The importance of shop floor communication

Shop floor communication is vital, particularly in the manufacturing industry.  It’s an integral factor  to ensuring productivity throughout the  workplace  and to operate effectively.   

As you know, shop floor staff must be aware of their  current  job requirements and  daily  priorities. If information isn’t communicated effectively, staff may begin working on jobs with a low priority, resulting in high priority jobs  being  delayed. Also, if a customer calls to request changes, this new information needs to be communicated to shop floor operatives as quickly as possible, to ensure parts are produced to the right specification. Subsequently, effective shop floor communication is essential to prevent these issues from occurring.  Furthermore, if issues do occur,  effective communication  helps issues get escalated, investigated and resolved as efficiently as possible. 

Now more than ever, communication on the shop floor, as well as throughout the workplace,  is critical. COVID-19 has resulted in remote working becoming the “new normal”. This is clearly not suitable for shop floor workers; however, office staff are likely working from home. As a result, shop floor communication  using traditional methods has become fragmented and difficult. But that doesn’t mean it is any less of a priority for your business.  

Shop floor communication issues

Even before the pandemic, you may have identified communication issues throughout your organisation.  Start-ups and SMEs, in particular, tend to use paper-based systems. These systems can be effective at first, but after a while, they become ineffective  as  paper-work  can be lost or it may be difficult to understand handwriting, resulting in information being interpreted  incorrectly.   

Additionally,  there are many expenses related to paper-based systems. The initial cost of printers  can be expensive as well as the resources required for them; ink,  paper, lamination sheets.  Not to mention, it’s just not great for the environment.   

And it’s not just written communication.  Working in a manufacturing environment you will know how  difficult it can be to hear even the person standing right next to  you. The noise on the shop floor could cause difficulty hearing when discussing a job card. This could result in the message being misinterpreted worse than a game of Chinese whispers!  

In the current  situation with COVID-19, there could be an increase in communication issues. The need to maintain a safe distance can make verbal communication in a loud environment very challenging. Even handling the same pieces of paper is frowned upon. So, you may have to get creative with communication methods and consider a contactless process.

Top-down and Bottom-up communication

That all said, there may be more fundamental causes of issues you’re experiencing if we examine the communication structures in place.  

Top-down communication is the most popular approach in manufacturing; it relies on senior management deciding how to prioritise, manage, and conduct everyday processes. Often, this can create a disconnect between shop floor staff and senior management, resulting in the senior team not always having the latest information of when jobs are complete, when issues arise, or when something fails an audit. 

In contrast, bottom-up communication allows shop floor staff to easily communicate with the management team above them. This can help to resolve issues more efficiently and empower your shop floor team to be more engaged and productive. 

How you might improve communications

Now, you may be aware of many of these issues and  have  tried to resolve them already.  I’m sure you’ve heard of, and more than likely use,  spreadsheets in your organisation – it seems like the easiest solution, right?    

Spreadsheets are  flexible, configurable and easy to use. Organisations tend to use spreadsheets for almost everything, from business analysis and inspections to operations management. Manufacturing  companies tend to collect their data using paper and input this into Excel.

What’s wrong with spreadsheets?

Unfortunately, using a paper-based system as well as spreadsheets can cause more problems than it can solve. Not only  is it time consuming to input data manually, but data can be misinterpreted, entered incorrectly or lost. This may be due to human error or technology  issues.    

Recently, using spreadsheets has caused nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases to go unreported in England due to missing data. This was due to an old file format used, which restricted the amount of rows that could be used. There were only 65,000 rows of data rather than the one million-plus rows that Excel is capable of. Therefore, when that total was reached, further cases were not included. You  wouldn’t expect this to happen, but unfortunately this can be the reality of spreadsheets.

What can you do about it?

If you’re experiencing issues caused by poor communication, I have some good news for you. Luckily, there  are plenty of ways  to set up your  shop  floor  operations to make communication simple and effective.   

Digital platforms such as MRP systems can tie together your whole organisation through one system that connects senior management with production, quality, sales and the shop floor directly. This provides a central repository of information that facilitates real-time, bottom-up  communication across the business, with no paper,  no  spreadsheets and no need to yell in the ear of the person standing less than a metre away!  

An MRP system is often the first step for manufacturers to manage production. When equipped with  Shop Floor Data Capture (SFDC) and Production Scheduling, it can be a powerful  tool for improving communication too. 

SFDC

SFDC acts as an extension to your production system which gives shop floor operatives all the information required to perform their jobs effectively. Information such as work-to lists, job instructions and drawings are accessible to operatives via screens or mobile devices on the shop floor. This digital communication ensures information is communicated effectively while minimising contact between employees. And, if any information changes, your production team can update the instructions or priority lists, and this immediately reflects on the SFDC system.

With the digital platform, your team log on and off jobs in real-time to facilitate live WIP tracking. All information captured on the SFDC system is immediately visible on your production system so you can always be aware of the latest developments.  So, if a customer calls for an update on their job, the production manager no longer  has to  call the shop floor  (or even go downstairs) and request an update.  Instead, the information is readily available on the screen so  that the customer can be updated  immediately.  

Furthermore, the system creates a full audit trail of who did what, when and for how long, so you no longer need to create spreadsheet templates to complete for every task. This is particularly good to ensure timely production, as well as monitoring the jobs operatives are working on. Production times can improve with this information.

Shop Floor Data Capture (SFDC) showing the adding of data record for planned machine maintenance.

 

Production scheduling

Scheduling software has become increasingly popular for organisations looking for an MRP/ERP system.  With multiple machines and new jobs  regularly coming in, it can be difficult deciding how to best organise resources effectively. This is where the Scheduler  can help assist with the planning of jobs according to live capacity availability, to  enhance resources and plan production to achieve delivery efficiencies and cost targets. 

The Scheduler works well with SFDC because you can see the latest information about your organisation.  Production scheduling is a  top-down  communication approach. It  looks at jobs you  have to  do and resources available to do them, it allocates jobs to available resources in the optimal pattern. SFDC then provides the bottom-up approach from the shop floor.  Data such as the actual start and finish time for each job?  Were there any delays? Or Did someone call in sick? Based on these changes, the schedule can update.  

Using just a top-down approach, you cannot  amend the schedule when changes happen on the shop floor, because you’ll not  get this information immediately. However, knowing in advance that a job is running late, you may assign the job that’s  scheduled after it on that machine onto a different machine, so the job can be completed on time. It’s all about getting information to people at the right time to make informed decisions.  

Why it’s the best option

Communication  is  essential  to ensure  productivity  throughout the workplace and to operate the shop floor effectively.  The regular issues alongside the increasing pressures from the current pandemic mean that while spreadsheets may be a short-term solution, you need a digital system to tie together your whole organisation.  

Firstly, it reduces the chance that miscommunication occurs, by minimising risk of human error in data entry, delivering information to shop floor operatives efficiently and accurately, and assigning specific jobs to designated machines. Secondly, as job progress is captured and displayed in real-time, you can increase customer satisfaction by efficiently updating them on the job’s  progress if they require an update.  Finally, streamlined communication improves  efficiency,  helps win more work and achieves continuous improvement.  

At Fitfactory, we have helped manufacturers across the UK to improve shop floor communication. Our  customers have benefited from SFDC and the Scheduler, with  Kristek Precision commenting that  “Fitfactory’s  SFDC-e system provides the ability to view drawings, setting instructions, tooling instructions and inspection details on the shop floor terminal. This way we can ensure that the operators always have the latest versions of all documents available to them.” 

To find out how you could improve shopfloor communication, speak to a member of our team today. 

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