Use What You Document at the Plant—Part 2
BY Ken Monlux
In the September issue, we discussed a method of collecting, evaluating and distilling data into a user-friendly matrix called the log. The collected raw data is organized in a way to be quickly absorbed by the local manager. All the reporting in the world is of no value if it isn’t read, understood and acted upon.
As in our baseball example last month, teams were dissatisfied with the results of their scouting and statistical review. Owners weren’t getting the results they desired. Could it be that the hot mix industry is also unhappy with its current reporting?
A deeper look at the log-based platform shows a new layout. By design, the log gives a lot of information quickly. Unlike traditional formatting, it’s not a top-down summary report. It’s structured to be site-specific for the local manager. It is intended to be interactive and to challenge the supervisor.
The core of the log is three-fold:
- Vital signs: a quick look at the health of the operation
- Evaluation: analysis of raw data in real-time to challenge the team
- Archive: ability to easily reconstruct any given day of operation
In this part of the article series, we’ll take a more meaningful look at these core principles.
Check Vital Signs
When you visit your doctor, the nurse checks your personal vital signs. Such things as blood pressure, weight and pulse are documented and compared to past visits. During the visit, the doctor will evaluate your vital signs. Based on these vital signs, the doctor can then go forward in a diagnosis.
Like you, a hot mix operation has vital signs. As with you, these vital signs are able to give the manager a quick look at the overall health of the plant.
If the local manager only looked at the vital signs, he would have a better understanding of the health of his production process.
Vital signs are designed to be site-specific. One set of signs may perform well at one location but fail to produce the desired outcome at another location. The development of vital signs is a joint effort with the regional manager, local manager and the editor of the log. Vital signs are short, direct statements of performance. In order not to overwhelm the local manager, the vital signs need to be limited. I would like to suggest vital signs be limited to no more than five.
Vital signs are formatted as bullet points to keep the focus on the outcome. Each of the five vital signs is assigned a goal. The goal is a method that allows the manager to compare month-to-month or year-to-year. It also allows the manager, at a glance, to know the plant status.
To better understand what vital signs would look like, let’s examine a set of five in a fictitious plant. The information within the box is an example of how the data would be formatted.
Sign One of Five
Tons per man-hour (tons shipped from the plant per site/shift): It is always better to use tons shipped, rather than tons produced. You only get credit for what you sell. Everything else is waste.
Sign Two of Five
Average production rate (shipped) as expressed as a percent of maximum design of plant: This is a new way to look at production, tying it to the design rate of the plant. We all know that the design of the plant is a function of somewhat perfect conditions, in both the plant and raw materials used. By comparing the real world and the design, you may find areas for improvement.
Sign Three of Five
Mix Temperature vs Shipped Temperature vs Job Site Temperature: This sign goes to the heart of a problem many plants experience. Operators tend to produce a mix that is too hot, resulting in placement problems, energy waste and loss of production.
Sign Four of Five
Mix changes per day/Start-ups per day: This vital sign drove me crazy as I watched the plant operator switch between mixes without a plan, or shut down the plant prematurely. The act of a careless plant operator will cause additional waste, loss of production and higher operating costs.
Sign Five of Five
Uptime availability: This is a term I have been using since the ’80s. It has always bothered me that I couldn’t get this number into the 90 percent range. Actions that contribute to loss of uptime can be unscheduled stoppage, breakdowns outside acceptable rates or careless shipping schedules.
Evaluate in a Timely Manner
Traditional summary reports have two snags, which are time lags and the inability to identify trends. In the real world, there is always a time lag. To better manage this, the log’s editor has the ability to interact with the plant manager as the data is being analyzed. An additional time delay happens if the manager does not make it a priority to review the report. Using the interactive aspect of the log, the editor can notify the manager about the severity of the issue.
Data can become stale over time. A correction that may be simple to address can become more difficult as time goes on. Because of the hot mix’s short shelf life, any correction in the production cycle needs to be followed up on as quickly as possible.
Old data does not energize the local manager to be challenged. How many of your plants have a burner control recorder (real-time data collection)? Do you or your manager analyze the data on a daily basis? Or is the data filed and forgotten? You want to be able to identify any questionable trends that may be starting at the plant. All plants develop trends. Most are good, but some are not. A trend could be something as simple as a habit; such as a “setting” that is just a bit off. It could also be something “not noticed” in the pressures of the day.
Examples that can cause or affect a trend include attention to detail and getting into a comfort zone. An operator loses his attention to detail if he becomes distracted by other crew members, loadout of trucks and generating scale tags, inbound deliveries of raw materials, phone calls, texts, and social media. Most operators have a production rate that is within their comfort zone. This production rate may be based on factors such as his “favored” discharge temperature, his qualifications and past experience, distractions, silo management, and general traffic in the yard.
How confident are you that you or your manager will identify and act on a questionable trend? I believe, due to the nearness of the plant decisions and distractions going on during the operational day, a manager may have a tough time identifying and acting on suspected trends.
The log editor has the advantage of space. He is one step removed from the day-to-day. The editor has the time to reflect. By design, a log-based documentation platform allows for a search of all trends. By overlaying various data reports and sources, a questionable trend may be spotted sooner, rather than later, by the editor.
Access the Archive
Let me pose a question to you:
Can you reconstruct July 12, 2017? Was it a good day? Did the plant run? What was the weather like? Did you suffer a breakdown, or other production run stoppage? I could go on and on, but the point is, could you provide documentation to reconstruct a given day in a timely manner?
Again, like a ship’s log, all significant elements of the day’s action can be documented. The “plant report” form is vital to successful archiving. These plant reports, like other aspects of the log-based narrative are site-specific. The plant report is designed to be completed at the end of every shift. It should reflect the particular traits of the plant.
If the information you are providing today doesn’t meet the needs of the local manager or doesn’t motivate the manager toward improvement, you may need to change things up. A log-based platform gives the local manager the capability to focus on making the needed day-to-day decisions to keep “the ship” moving forward. By way of an interactive relationship with the log’s editor, the manager becomes more confident in his ability.
In part three next month, I will outline how to go forward to develop a log-based documentation platform that will work best for your company. You will find it’s not as hard as you may think. If you have a system currently in place, the transformation can be simple and seamless. If you don’t have a system, or you want to scrap yours and start over, that can be done as well.
Ken Monlux is an asphalt industry veteran with 30 years experience in all areas of operational management. For more information, contact him at (209) 495-1017 or firstname.lastname@example.org.