By Michael Ford, Aegis Software
At the end of February, it was reported that many Americans won’t drink Corona beer because of coronavirus. It has also been reported that sales of Corona beer have increased by 5%, and counting. Without getting into the mire of “Fake News”, why do we as humans tend to like and believe stories that are reported as facts, when in fact, the basis is actually opinions sought from people who, when asked, appear to be systematically biased. Do we suffer the same experience in manufacturing. Spoiler alert: yes.
Perhaps it is the pressure of creating continuous content in a very competitive environment that provides motivation to seek out stories that are felt to be news-worthy. The greater the pressure, the greater the willingness to compromise our principles. Part of the problem is the level of responsibility that media outlets should take, but the more interesting area is how come so many people, when asked in the original survey, conducted by telephone, answered that they would avoid buying Corona beer due to coronavirus. We don’t know how the question was phrased, but it could have been quite leading, such as “Will you avoid buying Corona Beer due to the coronavirus”, which implies that there is a connection. People may at the instant they were asked, think that they had missed something, that perhaps there was a connection, and did not want to appear ignorant. Perhaps some people genuinely thought that there was a relationship based on the name. Others still may have thought that there was benefit in saying that they would avoid it, perhaps wanting to drive down beer prices, after all, many who are now working or self-isolating at home, are likely to be drinking more beer, so driving down the price of their favorite brand may be a good way to go.
The opposite view can be taken. A 5% increase in the demand for Corona beer may indeed show that people are avoiding it, as sales of other beers have gone up by 20% in the same period. Is this true? No, I just made that up, but many people reading this will think this sounds reasonable, and in a sense it becomes true. After all, many of us are expecting to be at home more in the coming weeks, self-isolating, so we need to get supplies in early. I expect that demand for food and beverages at a retail level has increased significantly over the last couple of weeks. The media influences our thoughts one way, then another, they gain either way.
Lessons can be learned from this. For sure, the first thing is that no “stories” should be accepted from anyone, without having the data behind it. Secondly, even with data in evidence, you need to understand the context behind the data. There is no value in considering any single data point in isolation. A third lesson that we can learn is that we are all wasting a huge portion of our lives reading and reacting to what is essentially, fiction.
At a recent conference, I heard from a presenter of In-Circuit Test (ICT) equipment, about his first-hand experience regarding bad habits within manufacturing that are still as prevalent as they once were. With management demanding first-pass yields greater than 98%, cheating (yes, I said it) goes on. As more and more Smart software from machine vendors comes along, the more creative the “accounting” has to be. After failing ICT testing once, PCBs are seen to be tested over and over again until they pass, at which point their ID is logged, and are recorded as a first-time pass. Some PCBs that passed the ICT are then re-tested over and over until the first-pass yield number gets within target. Smart software gets confused at this point. Software developers were not expecting good boards to be re-tested. The first-pass yield report ends up looking good, but other reports are crazy, including cases where the number of passed boards is as much as double the actual lot size. Those responsible for the software get bug reports from those reading the crazy reports, while others in the same company complain and say that they will no longer use the software if they cannot, “follow their current working practices”.
As with the media reports about Corona beer, there should be better responsibility taken for the incorrect reporting of “facts”, but the more interesting part is why people are motivated to provide incorrect accounts of what is happening, even to the point of manipulating the data to do so. We have to bear in mind that this is not an isolated case. ICT is just one example of an operation where it happens, and it is an epidemic across the industry, far more than the coronavirus in fact. Business practices, including targets that are set by management, need to be more aware of the actual processes, in terms of the clarity and detail of operational metrics of machines that is now available. Target metrics need to be set that reflect business performance, but also reflect only things that are in the control of those performing the actions.
If I were a factory manager, I would want only the truth, and I would not blame people for poor performance, I would seek to encourage them. Since I am a marketing guy, you can choose how much of that sentence to believe were it to become a reality, but the core principle is very important. With more data and detail comes greater opportunity to discover improvements that can be made, rather than the data being used to create a “blame culture”. Working practices in terms of reporting, assessment, Kaizen etc. have to change. Going to your favorite software provider and saying that you want the system to support everything that you are currently doing in the way that you are doing it, is not a step forward, it is not making an improvement, just enabling the same losses, faster. Some software companies are like the media companies, where they will do whatever you want, whether in your interest or not. For a significant fee, they will be happy to customize and taint your data in any way you like. The better approach would be to embrace the concept of Digital Best Practices, to understand how the data brings value opportunity, re-assessing the ways in which operations are measured, targets are set, and responsibilities assigned. Doing so avoids the costs of needless customization, provides visibility of losses to avoid, increases operational motivation, and the likelihood of excellent business results. The drive towards Smart industry standards and best practices, that provide full visibility of contextualized data through a modern IIoT-driven platform, should be on the very top of your list of requirements for any Smart factory solutions. Something to think about as you sit back and sip that Corona….. Cheers!