The happy operator
Wolfgang works for a fictional German soda producer called Jungle Power as their Projektmanager Digitalisierung Betrieblichen Prozessen. He is visiting the Netherlands to get to know the digital operator app EZ-GO. He isn’t quite convinced of the benefits but a meeting with operator Bianca, a tough lady who doesn’t mince words, is about to change everything.
Two weeks earlier, Wolfgang had a long call with John Veldman, a team leader at the Dutch factory that produces the healthy drink Jungle Power and an enthusiastic user of the app. John kept going on about the app’s major benefits, but Wolfgang is a prudent man who doesn’t believe anything at face value, especially over the phone. Today, he will tour the factory in Veghel and intends to take a critical approach. His approval of this app means it will be implemented in all sixty Jungle Power factories all over the world – not a decision to be made lightly and there’s no room for mistakes.
John bids him a warm welcome and surprises him with a good cup of coffee and cake (those Dutchies are starting to learn). Then they climb a flight of stairs to the observation deck with a full view of the entire factory. Wolfgang has to admit it looks very well organised. But the same goes for their main location in Germany and they didn’t need an app to achieve that.
John Veldman pulls off quite a decent level of German as he vividly describes the implementation process. And yet, Wolfgang is finding it difficult to listen as he keeps getting distracted by the operation in front of him. All those people are constantly moving around but never seem to be in a hurry. It’s a smooth process, almost like a dance. He shakes his head and sets himself straight. You aren’t here to get all poetic, Wolfgang. You aren’t Goethe, keep it formal.
To the floor
Wolfgang interrupts John in the middle of a sentence about the tonnes of paper they have been saving. ‘Can’t we just head out to the floor?’, he asks.
John lights up. ‘It would be my pleasure.’
‘I want to talk to an operator. The source, so to speak.’
‘Not a problem, all we need is some protective clothing.’
Back in the dressing room, John taps a screen. A video appears, demonstrating step by step where to find the overalls, hairnets and shoe covers and how to put them on.
‘Is that ehm…’ Wolfgang stumbles.
‘EZ-GO, yes, now that you mention it.’
Once they arrive at the factory floor, Wolfgang first observes the operators from a distance. He is looking for the most serious face around to have a chat with. ‘That lady over there, with the tight ponytail. At the packaging line.’
‘Bianca’, John responds, ‘one of our best operators. Are you sure?’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘She takes her job very seriously and doesn’t like to be interrupted.’
‘That is very commendable. Please introduce us.’
Bianca barely looks up from her work as she gives some curt answers to Wolfgang’s questions. How long has she been working here? Fourteen years. Is she pleased about the app? Yes. How has it improved her work? She stops for a moment and gives Wolfgang a stern look with her piercing green eyes as she reaches for an iPad. ‘Why don’t you just see for yourself, sir. It will save me time and answer all your questions.’
Although she said it in Dutch, he gets the gist and it doesn’t even occur to him to object. And so, he begins to observe.
‘You’re lucky, sir. This is the weekly cleaning and inspection round. It consists of ten inspections to make sure my line is and remains in peak condition for the weekend. After all, we don’t want any problems when the weekend shift begins, right?’
‘No, certainly not’, Wolfgang quickly concedes.
She demonstrates the EZ-GO app on an iPad and taps the Checklist End of Week Cleaning & Inspection icon. A checklist appears and she opens the first item: Cleaning 3 sensors packing machine.
‘In English?’ Wolfgang asks.
She looks up. ‘You don’t think I speak English? We’ve got people working here from Eastern Europe, Spain, Somalia, and so on. They should probably understand it too, don’t you think?’
‘Ja natürlich, Frau Bianca.’ he finds himself saying in his own language.
Check, improve, prevent
A series of photos appears on-screen: three sensors and how to brush them clean. In a matter of seconds, Bianca routinely performs the task and presses the thumbs up button on the screen. ‘Done. Want to see more or can I get on with it?’
‘I’d like to see more.’
Her finger hovers over the next item on the list: Remove glue residue. A smile appears on her face for the first time. ‘This one is fun’, she says. ‘A lot of fun. We had issues with this boxing machine for years. The conveyor belt rollers kept accumulating glue and the machine kept deteriorating as a result. Until one time, we had to halt operations for five hours because the conveyor belt had ripped. Five hours! That’s a lot of boxes! No spare belt in stock, waiting for a new belt to arrive – you know the drill.’
