier and more focused workers. Most importantly, it safeguards plant continuity in times of COVID-19.