4 Steps to Solve and Prevent Manufacturing Problems

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At General Die Casters, we have earned most of our customers by solving problems.  Whether it be extraordinarily tight dimensional requirements, removing porosity from critical areas or filling complicated geometries, the process is always the same.  Clearly define the problem and develop a system that consistently produces the desired results. Below, learn my 4 steps to solve and prevent manufacturing problems.

What does Thermodynamics have to do with problem solving?

I remember first learning about the second law of thermodynamics, which describes entropy.  Entropy states that all systems will naturally move from a state of ORDER to DISORDER.  Essentially, there is one way for a system to be in order and an INFINITE number of ways for it to be disordered.  This concept perfectly describes why achieving consistency in a complicated manufacturing process is so challenging.  

 What we are trying to accomplish when solving a manufacturing problem is to develop a system which increases the probability of a system being in order (Desired result) versus disorder (Undesired results). 

Continue reading to learn the 4 steps to develop a system to solve and prevent manufacturing problems.

Step 1: Define the Problem

The first and often most challenging step in problem solving is defining the problem.  

Just last week, I engaged a group huddled on our shop floor discussing a production problem. When I ask them what the problem was, I got slightly different answers from everyone. In this moment, it was clear that the group did not have a clear grasp of the problem.

Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”  This is great advice when considering whether you fully understand your problem.

Here are a few tips to help to clearly and simply define the problem:

  • Do not act without data. Collect as much information as possible.
  • Consult everyone involved in the problem to understand how it affects each group.
  • Differentiate fact from opinion. Opinions can have value, but you can only rely on facts to define problems.
  • The definition of the problem must explain the root cause and not a symptom.
  • The ‘5 Why’s’ is one of the simplest and most effective tools to use when defining the root cause of a problem.

When you have clearly defined the problem and root cause, it is time for the next step; List Possible Solutions.

 

Step 2 List Possible Solutions

The group should openly brainstorm potential solutions to the problem.  Avoid discussing each one in detail before your team has finished exhausting their ideas.

Next, evaluate and decide which of the ideas has the best potential of solving the problem. When several ideas appear equally valid, choose the one easiest to implement.

 

Step 3 Implement the Action and Collect Results

Once you’ve selected a possible solution from your list, you can implement and evaluate your results. It is important not to gauge success from a small sample size.  Gauging your results on a small sample can be misleading.  Evaluate a large sample over a sufficient time period to be sure you’re solution was successful.

The problems solving process is rarely completed in an 8 hour shift.  If the results of your initial test are unsuccessful you will need to implement and test other possibilities.  You must have a documentation system that allows for problem solving process to continue through different shifts.  Nothing is more frustrating than arriving at work to learn your test was compromised by poor communication.

Once the problem is solved it’s easy to rush on to the next issue, but the final step is the most important.  Implement a system to prevent a recurrence.

 

Step 4 Implement a System Prevent Re-occurrence.  (Order versus Disorder)

For example, let’s say you determined that a casting defect was caused by an internal die cooling line being coated with calcium.  An example of a solution may be to install a flow meter with a thermometer on the cooling line with regular monitoring. 

It is important to consider if this failure can affect other processes in your system.  A more appropriate systematic improvement would be a preventive maintenance step on each tool to ensure cooling lines are regularly cleaned and inspected. 

If you continue to utilize your ‘5 Why’s’, you will ask why the lines were coated with minerals in the first place?  This diligence may lead you to install a water softening system on your cooling water.  This is a much more effective systematic improvement that will maximize the order of your entire system.

Effective problem solving is one of the most important skills to develop in your organization.  A little time invested in training can reap huge results in your organizational performance.

About the Author:

Brian Lennon