He doesn’t, but nods in agreement.
‘Anyway, once the problem was fixed, we put up a note on the machine: Remove glue residue after each shift. Guess what?’ She doesn’t await the answer. ‘I was the only one who would follow the instruction. Sometimes. Anyway, six months down the line, another broken belt, spare belt not in stock once again, expedited order – another shift worth of boxes lost. Made a new print of the note, with more colours and exclamation marks. But as you’ve probably guessed by now…’
‘You were the only one who would follow the instruction.’
She nods. ‘Then John showed up with his app. I remember thinking ‘what’s the point, I’m not tech savvy and all we need to do is clean things, what’s so complicated about that?’ But John didn’t take no for an answer and I’m glad he didn’t. Sorry for the lengthy introduction, let me show you.’ She taps the item Remove glue residue. A video appears, less than ten seconds long, demonstrating how to remove glue residue at the bottom of the belt to prevent it from accumulating. Bianca performs the task, ticks the box and turns to Wolfgang.
‘Is that it?’, he regrets asking.
Bianca is not amused.
‘’Is that it’? This saves us several production days a year! Plus, the machine runs better. And all it takes is a two-second task. In the first version of the app, this was still marked as a daily task. But because everyone was actually doing it, the machine didn’t get dirty anymore and we were able to bring it down to twice a week. Then, I thought the type of glue might play a role, which I reported in the app. Look, here’s how you do it.’ She points at a button that says report action. ‘As it turns out, a better type of glue had come out, so now we only need to do it once a week, see?’ Wolfgang hears it loud and clear. As he begins to calculate how much this will save the company, a loud bell interrupts his thoughts. ‘Coffee!’, Bianca concludes. ‘I’ll just wrap up these checks, if you don’t mind.’ As Wolfgang glances to the side, he realises that John has been standing there all along. John smiles: ‘Now do you see why I asked you to come take a look for yourself, Mr. Sandburg? The workforce truly got behind the idea, there is little for us to do in that regard.’ Mr. Sandburg nods. ‘Call me Wolfgang.’
Happiness is in an empty bin
‘Thank you very much, Frau Bianca,’, Wolfgang says. You were right, this does answer all my questions.’
‘Not at all’, she says as she calmly proceeds with her final checks. ‘You haven’t got a clue. See that waste bin over there, with the film waste?’ She points at a bright yellow container. ‘It used to be full and surrounded by film laying around the floor all the time. I believe someone from your office once even tripped over it. Today, it is a task in the EZ-GO app, to be performed at the start of each shift. The glue reservoir; used to be empty at the start of my shift. Now the app prompts it as a task at the end of each shift, allowing the next shift to get started right away. See that old computer collecting dust over there? That is where we used to get our first line maintenance tasks and checklists: search for the right one for your shift, try to memorise it, print it out just in case, perform the tasks and checks, back to the computer, tick all the boxes, save. And if you wanted to report anything, you had to create an action item and submit it by email, upload a photo – way too cumbersome to bother.’
Onboarding is easy as pie
‘The worst part of it all…’ she says as she briefly makes eye contact. ‘…onboarding someone new. Those instructions were organised in folders in a drawer underneath the computer and they were always, and I mean always, outdated. So, the person responsible for training a new colleague was screwed. They had to sit there and update work instructions. Oh, the sheer time I’ve wasted! And new staff would keep making mistakes because there is no way they were able to remember all of it. Since the app, I show them the ropes once and the second time around they are comfortable doing it all on their own, with the app. Pretty EZ, if you ask me.’ She laughs at her own pun.
Wolfgang is lost for words. This is as water-tight as can be. Bianca puts away the iPad, brings her face real close to Wolfgang’s, winks and says: ‘Truly, sir, even you’d be able to do it.’ She turns around and decisively walks into the canteen without looking back.
This is part seven of a column about the fictional company Jungle Power Drinks. By describing their experiences with AO and the EZ-GO app, we demonstrate the possibilities when it comes to improving the safety, quality and productivity of the operation. In case you missed it, here are parts one, two, three, four, five and six.
EZ Factory founders
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