Molders running their plants 24 hours a day know that the transition from one shift to another is usually less than seamless. "Managing an around-the-clock injection molding operation is like being a coach in an Olympic relay race," says Don Penkala, president of D. Penkala & Assoc., a Foster City, CA-based consulting and training firm. "High perfor- mance requires a coordinated team effort. But in industry, the baton is very often dropped during the hand-off between shifts," he says. As an example, he points to how the arriving shift feels the need to change all the equipment settings that the previous shift spent 8 hours perfecting. "The result is a disjointed operation, with negative effects on quality and productivity," he says.
Every time shifts change, so do the skills, attitudes, needs, and objectives of the work force, says Penkala. Unless this situation is managed effectively, the organization can be at a serious competitive disadvantage, continually reinventing the wheel every 8 or 12 hours and never solving recurring problems or moving toward process improvement. We asked Penkala to provide molders with ideas on how to get all shifts pulling in the same direction and all employees connected to process objectives to deliver peak performance. Here they are:
- Develop specific, motivating process objectives. Build a sense of teamwork across shifts by involving your shift supervisors and operators in developing common process objectives. These should be consistent across shifts, measurable on a shift-to-shift basis, and motivating to the work crews. They should also directly support your facility's broader objectives.
- Institute cross-shift teams. Teams should be centered around processes rather than around shifts. Most plant operations are highly shift-centered. That is, employees identify with their work crew and their shift supervisor; both the employee and his or her supervisor are measured on the performance of their shift. Predictably, turf battles develop between shifts and the lack of intershift coordination and cooperation creates disconnects in the organization and hurts operating performance.
With a process-centered approach, employees working on a common molding process, regardless of shift assignment, are responsible for the performance of the entire 24-hour system. There is not only communication but collaboration across shifts and greater customer focus.
- Develop effective 24-hour communications. Once you have specific, motivating process goals in place and have established a cross-shift team focus, the hand-off between shifts becomes much easier and more effective. There are many vehicles for improving information hand-off between shifts, including process logs, shift logs, cross-shift team meetings, etc. One idea is to model your shift change communications after the highly formalized system used in hospitals. In industry, the "patient" is the particular process, and all operators are accountable for continually improving the process.
- Provide night-shift support. The management team must be visible in the plant on all shiftsânot to check up on supervisors and operators, but to provide guidance and direction and understand the unique concerns of the night work force. Being available shows commitment on the part of managers and instills a sense of commitment and ownership on the part of employees. Night-shift support also includes access to traditional day-shift functions, like human resources and technical support personnel (e.g., engineering and maintenance). Some organizations have instituted liaisons with the various functional areas on each shift. In this way, an internal customer/supplier relationship is developed to ensure that the assembly teams get around-the-clock support from these groups.