Gaining Visibility – Different Paths can Work

What should you pay attention to? As the driver, the barrels, lane marking and sign probably. Or is the wisteria important too?

What should you pay attention to? As the driver, the barrels, lane marking and sign probably. Or is the wisteria important too? Visibility layers that direct attention for the system user can be critical to outcomes.

Should a company replace, or simply add a visibility layer onto an existing system? While I’ve often advocated for investing in modern MES / MOM to gain all of the additional functionality as well as visibility and usability, there are companies that take a less drastic step and still gain visibility. Such is the case of a semiconductor company who I cannot name but I wrote about here.

Like many semiconductor production facilities, they had an MES that has been running the plants for years. It rarely ever suffers from downtime, and the facilities are doing pretty well, keeping products moving through and making a reasonable profit. So is it worth the time, effort and risk to replace that older system with a modern one?

That depends. For many facilities, it will be. The need for speed, flexibility and capabilities such as experiment management, analytics, SPC, durables and shift management, and maintenance points to replacing older WIP tracking focused systems with full-function MES.  I have written about comapnies that have done that for both my client Camstar, now a part of Siemens Digital Enterprise Realization group, and also Critical Manufacturing.

Yet there are instances where the facility may not have new or high margin products going through it. The facility’s life span may be limited based on the lifecycle of these older products. The mix and labor costs may be low, the or the older system may have just enough core functionality to support most of the operating needs, other than the real-time visibility so critical to evaluating and improving performance.

In this facility, that was the case. they added a visibility layer – with a visual image of the fab color-coded to show performance in each area. When a piece of equipment goes red, the team knows to focus there. Sometimes that simple type of prompting can generate added efficiency and effectiveness. Knowing where to focus can truly accelerate improvement cycles.

Focus may vary by your needs at a given time or by your particular role as well. In the photo above, most drivers should be paying attention to the lane markers and yellow barrels to ensure they get where they are trying to go. However, if the driver happens to be a road beautification expert or landscape gardener, the wisteria may catch their attention. So the need for visibility and pointing attention may even vary by who the user of the system is (operator vs. organizational development expert, for example). Having a way to direct peoples’ attention can be very important. The semiconductor fab in the case study made great gains based on that addition of a visibility layer for their operations.

Every instance is different. While it is time for many companies to replace outdated systems, some can add a thin layer to make tremendous gains. Give your employees the capability to spot what is working well and what needs improvement, whatever that takes in your environment. People want to do well. So when systems support that, amazing benefits accrue.

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