The best engineers get their hands dirty. An engineer can draw anything in AutoCAD, but without understanding the actual processes used in a workplace, the new machinery can often cause more problems than it prevents.
Instead, engineers should observe the loading docks and assembly lines using their machinery. Understanding the entire improved process makes it likely that an engineer can create further improvements that increase productivity. There are many ways for engineers to learn about improved processes.
Viewing the Actual Process
A good engineer should visit the business and see the current process in action. Viewing the process itself can help and engineer understand the requirements, just as much as reading project specs or environmental requirements.
For example, a common issue in production engineering is overestimating the maximum production capacity of a facility. Many engineers just look at materials supply and man-hours and calculate what ‘should’ be the maximum productivity. However, they often do not think about moving and storing finished products, removing waste products, or other steps in the process. Even the physical space of a production area can limit processes in a way that is hard to predict.
Embracing Lean Production
Lean production, a system of production that focuses on matching production to consumer demand, reducing inventory, maximizing flow, and utilizing multi-skilled workers, is both more efficient and easier to optimize. With a lean production process, it’s easier to understand exactly which steps, and how many, will be needed for each customer order. It is also easier for workers on the ground to understand the process as a whole and provide feedback to the engineers.
Listening to Those in the Know
Generally, the people who know the most about every stage of production or distribution are the people actually working on the line or the dock. Workers generally rotate between positions, giving them a good practical understanding of the steps involved.
Engineers should take every effort to use the feedback from employees to build a lean knowledge of the current processes. After instituting improvements, engineers can collect feedback again to see how the process has changed for people on the ground.
It’s easy to forget parts of a process. Every observation about the process, the workplace, and the employees should be written down. This makes it easier to update the process at a later date.
Engineers should know their processes. By using the above strategies, they can avoid accidentally making things worse, and be more successful at making things better.