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When things don't work as expected right out of the box

Posted by admin on December 13, 2012

You just installed the latest, greatest piece of production equipment.  It looks beautiful, runs quietly (compared to the machine it replaced) and promises a tremendous return on investment.  Everything is great!  But how do you know if the machine is performing as it should?

We are reminded of a colleague’s story of visiting a manufacturing plant that had been up and running only a few years.  One employee told the story of taking a problem-solving course and looking for a problem to diagnose as part of his application practice.  He had difficulty identifying an issue because everything had been running smoothly, but he had been bothered about something for a few months.  The parts his machine produced came out in different lengths, but it was not an issue because the part was ground to the exact length needed during the next manufacturing step.  But he was curious so he went looking for why this part came out in different lengths.  After getting all the documentation on the machine, he found that a stop had not been properly set on the machine.  All it took was adjusting a simple screw stop.

But it gets better, or worse as the case may be.  There were a half dozen of these same machines that also never had been adjusted.  So for almost two years these machines, that everyone thought were operating fine, had a deviation.  The company estimated the reduced scrap cost was hundreds of thousand of dollars a year. 

One of the difficulties of “out-of-the box” or day-one deviations is the absence of any history with the machine.  Simply put, you may not know how the machine should be running; you don’t have a firm grasp of the right performance.  Should it run hot or cold? Should it vibrate? What sound should it make? And what should the machine smell like?

The other difficulty with a new piece of equipment is that it may be the only machine you have, or, you may not have another version of that model for comparison.  One of our proven problem-solving methods is to compare and contrast two machines to identify what unique characteristics or differences exist that might explain why one machine is performing as it should and why the other is not. 

So what should you do with a new piece of equipment to avoid day-one deviations?

Know the Machine – All documentation for the machine should be studied and understood.  One or more operators should be thoroughly knowledgeable about the machine.  If the manufacturer offers in-depth training for the machine, make sure at least your best operator attends and shares his/her knowledge with the rest of the team.  Expected output should be established, so you know if the machine is meeting the expectation.

Focus on the Set-Up – Make sure the machine is set up as the manufacturer said it should be before it is run the first time.  Don’t assume the manufacturer has set everything correctly.  Be cautious of installation variations due to space limitations or machine modifications.  Verification can prevent a lot of head scratching. 

Rely on the Manufacturer – Make sure the manufacturer’s service person is there when you start using the machine.  He or she can verify that everything looks, smells, sounds and feels right.  This will help you establish the standard so the machine operators know if something isn’t right.

Focus on Changes – If the machine’s output slips shortly after installation, identify any changes that may have occurred since the machine’s initial successful start-up.  Changes will be invaluable in helping you find the root cause quickly.

Day-one deviations can be the most vexing problems you face.  By knowing as much about the machine as you possibly can, and relying on the manufacturer to help you establish the standard, you can increase the chance of a successful first run production, and be better able to solve problems that occur thereafter.