The Real-Time Journey to Operational Excellence

Operational excellence is a lofty goal. It is not really possible to declare that operational excellence has been reached; rather, it is a journey.

Achieving excellence this year does not guarantee that doing the same thing next year will keep you ahead.

Real-time performance management (RPM) is a strategy that works hand-in-hand with operational excellence to make sure that you measure and manage the right things. Many components must come together to make RPM work in operations. Virtually all are available in some form or another to every manufacturer. Unfortunately, these components cannot simply be purchased. Each manufacturer must assemble its own RPM solution that meets its goals.

To achieve RPM, the infrastructure must be able to facilitate all the components. Because RPM is about reacting to change, the infrastructure must make that easy for all involved: operators, supervisors and engineers, as well as the architects of the specific RPM implementation. The best infrastructure is one that is intuitive to all the humans that touch it.

See to believe

Much attention today is paid to what is visually presented to workers. For RPM to work, the human needs to be able to see what is happening. In the context of RPM, the way information is presented takes on an even more important role. With literally tens of thousands of potential points of information that could be presented to operators and their supervisors, the issue of what is presented and how it is presented is key to making real-time decisions that positively affect performance. Visualization must present the right information at the right time so that informed decisions can be made.

The old saying is true. “You cannot control what you cannot measure.” Measurement in the context of RPM includes production, inventory, quality and other information that is normal for operators to see and act upon. It also includes information in the context of business performance. The important measurements for the operator and supervisors to see relate to the key performance indicators (KPIs) to which the operation is being held accountable. The closer these measurements are to true measures of business performance, the more likely operators will make the correct adjustments.

Control has a different meaning at the plant floor than at the executive level. As an important component in RPM at the operations level, the function of control is to recognize deviations from the target and make corrections to the process in real-time. The objective at the plant level is to make this action as automated as possible. Often, a specific automated control function can be identified as the key component for a specific KPI.

Analysis in the context of RPM means questioning the status quo. Just because a response to a change worked in the past, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the correct response now in light of the latest business situation. For example, a product may not make the profit expected if sustained operation in the current range causes production faults, caused by catalyst deactivation or premature equipment failure. Of course, operators and supervisors must have tools available to recognize this.

What is knowledge?

Knowledge in the RPM context is both human expertise as well as the captured knowledge in automated and semi-automated processes. Often, the best production run (e.g., golden batch) can be directly linked to the best operators or workers on duty at the time. Knowledge and analysis of that knowledge are key components to moving ever closer to the goal of operational excellence.

Dick Hill, crhill@arcweb.com, is part of the management team at ARC Advisory Group, and is responsible for developing the strategic direction for ARC products, services, and geographical expansion.

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