Lean thinking in manufacturing has always been a practical means to that most desirable end: A better quality product produced in less time at lower cost. For the past two decades, manufacturers have consistently striven for tight integration of shop floor activities, hopefully resulting in a streamlined environment capable of achieving this lean sense of "perfection".
In more basic terms, at its core Lean thinking is informed by the goal of shop waste minimization through the elimination of those activities that do not add value to the product. Simultaneously, the use of scarcer resources is maximized, such as capital investment and personnel. However, while capital investment in tooling and infrastructure (ie, building, land, etc.) is encumbered by a sense of being "fixed" with regards to improvements in efficiency, the human side of the manufacturing process (ie, personnel) has much greater flexibility in terms of being able to make immediate adjustments in process towards a better way of doing things.
As a production resource, employees (both production and management) have the capacity for revealing and solving problems at the source, as well as making instant alterations towards "a more perfect" manufacturing process. However, these decisions are – must be – driven by relevant, reliable, real-time shop data entry. Constant process analysis as a Lean principle must involve empowered employees who participate in the collection and distribution of real-time data; this empowerment always results in improving efficiencies in the shop floor system.
Built as a single point, multi-purpose shop floor / work order management tool, the paperless Touch Screen Data Collection system (TSDC) is designed to be a central collection point and rapid analyzer for important shop floor-generated data. In a Lean production environment, where the need for data is constant, it is paramount that a single integrated system of total shop floor activity tracking controls exists, including costing, procurement, scheduling, materials management, tracking, inventory control, and labor management both direct labor and indirect labor).
TSDC provides real-time shop floor control in all aspects of the system, creating the maximization of efficiencies and reduction of waste that are the values at the heart of Lean production. However, any good enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing tool must depend upon the human variable – shop floor personnel – to provide the input of data through the system. Without accurate and consistent attention to data entry, error margins increase to the detriment of reliability. This is why it is important that employees feel not only empowered and vested in the ERP system, but that they are comfortable enough with the technology to include the data entry process as part of their production routine. Without a person commitment to total integration of the ERP data collection and the inputting of data into the job flow, analysts are faced with incomplete, if not error-filled, data. This mandate of shop floor data entry is especially important in job shops, make-to-order, make-to-stock, and mixed mode manufacturers where budgets prohibit the addition of a designated IT person or staff.
To this end, ERP shop floor data entry and collection systems are tied to a "timeclock" Graphical User Interface (GUI) concept. Often quite user friendly, GUI input is made through any number of movements-traditional keystroke, bar / card scanning, and / or touch-screen technology. The user is presented with a visual online systems menu in an easy to read, "clean screen" format. From this timekeeping screen, the employee can identify him / herself (relative to security clearance, if necessary), clock in and clock out, accept jobs listed in order of priority, review work order details, log onto and off of jobs, and all other functions associated with operation and time management.
For example, work center jobs are prioritized on the screen by date of work order submission in consideration of the availability of raw materials, labor, supplies, etc., needed to complete the job on time. An employee may review the Work Order Detail of any job to determine if job is, in fact, ready to begin production, or should wait pending arrival of requisite materials or other parts. In many systems, if necessary, the employee can even generate a purchase order for outside vendor processing directly from the GUI. This PO is then stored in the TSDC system as information for all shop floor employees and all ERP users to see regarding that specific job.
In such a scenario, the TSDC provides real-time data analysis to both management and staff for precise parts inventory control, streamlining purchasing, and even employee performance measurement that result in better direct labor margins.
As a function of shop floor time and task management, the TSDC collects all data related to a job (past, present, or future), and provides a focal point where information is immediately converges into functional data for payroll, scheduling (forward / backward) , dispatch list, and job costing-all of which help achieve strategic sales and profit objectives. For example, in the past, understanding the complex relationships between cost, sales, and profits was at best difficult, at worst haphazard. However, the TSDC allows management to easily compute job costing based upon bill-of-material or single part cost summaries. These summaries are compiled from employee production data entered directly on the shop floor via the GUI. Material, labor, overhead and so forth are functions in the equation that analyzes sales and their associated margins.
Perhaps the most critical function of the TSDC is found in its ability to take shop floor data and segregate results in terms of estimated versus Actual cost. It is here, sometimes, in understanding estimate versus actual results for a bill-of-material or a single part, where the greatest difference is found between profit and loss in a pull production of the Lean system. For in a Lean environment, the manufacturer cares very about errors; errors labor performance (including scrap), errors in estimating, errors in inventory management, and so forth.
Through information sharing through the shop floor data entry, the TSDC allows management to easily analyze the information and identify areas of waste in the system. Thus, in adherence to Lean principals, the company continuously improves through the reduction of costs, improved quality and increased productivity.
Since the TSDC becomes the conduit of operational data between shop floor personnel / work centers, and performance data between the shop floor and management, it takes the complete approach to the data collection and analysis that is vital in today's information-dependent global business world.