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Work Order Tracking in a Technology Focused World

Work orders are essential to productivity in the plant. 

At the end of the day, what really matters is that products are delivered on time to customers. Every manufacturer will tell you they meet 98% or 100% of on-time deliveries. This is likely a true statement. But, how much effort went into meeting that delivery goal?

The question isn’t, “Did you deliver on time to your customers?”, but rather, “What did you need to do to make that happen? What monumental effort contributed to getting that product out the door and delivered on time to the customer? “

Was overtime required to finish on time? Did certain customer orders get prioritized over others? Was production running faster than it should have been and now there’s a potential quality issue? Did it take longer than intended and now production is behind on other orders, creating a domino effect? The list of possible scenarios is endless. 

I’d venture to say that most manufacturers have experienced 1 or more of these scenarios at some point. It’s pretty common in manufacturing, actually. Delivering on time to customers is the number one goal, but the effort that often goes into accomplishing that goal is astronomical. There has to be a better, more efficient way, right?

The short answer to that question is ‘work orders’. The long answer is work orders… and there’s a more efficient way to use and track work orders than most manufacturers are doing right now. Manufacturing tends to lag behind most technological advances, and in the case of work order tracking, it’s no different.

What’s the Purpose of Work Orders?

What work order tracking really does is give manufacturers better visibility into how they’re doing in the plant. 

With work orders, manufacturers know right away if they’re starting to slip and run behind. Then, they’re able to take action to mitigate the consequences. Maybe, a particular machine is having problems, resulting in delayed production. The work order will show that a product has not been made, and the process is running behind. In that case, maintenance can quickly be called to take a look at the machine, fix it in the process & get production back on track. If that’s not possible, production can be switched to a different piece of equipment. 

Work orders provide the visibility to be able to understand and take action if production is running behind or even ahead. That visibility is needed to bring problems to the surface that otherwise may not be known until the end of shift… and at that point, it’s too late and overtime is required to meet the customer delivery deadline.

The opposite of running behind, there’s looking at production when running ahead of schedule. In that case, what other products can be pushed to the front of the production line that would help the plant out for a future order?

There could be a big order coming up that can be started now to ensure on-time shipment, or maybe it helps to build a little inventory. When used to understand future production, work order tracking can shine a light on available time or capacity to meet future demand. 

Where Work Order Tracking Falls Short

The big downside of the work order track process is that it’s very manual in most manufacturing companies. It’s likely tracked via whiteboards, Kanban boards, or even paper tickets.

Sure, manufacturers have an ERP system that will give them a rough schedule, but it doesn’t really help with the day-by-day or hour-by-hour understanding of what’s happening. Added onto the complexity, a person usually has to look at that schedule and figure out what is going to be run on each shift….  and then they also have to manage the reporting of that information. 

This process is typically reliant on a single person, and if that person is out for whatever reason, there aren’t any reports sent. If in the rare case the work orders are run by a team, it’s likely not very consistent or efficient because one person may be better than the other.

Traditional, manual work order tracking is likely tracked via whiteboards, Kanban boards, or even paper tickets… and a lot to plan, manage, and maintain. 

Manufacturing productivity systems that essentially connect the dots are changing the work order tracking processes, making them more efficient and timely. 

Visibility is Essential

These types of systems provide the visibility I mentioned. They give insight into what needs to happen to meet those delivery dates, without running around with your figurative ‘pants on fire’ along the way. This goes for the c-suite, the managers, the operators, literally everyone who has a hand in getting that product out the door. 

Example time! Let’s say you’re an operator. Picture working on the line, following the work orders that are sent to you at every shift, making products to complete those work orders. Now, you know exactly what’s going on and where you stand. If you have a 15-minute break coming up, and low and behold, you’re running a few products behind on the job, you may decide to take a shorter break to finish your work order so it doesn’t take as long to hit the goal. Or, maybe, you decide to chat with your supervisor and ask him to help cover you for a few minutes so you can grab lunch. Either way, you’re making the effort to ensure your goals are met for the shift. All deliveries will be made on time because you understood what needed to be made and when. You put forth the effort to get it done.

Work order tracking in an efficient, technologically savvy way provides the visibility needed to understand where you stand and what steps need to be taken to meet deadlines. You’re able to answer the question, “Did I have a good or bad day?” 

Before the visibility, it was hard to know. But now, if all of your jobs are finished, you know what kind of day you’ve had. 

On a small scale level, work order tracking that is visible and….. not manual…  also helps guide operators like yourself in what to work on next. 

Let’s say you’re still this same operator, and you just finished an order early. In a traditional plant, how would you know what to work on next? You probably wouldn’t unless you found the production planner to ask. But, 9 times out of 10, you’d probably use your intuition and best judgment about the next job. This, my friends, is a slippery slope in the manufacturing world. That intuition could lead to making the right product….. or not.

