Manufacturing managers and industrial engineers build and evolve their operations and protocols over time. They are regularly assessing and engineering the standards for each job line, from both a productivity and safety perspective, with an eye toward continuous improvement. However, while they may intend to create a standard that is as near to perfect as possible, usually the facility, available technologies, requirements, jobs, and the workforce are also evolving, and unlike wine, the standard does not age well.

Ideally the job will be assessed at least once a year in a manual time and motion study. But in reality, with current workforce limitations and demands, the practice is far closer to every few years, at best — or when there is a serious accident or issue with production.

A critical factor that is not given nearly enough consideration are the unique biomechanics and physical capabilities of each person working on the line. The process or job may be designed using some of the latest software and simulation tools, but the reality is each worker interacts with the process differently from this theoretical ideal. As a result there is drift from the engineered standard that usually goes undetected and unmeasured on a daily or more granular basis. From a lean and continuous improvement perspective, the ideal is rarely ever achieved.

This provides, though, a major opportunity. Addressing the unique working style and biomechanics of individual workers can have major production and safety impacts, and these impact productivity and retention.

Let’s look at an example to better understand the impact. The company is a $1B manufacturer. Over the past 20 years they have actually increased output with a smaller workforce by using smart manufacturing. But, nonetheless, today they are challenged to find and retain enough skilled and unskilled workers.

For one of its manufacturing jobs there are 10 workers on the production line. The engineered standard here is 10.5 seconds per cycle, with a takt time (start to start) of 16 seconds. The assumption — more of a hope, really, since they don’t have data — from the industrial engineering and operations team is that workers are adhering to this. They do notice overall production is performing at about 90% of the goal on a daily basis. There is a high amount of musculoskeletal injuries in this position that often lead to downtime, lost output, nurse visits, and related stress.

How can companies gather the individual worker data and optimize this operation?

Using the Iterate Labs patented smart watch and AI platform the manufacturer is able to look at the precise granular data of how each worker performs against the standard continuously. Here we show an average of the 1000s of cycles completed per worker and to no surprise there are lots of variance, insights, and areas for improvement. When we break the data down into cycle time and idle time we see that three of the workers are clearly hitting the goal or are within 10% of that standard — which is fantastic — and those workers should be recognized (check out our blog for ideas on gamification).

However, we also see that there are several workers that are not hitting the standard, and that has serious implications. First, these workers are taking over 10% longer than the designed and expected engineering standard. This means that there is a 10% or greater loss of productivity going every day that equates to millions of dollars every year. When these metrics are then tallied for total output on a daily basis we find a shocking 20% gap in output between top and bottom performers. Further, the impact of a slower cycle time directly leads to a drastically reduced idle time for rest. (Repeat: doing the job slower can actually result in less rest and more fatigue.) And to no surprise these workers were far more likely to have nurse trips, complaints of pain, and lost work days.

We also evaluated variations in cycle time and idle time throughout the day. We found instances every day where hourly performance varied by 10% or more, even among top performers. These can be signs of fatigue or other operational concerns as well. It is also interesting to note that overall the line is fairly balanced, as when one worker slows down, the others will have to work to fill up the gap and increase their pace. This can create another safety hazard.

In short, not having visibility into individual worker cycle time and understanding how it compares to the engineered standard can have major impacts:

  • Loss of productivity and total output on a daily basis leading to millions of dollars in lost production
  • Unbalanced, overworked, fatigued, and poorly-rested workers leading to increased injury costs, health related downtime, health-related turnover, and absenteeism
  • Turnover due to inappropriate demands being placed on workers, where production demands are not feasible

Contact Iterate Labs today to talk about how we can help you make training a strategic center for growth at your company.