How Reliable are Your Processes, Really?
Every factory operates on a foundation of good processes. From the basic procedures that govern manufacturing lines, to the efforts used to maintain quality standards, process is everything. But just because you have a process doesn’t mean it’s a good one. How do you determine a good process vs. a bad or inefficient one? It all comes down to reliability. How reliable is that process in accomplishing what it’s designed to do?
What is reliability?
There’s a common misconception that just because something works, it’s reliable. Any seasoned factory manager knows that’s far from the reality. They’re likely to tell you a process is reliable … until it isn’t. It begs the question: how do you measure reliability in terms of processes?
Most people make the mistake of looking at it negatively. “It’s good because nothing goes wrong.” But this denotative definition doesn’t justify the connotative definition of reliability. To really qualify reliability, we need to quantify it against a benchmark. Instead of saying “this maintenance process works because the machine hasn’t broken down,” we should be saying “this maintenance process works because it’s proven to maintain machine uptime at 99% regular cycle capacity.”
The distinction may be in semantics, but the approach defines the process. A reliable process isn’t one that works; it’s one that’s proven to work.
Setting benchmarks for reliability
If there’s a recurrent problem in your factory, the first thing you’re going to investigate is why it keeps happening. This is an investigation into process. The way you’re doing something isn’t accomplishing what it’s meant to. The process isn’t reliable. Making it reliable means fixing it to a measurable degree. You need to set benchmarks for reliability.
Uptime, errors, performance, speed, accuracy — these are all modes of gauging a process. Figure out the variables that most define your process and examine them individually for reliability. A process is the sum of its many steps, so fine-tuning these steps fine-tunes the greater process. Benchmarking each variable within a process keeps it accountable, allowing you to determine an overall level of reliability.
Take, for example, the process of loading a pallet. The process may be as simple as lifting boxes, pivoting, and setting them down on the pallet. But if the product keeps getting damaged, this isn’t a reliable process. It needs benchmarks. Stack boxes in alternating fashion to distribute weight. Stack no more than four boxes high. Adding in these benchmarks and measuring their effect on the process sets the standard for measuring reliability.
What does a reliable process look like
Good processes affect just about every aspect of business operations. Getting them right means priming your factory for success. Thankfully, good processes have hallmarks that distinguish them:
- Minimal levels of waste
- Cohesion between steps
- Simplicity and repeatability
- Incremental standards
Generally, if a process is transparent, obvious, complete, and efficient, it’s naturally a good process. It also can be measured, thanks to these inherent traits. This allows you to test a process to see if it’s truly reliable. If it is, it’s one worth repeating and adapting to other situations and tasks.