Getting Ready for the End of the Recession

When times are good, companies are too busy to upgrade equipment, such as adding machine guarding. Slower times provide this opportunity.

The productivity from enhanced machine guarding alone can increase employee productivity by 25%.


The value of Canadian manufacturing sales – heavily dependent on exports to the beleaguered United States – plunged 8% in December 2008 from the previous month, Statistics Canada reported.
In Ontario, which accounts for about half the country’s manufacturing sales, the decline was 9.2%. Sales of auto parts, the blood of the fading Ontario manufacturing economy, fell 17.6% “as parts manufacturers struggled with a sharply reduced demand from the auto assembly plants,” the agency noted.
These are typical of the statistics we continue to hear daily. We are definitely experiencing difficult times. However, the difficult times will not last forever. Here are some positive forecasts for 2009 from news reports:
“Late last week, National Bank noted that the U.S. housing market — the rotten heart of the global economic malaise — appears to be nearing a nadir. Median household income is coming in line with the median price of an existing home, a key factor for recovery, and the inventory of unsold homes and condos is falling, another good sign.”
“Although 2009 will clearly be a very tough period, the evolving global supply chain presents opportunities for Ontario exporters, particularly manufacturers of high value-added intermediary and final goods.”
So what do manufacturers need to do to get ready for the end of the recession?
The short answer to the question is ‘to be more efficient’.
A recent survey of small- to medium-size manufacturing companies collaborates these findings: “Some 61% of manufacturing respondents across the country [report] being ‘more efficient’ over the prior 12 months. Manufacturing was tied with business services for leading the way on efficiency. The study also showed that business owners generally are keenly aware of the importance of investing, and have a defined investment strategy.”
Many of our customers say to us, ‘When times are good we are busy fulfilling our orders and we don’t have time to upgrade our facilities. Therefore, the time to upgrade equipment to make it more efficient and safe is now.’
Facility upgrades usually include process streamlining, equipment development, equipment safety upgrades to achieve compliance, and improved machine utilization.
Let me show you how it works.
Machine safety upgrades and productivity are two sides of the same coin. Can you imagine two machines that are exactly the same, except that one machine is unguarded and open while the other is well-guarded with a solution that was developed with the collective involvement of maintenance, operations and engineering professionals?
The open machine can be run, set-up and adjusted many different ways, any time during the run, whereas the guarded machine can only be run, set-up and adjusted one way, only at set-up. This process is called Standard Work.
Standard Work is a lean term. Lean principles are used here on a micro level. The operation of the machine is dictated by guarding. It’s just like a straight line running from point A to point B. This path has no unnecessary twists or turns.
Obviously, a properly guarded machine will produce the most consistent product and it will last longer. (For similar reasons, car rental agencies in North America typically will not rent manual transmission models because the different use patterns can damage these transmissions).
In industry, scrap, equipment downtime, damage and personal injuries are directly related to the amount of procedural mistakes and variability. It is human activity that drives operational efficiency.
In several large studies, the productivity from enhanced machine guarding alone was shown to increase employee productivity by 25% over a five-year period, while the associated indirect operating costs were reduced by 20%.
It has even been proven that the human mind will alter work in such a way as to increase its chance of survival. In other words, in an environment where we perceive risk, we work more slowly and cautiously. When we feel safe we work faster, we are more at ease, we are more efficient.
In order to succeed with the retrofitting approach, maintenance professionals should assume a leading role. You are the people who know the machines best and therefore your contribution to the retrofitting process is invaluable.
Many companies we know about are going through this process right now, because it helps to keep maintenance personnel busy during these challenging times, as well as get the operations ready for the coming market turnaround.

Simon Fridlyand, P.Eng., is president of S.A.F.E. Engineering Inc., a Toronto-based company specializing in industrial health and safety issues and PSR compliance. He can be reached 416-447-9757 or simonf@safeengineering.ca. For more information, visit www.safeengineering.ca.

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