Error Proofing: Automating to justify the Nuf-nuf factor

Tuesday 29th March 2011 - By Leo Alarcon    Share    

Automation can be a wonderful thing; it has helped bring the cost of manufacture of passenger vehicles to levels where even low income households can aspire to car ownership. This is an efficient use of automation for the good of businesses and the community. It has transformed and altered the cost curve and its subsequent purchase cost for many products we buy and consume in our everyday lives, but it can in many cases be used a s a substitute for a lack of focus, training, skill development and slack management of production plants.

Automation is a broad term, it encompasses not only using machines to do what man power used to do but also to remove the potential to make costly production mistakes in plants throughout many industries not just the automotive. Automation and PLC programming can interlock a process upstream if its downstream components or stations are not ready to commence production. This is a common feature in many continuous processes. Although these safeguards can prevent quality problems, plant failure and other undesired consequences, how much of it are managers using it to justify the inability of "competent" process workers in doing the correct checks and process troubleshooting themselves?
Do we as production or process managers feel the need to take away the plant and the ability for plant operators to walk through the process, understand it, and most importantly use their intellectual ability to prevent issues and set the plant for a successful run?
In many cases this type of over automation and interlocking of plant components to justify lack of focus and use of operator’s intellectual ability in the pursuit of endless error proofing leads to the Nuf-nuf factor, the inability to think and control the process for themselves. What happened to production checks and checklists? standardization of production parameters? Clear procedures and continual training of production workers in these? Multi skilled workforce? Tqm?

Many processes will never be able to be truly fully automated, and it’s in these processes where these issues will be exacerbated. Slack management, lack of understanding of the process itself and misuse of automation creates an environment where focus and interest in the inner workings of the plant and process appear to be no longer needed.

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