Are you just in time, or just too late?
A kaizen approach to calibration
By Greg Sumners
Many organizations are being asked to “do more with less.” As a result, key individuals are often overburdened, and companies are not prepared to capture knowledge from experienced employees before they move or leave—major challenges that can be disastrous if overlooked.
If you had an employee nearing retirement age who decided to leave, do you know how to secure all the knowledge that goes with him or her? Chances are, you would be “just in time” or “just too late.” Now, think further—do you have intuitive and efficient workflows that still allow you to get the work completed in a timely and safe manner?
Whether you answered “just in time,” and you have in place a knowledge transfer method—or you answered “just too late” and would watch all your working processes walk out the door—you will benefit from the information below.
One strategy is a Japanese quality approach called kaizen. By definition, kaizen is a long-term continuous improvement approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes to improve efficiency and quality.
How does this apply to calibration? Well, in calibration, the systems you use matter. Having smart systems that can capture years of experience and secure it for others is crucial. However, knowledge and workflows can matter more. When it comes to your overall calibration process, the strategies you deploy and the way you plan them are just as important. Hopefully, you are not walking a maintenance tightrope, cutting out calibration to seemingly lower costs. I hope you do not come to know the very expensive and catastrophic impact of reactive calibrations. This is another topic altogether!
Going back to the kaizen approach, if you want a long-term, stable improvement, you must consider your workflows. At best, a manual calibration with a single-function calibrator and keyed in results is Two Sigma in quality. But your goal should be Six Sigma. You can achieve this with automated calibration, which minimizes risks, saves time, and maximizes quality and efficiency. But what is that really? It is a fully automated process that uses multifunction, documenting calibrators integrated with software for planning, performing, managing, and documenting calibrations.
How can you get there? Use systematic steps, the kaizen approach. For instance:
- If you are using single function, consider multifunction. There are fewer tools to carry in the field, so you can get around quicker and easier. Costs are lower when there is less equipment to maintain and send in for recalibration every year.
- If you are using manual calibrators, consider documenting calibrators. They save time and decrease the risk of human error, because you do not have to record and key in data.
- If you are using pen and paper to record results, consider calibration software. Not only is risk reduced, but data can be further analyzed to help you make the best decisions about important parameters like tolerances and intervals.
- If you are using a calibration software, consider integrating it with your maintenance management software. Save the time used to manually close out work orders, give management the information it needs, and keep important instrument history details.
It might seem as though extra emphasis has been placed on systems. Yes, but the systems you use have an extraordinary impact on your process. A fully integrated calibration system (i.e., documenting calibrator and software) cuts calibration time in half. This is especially important during a maintenance outage, where time is your biggest commodity. As a whole, the right systems paired with a fully integrated software system make scheduling and strategy deployment seamless. Although it is good to take a systematic look at each small, incremental step in the process, it is not always necessary to take small steps toward change. You can go from a manual system to an automated system in one big step, with professional guidance.
The bottom line is whether you are just in time or just too late, it is possible to improve. By using a kaizen approach and coupling deployment of resources with knowledge capture, your workflows will become more intuitive and efficient. You will be better prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.