Training Operators to Recognize Defects: A Crash Course
Machine operators are quite familiar with their equipment, since they spend virtually every day working with it. As a result, they’re the first line of defense in recognizing potential problems: defects, malfunctions, or maintenance issues. Teaching operators to be aware of oddities and diagnose potential problems is a critical first step on the path to embracing proactive maintenance in your facility. Here’s what to consider when educating operators.
Step 1: Establish routines
Routines and rituals are the key to creating a sixth sense about equipment problems before they arise. Routines are specific and familiar, which means anything that deviates from these norms is instantly identifiable. Startup and shutdown routines, for example, can clue equipment operators into new noises or unfamiliar behaviors that may signal a potential problem. Routines also can include monitoring or testing to catch unseen, silent problems. Establish and standardize routines to invite consistency into your factory.
Step 2: Encourage awareness
Recognizing defects shouldn’t just be the result of passive routines — it also needs to include active listening and observing. Train operators to be attentive and alert while they’re working, even when everything is going according to plan. Actively looking, listening, smelling, and using other senses while operating their equipment is the best way to become aware of a problem as it’s developing. In many instances, this also can mean avoiding safety hazards before they trip machinery safeguards. Make active engagement part of operator training.
Step 3: Teach basic problem-solving
No one knows their equipment quite like the people who operate it. They know every noise, vibration, nook, cranny, and tendency of the machinery — and that’s something manufacturers should capitalize on. Cross-train operators to undertake basic maintenance or repairs, and give them a sense of ownership over their equipment. Just make sure to draw a clear line in the sand between simple or superficial service, and more extensive repairs that require the oversight of an experienced technician.
Step 4: Have a reporting process
Speaking of repairs and minor maintenance, it’s important to ensure there’s a simple and efficient way to report issues and remedies performed. For example, there should be a clear path for operators to alert someone to a potential problem through the correct channels. If they suspect a problem but aren’t sure exactly what’s wrong, they need a way to vocalize this and make sure it receives due attention. Create a sense of actionability for operators, so they know exactly what to do in the event of a developing issue.
Proactive solutions start with a preventive mindset
Above all, empowering training operators to take ownership of their equipment is a great way to instill a culture of reliability in your factory. Operators don’t need to have all the answers when it comes to what, why, or how to address the problem: they need to be lauded for their foresight in paving the way to a solution. These individuals are on the front lines of production, and it’s important to empower them to keep the means of production reliable.