Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Establishing baselines: A cure for sleepless nights


February 10, 2020
By Paul Hogendoorn


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CNC Machine Operator and industrial engineer checking product drawing. Photo: Kerkez/Getty ImagesPhoto: Kerkez/Getty Images

Deadlines can keep you awake at night. Baselines can help you sleep.

Last month, I found myself staring at the ceiling tiles in a sleep lab, listening for a voice to give me a few instructions and tell me what to do.

As with many people my age, or people in stressful, mentally demanding jobs, falling asleep at night is not as easy as it once was. In fact, sleeping problems permeate all sectors in our society, from old to young.

It is often related to too much mental activity, sometimes to not enough physical activity, and sometimes to too much of one kind of mental activity (perhaps video gaming, for instance). I fit into the first two groups, and, realizing that sleep is critical to my health, I decided to take sleep more seriously.

After a few consultations with my doctor about stress, reducing caffeine intact and putting a more rigid daily schedule in place (establishing what I refer to as a “glide path” – a period where I am very selective with what activities or communications I will engage in), I found myself staying overnight at a sleep clinic for a battery of tests.

The series of instructions that came to me over a small speaker in the room went something like this: “Holding your head still, look up and then down, and do that 10 times”; “Look to your left, then to your right, and repeat that ten times”; “Hold your breath and count to 10”; “Take 10 big breaths through your nose only and then 10 through your mouth only”; and on it went until the last of the instructions: “Make three snoring noises.”

As I lay there staring at the ceiling, while listening for the next instruction, it occurred to me that what they were doing was exactly what I have been encouraging manufacturing companies to do for the last few years, and that is to establish a baseline to be able to know what “normal” looks like.

They were going to be monitoring my eye movement, my breathing and other normal sleep activities, so that they could look for anomalies and abnormalities while I slept. But, they wouldn’t be able to do that without knowing what “normal” looked like, and knowing in an empirical and objective way.

With the help of small sensors glued to different parts of my face, and the small series of breathing and eye movement instructions, they established a baseline of “normal” for me, and that is important because every patient is unique.

The same is true for manufacturers. Every company is different, with different rhythms, cadences and processes. As much as we try to establish a standard of “normal” across a wide variety of industries or factories, what is normal for one is not normal for others.

The key to being able to know where you are, and if you are moving forward or backwards, is having an accurate baseline against which you can measure. It should be granular, empirical and relevant.

Granular means it should be recorded minute by minute, or perhaps hour by hour, not day to day or month to month. Empirical means it should be measured automatically, without interpretation.

And relevant means it needs to be associated with only value-adding functions and activities – the actual activities and processes that make the company money minute by minute, or hour by hour.

On the plant floor, it is not difficult to know where to put the sensors. Every value-adding activity likely has a simple actuation that is easy to monitor; a press cycle, a spindle on, an arc present, a pressure present, a through-beam interrupted. Simply monitoring that condition on every machine would be like putting a Fitbit on every machine, letting you know, minute by minute, or hour by hour, which of your critical processes are healthy, and which ones are not.

The goal is not to know every vital statistic or parameter of the machine or the process, but just to know if it is healthy or unhealthy. And to know that, if it’s healthy or unhealthy, all you need is to know what normal looks like, and that’s why you need to establish your baseline.

Measuring for even just 30 days (granularly and empirically) is enough to establish a solid baseline, which you can then use to discern a machine or process’s health in real time.

Keep in mind that broader goals and metrics, such as productivity or profitability, are only general indications of the state of your company’s overall health. If one or several critical processes started to falter, it would take a long period of time before it affected the general overall metric that you were limited to watching.

Knowing in advance that things were changing, giving you the opportunity to address them and correct them before they affected the company’s overall health metric, would be an incredibly valuable insight to have.

And, my guess is, it would help you sleep better at night, too!

Paul Hogendoorn co-founded FreePoint Technologies with the goal of giving manufacturers the benefit of information technologies that inform, empower and motivate their most critical asset – their people.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.