At LeanFab Workshop & Tours, organized by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International, and held last month in Columbus, Ohio, Dave Lechleitner asked attendees to draw a pig. The presales principal at Exact Software, Minneapolis, wasn’t playing an odd joke. Instead, he was making a point.
When he first asked us to draw a pig, every one of us drew it differently. But when he gave us detailed instructions on how exactly to draw the pig--how long the tail was supposed to be, where the nose needed to go, etc.--our pigs began to look a little more alike. He was illustrating (well, we all were illustrating--some us very badly) the importance of complete, accurate, and up-to-date work instructions.
Today technology has leveled the playing field when it comes to labor and overseas competition. The key word there, though, is “leveled.” It hasn’t tilted the game in anyone’s favor. These days, advanced manufacturing technology and automation get shops to the game table. But the table’s still flat, and who wins is anyone’s guess.
As speakers and attendees at LeanFab discussed at length, it’s now about how well the shop plays the game with the advanced technology they have--and quite often that comes with getting information right the first time. It involves communicating with customers for the right drawings, communicating with shop floor personnel to ensure everyone is on the same page, material is labeled properly, work stations clean, tools labeled. Some shops even have gone away from paper travelers to digital ones, with tablets on the floor continually updated with the latest and greatest part revisions, routings, and schedule.
We have some incredible technologies at our fingertips, but it still takes good people and rock-solid procedures to get the job done flawlessly. We’re imperfect creatures, so that ideal will never come to fruition, but it’s at least an ideal worth striving for.
Take the tragedies that occurred over the holiday weekend: the plane crash in San Francisco and the runaway oil tanker cars in Canada. In both cases, the machines involved used some fantastic technology. Did the technology fail? Was it a procedural error? We don’t yet know, but we do know that both procedures and technology must work in concert--and even the most advanced machines can’t avert disaster entirely on their own.
When you think about it, talking to one another, documenting processes, labeling materials and tools--it all comes back to communication. And the best technologies in the world can’t work well without it.