How to Improve Manufacturing with a Team Approach

Johnny Brown, Life Cycle Engineering

In a manufacturing environment, the many barriers between operations, maintenance, management and non-management personnel can be a real challenge. Here's what the problem often looks like:

When manufacturing equipment fails, the operators point to the maintenance crews, and the maintenance crews point to the operators. In many cases, the operators' idea is that they are operators and only operate the equipment that belongs to maintenance. The maintenance crews believe that maintenance is only there to fix equipment when it breaks.

Similar behavior occurs between management and non-management personnel. Many managers believe that their job is best performed in their offices – generating reports, performing personnel evaluations and overseeing the area administration. Meanwhile, the non-managers hold little respect for the majority of the managers because they stay in their offices and never interact with the plant personnel. There is no sense of team between the two groups.

The solution is to remove the barriers between the departments and create an environment where all employees participate, feel ownership, take responsibility and work toward common workplace goals. Quality performance will increase, resulting in improved overall equipment effectiveness and a more harmonious work environment.

This can be a hard concept to sell to people at all levels because their attitudes and ideas have often been their way of life for most of their working careers. However, trying to break down the barriers that divide people is worth the effort. When people feel ownership of an idea, process or equipment and believe their input is valued, they will take greater pride in their work and push harder for its success, which will create greater job satisfaction.

The first step is to sell the idea of a one-plant, one-team approach to the management team and then to all levels in all departments. The management team's question will be how to sell the idea to the non-management plant personnel. You need to begin with a foundation for building common interests and goals.

One action you can take is to remove any team or function name that directs the function of the team to one specific department or function. For example, change the name for the management approach of total quality management to total quality manufacturing and then develop improvement teams consisting of personnel from each department within the plant. This begins to create a common workplace interest and supports a one-plant, one-team environment. Management now demonstrates its focus on involving manufacturing personnel throughout the plant, creating the sense of team and ownership. Together, the teams can work on process and equipment improvement projects.

The next step is to create a partnership between the operators and the maintenance teams. Assigning the operators and maintenance technicians in teams during outages and shutdowns will allow for hands-on experience with the equipment and a sense of unity, encouraging a shared sense of ownership. Over time, the operators and maintenance technicians will start to rely on each other as partners. Once the operators have a good understanding of the system and feel ownership, they will become proactive in keeping the equipment running by recognizing and rectifying equipment anomalies before they become problems. Operators empowered to keep the equipment running will allow the maintenance crews to focus on increasing planned work and project work developed by the improvement teams.

After the teams start to build and bond, the day-to-day routine and improved communication will help maintain morale and motivate employees at all levels. Everyone will gain a team spirit and feel a greater sense of job satisfaction. The operations teams will know their equipment and can help prevent equipment breakdowns. The maintenance teams will be able to complete more planned work, thereby preventing equipment downtime and allowing them to work on projects. The improvement teams will see that their brainstorming and ideas are actually being implemented. The management teams will see equipment downtime decrease and productivity and profit increase.

Breaking down barriers and creating a one-plant, one-team approach will create a win-win situation for everyone. 

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About the Author

Johnny Brown is an asset management services technician with Life Cycle Engineering (LCE). Over the last 20-plus years, his career focus has been in the areas of maintenance planning, quality as...