“My Staff Are Not Well-Suited For Operating Certain Existing Machines In Our Facility, Preventing Us From Further Expansion” (Lesson 8)

Most smaller and less automated factories simply don’t have skilled resources in-house, let alone ready to engage in commissioning and education/training activities.

In these situations, the existing skill levels of the facility’s operators have a major bearing and influence on the level of machine sophistication that should be considered when planning to introduce a packing machine or automated process.

Shiny new or pre-loved machines will require a certain level of operator mechanical aptitude, including the ability to learn about the machine quickly and take charge of its operation which, in most cases, means complicated changeovers, cleaning activities and challenging machine re-starts and fine-tuning.

Similarly, with any existing maintenance staff, they will need to develop an understanding about more demanding trouble-shooting, maintenance requirements and general diagnostic activities.

 

Contemplate Resourcing Strategies

You should consider a robust resourcing strategy if your workforce is presently lower-skilled and you introduce new equipment with increasing levels of automation components, such as complex PLCs, servo motors, robotics, and P&ID feedback control loops.

If this seems overwhelming when you consider your current group of operators and maintenance staff, there are several strategies available for managing this critical automation shift:

  • Train your “most promising” maintenance staff to operate and troubleshoot the machine leading up to equipment acceptance and during equipment installation and commissioning. They then should transfer this knowledge base across to the “more promising” operator(s).
     
    Furthermore, train both parties at the same time and encourage the maintenance staff to take the lead learning role and bring the operator on the learning journey.
  • If you have a team leader or production manager, train this person on all critical aspects relating to operating and maintaining the new equipment, as long as they have appropriate mechanical aptitude and motivation to learn the equipment.
  • Bring skilled operators in temporarily from the outside that are capable of learning the new machine, drafting the operation and troubleshooting procedures and even providing the training. They can gradually bring your “more promising” operators up to a standard that will allow them to develop their understanding and confidence with the new equipment.
  • Negotiate with your equipment supplier during the equipment-purchasing phase to allocate their technicians for two weeks or even up to a month of operating the machine in conjunction with your nominated representative. I call this “production support” from the equipment supplier and I’ve proposed a minimum of two weeks paid production support in every packaging machine project that I’ve managed for the past 16 years.
     
    Unfortunately, in more than 60% of these projects, including the case study above, management have elected to remove this provision from the budget, deeming it an unnecessary expense to the budget.
     
    Keep in mind that it still might be necessary to employ one or more operators with experience operating similar machines in other facilities.

 
Key Takeaways

  • If you’re starting to warm to the idea of embracing a higher level of automation expansion, whatever you decide to proceed with, it’s critical to have a skill level resourcing plan in place as you expand automation levels within your facility.
  • You should consider a robust resourcing strategy if your workforce is presently lower-skilled and you introduce new equipment with increasing levels of automation components, such as complex PLCs, servo motors, robotics, and P&ID feedback control loops.
  • There are many strategies and support resources available to assist you in facilitating the development and roll-out of machine operation and troubleshooting procedures, training and preventative maintenance schedules.