Change management is an essential component of successful EHS programs. Especially in industrial settings where modifications to equipment, processes, or personnel can have major downstream impacts. In this post, I’ll provide three major manufacturing process change examples and how to safely implement them.
Making changes to manufacturing equipment
In my experience, it’s easy to downplay the impact of equipment changes. This is especially true if you’re making modifications to existing equipment.
Modifying existing equipment
That’s because your workers may already feel comfortable with the machines. So, when you implement changes, they may believe that things are relatively the same. When rolling out changes to existing equipment, it’s important to re-train your employees on how to use it.
You may find that a minor change results in a critical adjustment to how workers need to interact with or control the equipment. I’d recommend doing a walkthrough of the manufacturing process to see if the change has affected things like the:
- PPE required to safely perform the task
- Sequence of tasks workers must follow
- Safety checks or inspections workers must complete
- Start up or shut down procedures
Before you implement your changes, make sure to communicate any of these impacts to employees. That way, you can reduce the likelihood of injuries or unexpected production downtime.
Introducing new manufacturing equipment
Of course, there’s also the possibility that you have to replace your equipment or add another piece to the process. In these situations, you’ll want to perform the same checks that I listed above.
But you’ll really want to emphasize how new equipment affects the task sequence.
Introducing new equipment may completely change your production process. If you find that it does, you need to consider the following questions:
- Do I need to overhaul the training for this process?
- Does this equipment introduce a new safety hazard that didn’t exist in the process before?
- Do I need to rearrange or modify work area 5S to accommodate the new equipment?
- Do I need to install additional safety equipment (fire extinguishers, ear plugs, etc.) in the area?
- Do I need to put up new safety signage in the work area?
Essentially, you’ve got to make sure that the work area is completely safe with the addition of the new equipment. It’s best to make these checks before you haul in the new equipment. Then, once you’ve installed it, do a second check to make sure everything’s as safe as possible.
Updating manufacturing SOPs
The second of my manufacturing process change examples is updating (or completely overhauling) the standard operating procedures. Now, this might not seem like a big deal, but if you’ve ever had to do it, you know why it is.
Updating SOPs typically happens in X phases:
- Examine the existing SOPs and make note of changes to make.
- Modify the SOP documents to reflect new changes.
- Evaluate whether workers need updated training and administer it (if applicable).
- Distribute the new SOPs to all relevant departments and locations.
- Perform an audit to ensure that the new SOPs are fully operational.
And that’s the process boiled down to five steps. In reality, however, you’ll find that updating SOPs can involve a lot of back and forth. My best advice in this situation is to have some sort of change management procedure in place so you can keep track of who’s in charge of what and where you are in the process.
Automating manufacturing processes
Like all process changes, automation efforts require a good deal of work to implement. It’s easy to get distracted by all the productivity benefits automation provides.
But don’t forget about how these new automated manufacturing processes might affect safety. Automation can actually improve worker safety by reducing errors and thereby reducing incident rates.
That all depends on how well you train your workers to interact with automated systems. Because when you introduce automation into your manufacturing process, you also have to make sure workers don’t go on autopilot when it comes to personal safety.
Before setting up these new systems, make sure your workers know the function of these systems. And make sure you have a preventative maintenance program in place. That way, you can ensure that automated equipment doesn’t malfunction and create safety hazards for your employees.
Management of manufacturing process changes
Every company, regardless of its size, needs a standard process for managing changes. Because without a standard, you cannot ensure the safety or effectiveness of your efforts.
Mangement of change software is a great tool for introducing standardization. The top benefits of adopting this kind of solution are that it:
- Centralizes all communications regarding process changes
- Gives management total oversight of the implementation process
- Allows managers to review and either approve or deny change requests
- Tracks the completion of implementation task for each stage of the process
- Documents change management projects for compliance audits or internal reviews
Hopefully, these manufacturing process change examples have gotten you thinking about changes you can make in your own company. Just make sure that as you do it, you consider all the impacts that your efforts may have on worker safety. If you anticipate these impacts and implement control measures before rolling out changes, I’d say the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can accomplish in the way of process improvement.