I’ve seen this with Mingo customers time and time again. The operator will finish early (hey, that’s still you) and start making the next product. Maybe you realize you haven’t made product C for 6 weeks, and you think it’s time to make more. But, in reality, doing this builds up too much extra inventory for product C, and really, you should’ve made product A or product B because it was actually needed. 

Digital work order tracking sets clear expectations.

This level of understanding and clarity not only helps employees meet goals but creates camaraderie and engagement in the plant. It establishes rapport amongst the plant employees, and a general overall feeling of satisfaction when a good day’s work is completed, without scrambling to put out fires along the way.

Simplicity and the RIGHT Metrics are the Missing Pieces

In the case of technology and metrics, manufacturing is lagging behind. Every other industry has clear metrics and expectations of what needs to be accomplished, and how to accomplish that. Manufacturing lags on the plant floor in terms of both innovative technology and the metrics employees need to meet

Take for example salespeople. Salespeople, to a certain extent, have to feed a lot of data into the system, just as operators and planners do in manufacturing. It’s tedious and manual and takes a lot of time out of their day, but for these salespeople, there are clear expectations that this needs to be done. They know they have to get it done. But, this is easier to do in sales versus on the plant floor in manufacturing because operators still need to make products to meet customer delivery dates. They likely don’t have the ability to enter in copious amounts of data and STILL meet demand. Well, not unless it was very simple. 

Manufacturers lag farther behind because developing a system for tracking is simply, harder to do. At the end of the day, it’s not really their fault because the right solutions haven’t been developed until now, but that doesn’t negate the fact that improvements still need to be made as these new solutions are developed. 

The key to achieving this level of goal setting and technology is developing a system that’s extremely simple without interrupting the operator’s day. 

Because manufacturers can now do these things automatically, it doesn’t mess with the workflow of the operators. It doesn’t slow them down, and now data can actually be collected and displayed to them. It’s a bonafide miracle in the manufacturing world! 

The other big thing is now, manufacturers are focusing on the right things. At least this is my opinion. There’s a lot of those articles that say, “Give somebody a number to hit, and they’ll ruin the company trying to hit it.” All companies are run by numbers to a certain extent, and the factory floor is no different. If you can pick the right ones, measure them well, and show them to people, it works… without ruining the company to do it because it’s the RIGHT number. 

So, what’s the right metric? Is it an efficiency number? Probably not. It’s schedule attainment, on-time delivery, and making sure the right things are being done, all of which can be traced to the root cause of ensuring efficient work order tracking. 

Work order tracking doesn’t have to be manual. A planner doesn’t have to manually export data from an ERP, import that into an Excel sheet, divvy up the work orders via paper tickets, and manually report the day’s progress to know if delivery times are being met. 

Frankly, that sounds exhausting just typing it out. The technology exists to make this a seamless process, not only for management and C-suite but for the operators on the floor.

What I haven’t addressed is why manufacturers are still using that outdated, manual process to plan and track worker orders. The reason this really hasn’t been done before is that it needed to be simple to be effective. Those systems haven’t existed until very recently. 

People tended to overcomplicate and would want things to be perfect, further complicating the process. It became so convoluted that manufacturers would revert back to those tried and true manual processes. 

Not anymore. There is a technology that exists to solve and simplify, the work order system.  So, if you’re interested, we’d be happy to help. 

And, if you’re curious how the technology exists, I’ve got even more information for you below. Happy discovering! There’s a whole world of technology that is designed to make manufacturers’ lives easier.


Manufacturing Technology That Solves the Problem

Mingo is that technology. Once the system is implemented and running, there are 3 ways to put schedules into the system.

You can import them directly from the ERP, upload a spreadsheet, or enter it manually. Most people go the spreadsheet or ERP import route. Once it’s imported, you have the ability to move jobs around and take a look at how much capacity is being used during a given day, week, or shift. Then, you can make more decisions about if a product will actually be made on a given day.

For example, if you have 80 hours worth of work scheduled on one machine, but only run one shift, that’s not going to work. If you have 80 hours worth of work scheduled on one machine and run two shifts, it may get completed…. but the likelihood of running at 100% capacity is slim to none. It probably won’t happen. 

Work order planning and tracking can help you make those decisions and plan out what should be made, when, and by who. It will help you calculate the math that was likely done manually inside your spreadsheet before. 

Once the schedule is set, an operator gets a digital work queue. This is a list of jobs, in order, of what they should do during that shift. 

Then, the product is made, the operator moves on to the next work order, and the product is shipped and delivered to the customer on time. Learn more here: Production Planning & Scheduling Module.

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Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.