YouTube for the Manufacturing Line

By Christian Cahn von Seelen
Aug. 2, 2009

Searching for productivity potential has become an activity for managers from all walks of life. Video, used intelligently based on the recent advances in miniaturization of equipment and files, can lead to improvements in the double-digit percentage range, with full participation and buy-in of employees.

The search for increased productivity is a daily challenge for companies around the world. The global competitive pressures make companies think about every way to increase productivity on their manufacturing lines – or to altogether move the line to a place where labor is cheaper.

Enter the use of video, which is fair, transparent and neutral. In all types of data-gathering procedures, the first discussion point is always the question if the data indeed represent the realities. If they come from simple observation this is always a real hurdle, as those involved in the process have a different perception. Countless kaizen circles, where the first hour is spent on establishing consensus on what actually happens on the line, give testimonial to this. Therefore intuitively, all video techniques have great potential, as summarized by the well-known saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Bringing a video to the same kaizen circle will reduce the first hour to a few minutes and allow all participants to start literally from the same neutral observer’s perspective. This is, however, only the first reason why video should be used in manufacturing optimization. Others include: 

  • No disruption of production. In contrast to lean consulting or other analytical approaches, no groups of "white coats" with stopwatches, memo boards and other tools roam, whispering secretively through the production. Instead, virtually every employee, even without intensive training, can use any commercially available video camera to record production in real time.
  • Adherence to reality. The video shows precisely what happens, where appropriate (for example, machining operations or machine interactions) in slow motion.
  • Repeatability. The video can be repeated as often as required to achieve a joint solution in a discussion. No “let’s go back to the workplace to verify” is necessary.
  • Visibility of support processes. Due to the effort in data gathering, support processes like setup, tool or die change and maintenance are often put aside in optimization efforts. Using video for the analytical evaluation of these processes, however, regularly results in improvements 50 percent to 70 percent.
  • Slow processes. A webcam mounted on a crate or a carrier, for example, gives reliable data on the actual usage, idle and waiting times. This is often the basis for the introduction of different logistics processes that are otherwise difficult to understand.

Optimization with video analysis software
The key to optimal use of video lies in the seamless integration into a dedicated software solution. Instead of watching the video on a screen and then going back to manual evaluation by Excel or other tools, the film is uploaded onto the computer and then evaluated in the specialized media player. Grouped around this is a suite of analysis tools, covering all aspects of industrial engineering for manufacturing optimization such as process analysis, standard times, visual classification, optimization of machine cycles and balancing in which the detailed video analysis of the individual workstations on a production line allows moving content from station to station to balance the work content.

Video-based manufacturing optimization offers a radically new approach to daily optimization work. Speed and efficiency of the optimization itself, the visually supported discussion and decision processes and the strong analytical support for investment calculations are important factors in achieving real, measurable improvement on the shop floor.

At the same time, the video allows for engagement in meaningful and targeted discussion with the manufacturing associates, demonstrating good and bad practices and getting buy-in for improvements. The significant advantages of video-based manufacturing optimization have led a lot of major European companies, many of them from Scandinavian origin where these technologies were first developed, to applying such software as a standard part of their production system. ABB, Alfa Laval, Ericsson, Scania or Swedwood (the main supplier of IKEA) are just a few of these names.

To make the essentials of video-based manufacturing optimization also available for smaller firms, a Web-based variant has been made available. The video is uploaded, automatically converted and the analysis is done online. Small and medium enterprises as well as manufacturing consultants may use such a Web application to quickly identify and demonstrate improvement points, and to validate implemented improvement actions against the original.

At the same time, the barrier to try out this approach is reduced again. As convincing as the results are to those companies embarking on video-based productivity improvement, as high is the initial sceptic by the local industrial engineering staff who often have a hard time believing in the potential. An online trial is often all that is needed to embrace the new perspective and embark on the new technology.

Christian Cahn von Seelen is the owner of PQ Consulting based in Frankfurt, Germany. He specializes in developing process improvements for the automotive industry.

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