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Author's profile photo John Harrison

What was old, is new again: Operator Care Programs

I have just read an report published in Chem Processing, “Focus On Better Equipment Care For Increased Productivity”. The report can be down loaded using the following Link. Within this report there is an article on how to “Successfully Implement an Operator Care Program”. Other than the fact I thought that the article, based on the title, was about the caring of operators, and expecting an HR type of article, it is a good article on how to set up a program of operators participating in the care of their equipment.

What struck me about this, was the fact that this idea in not new. Over thirty years a go a company I worked for implemented a program of enabling operators to take care of the equipment that they worked on. This company could not afford to let all the experience and knowledge that the operator had go to waste. We set up training programs, continuous improvement programs, included six sigma training, and created work groups where the groups members had authority (and budget) to initiate work place improvements.

The results were interesting.  The operators accepted the additional activities regarding operating / maintaining their equipment without any complaints. This maybe due to the fact that the company was battling for survival, and everyone knew that we had to reduce costs and improve productivity. In fact, as you walked into work the first thing you saw was all the productivity goals and how we were doing. And as part of the operators training we gave them basic financial training so they could understand the financial impact of what they were doing. Where things really took off was the continuous improvement program. Things started small, new and safer floor coatings, new barriers, etc. but soon developed into serious improvements in the process. Not only did we receive, accept,  and implement process improvement suggestions,  but in some cases were challenge on the whole process itself.

As an example: historically sometimes we ended up with a mismatch of the input materials (work in process)  to the amount of product scheduled. In the case of were we had partial inputs the policy was to make up the missing materials and continue processing until all the materials had been processed out. Of course this meant that the entire plant waited until the missing materials were made and the process continued. This made sense when material costs were the primary cost element, but not so much when labor cost were the most expensive element. This went on for years until some process improvement group asked why. Accounting got involved and did a cost analysis, found out that we were actually operating at a loss doing this, and the policy was changed.

Setting up an Operator Care Program makes sense and you can get a lot out of the experience that are embedded in your operators. But don’t stop with just taking care of the equipment. Include the working area, and the total process.

Not a new idea, but a good idea. The results might surprise you.

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