“To err is human… even in industrial manufacturing.”
We may have added that last clause, but the original quote by Alexander Pope in the 18th century remains true even in the 21st century.
As we begin to enter the era of Industry 5.0, characterized by human-machine interactivity, it’s easy to get blown away by the possibilities of automation. However, the human element is just as important in achieving fully connected operations.
“The development of industrial robotics has induced a significant increase in the automation and productivity of manufacturing processes, including assembly. However, in manufacturing domains where product complexity and variety present particular challenges, manual work remains a viable alternative. This is the case of such manufacturing domains as consumer electronics, aerospace manufacturing, combustion engine assembly, automotive manufacturing, and the production of industrial machines and tools.”
Quantification of Human Error in Manufacturing: A Case Study in Complex Manual Assembly. Appl. Sci. 2021, 11, 749.
The downside of necessary humanity in manufacturing is the possibility for human error.
There are many types of human error, with varying levels of inevitability. While it’s not possible to completely eliminate the possibility of human error, there are true and tested ways to reduce it while keeping in line with current good manufacturing practices.
In fact, your production lines will be even more efficient than ever before with these error-focused improvements.
Types of Human Error
Here are the most common errors due to human mistakes that will arise in the typical manufacturing process.
Initial Set-Up & Configuration
Setup and configuration errors are one of the most common and one of the most impactful mistakes that can be made within the production process.
Workers may glance over the BOM or hurry through machine setup for the purpose of getting to perform their more skilled (and more engaging) task. This is especially true in workplaces that have strict performance quotas like time spent per item on the line. This can cause unneeded stress on the individual, which can increase the threshold for making a mistake.
Setup errors are some of the most impactful because they occur at the very start of a production cycle. Any failures that occur here may be irreparable and will affect every subsequent action taken on the line. That’s why it’s important to catch these errors early on before they waste more time and materials than necessary.
Incorrect assembly is more than just putting pieces together wrong. It also includes holding or positioning components at incorrect places and angles that are not ideal for product quality and longevity.
For example, if a screw is not threaded exactly right in an oceanographic rig, that area could be at greater risk of structural failure and cause architectural weakness.
Quantitative Measurement Errors
With some products, a millimeter or two’s difference may not matter in the long run, but for others, it could be as serious as life or death. Variations in miniscule measurements should be caught in quality control, but it’s better that they not be made in the first place.
Quantitative measurements can be incorrect when human workers misread numbers or make unnecessary rounding errors. This may fall within quality control when we’re talking about how many chips fit in a bag, but when we’re talking about capsules of clinical pharmaceuticals, there is no room for error.
Packaging and Labeling
Packaging and labeling finished products is often an oversight within production processes simply because the “hard” work of manufacturing and assembly has already been done.
However, the last thing you want is for your quality product to be rejected for distribution, discontinued, or discounted due to shipping damages or misleading the consumer.
This could be as simple as affixing the wrong label to a finished pallet or forgetting to bubble-wrap the item for international shipping – any of these human errors can impact your production and your bottom line.
Humans just aren’t robots, and that’s perfectly natural!
When we talk about human fallibility, it includes things like clumsiness, tiredness, injury, and other real-world barriers workers regularly face. It’s impossible to completely rid your operations of these factors, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do everything you can to lessen their impact.
For example, don’t overwork your assembly line workers. Make sure to create a culture of teamwork and encouragement that doesn’t penalize individuals if they ask for accommodations for age or disability. And above all, create a safety culture and keep it regularly up-to-date for the ensured health of your workforce.
Hardware & Machinery Failure
When hardware fails, it is often unexpected and due to normal wear and tear. However, machine downtime can correlate with operator use, particularly when the operator adds unnecessary stress on machine components over time.
Maybe workers are hard-booting software systems when they should be performing a longer process that puts less stress on the operating system. Or perhaps when operating a machine, workers like to lean on one beam for leverage while pulling down a frame.
Either way, these actions can have the unintended effect of wear and tear that can degrade a system over time.
Methods for Reducing Human Error
Despite never being able to fully eradicate the possibility of human error, it is possible to greatly diminish it. Figuring out which areas are more prone to error is beneficial overall to any manufacturer.
Here are a few ways to lessen human error in manufacturing.
The first and best way to reduce human error is to improve communication throughout all aspects of your workflow.
A lot of the time, workers don’t necessarily know when certain actions create increased potential for error. This is especially true if they are highly skilled in one specific area and spend all their time working on the same type of component with little attention to critical details on other elements of the production process.
Make sure your workers understand what they need to know to do their jobs, and also what they need to know about handing off tasks to others within your factory.
Better yet, this communication shouldn’t just be verbal – centralize constructive feedback via your work instructions so that team members can spot new error-prevention techniques.
Provide In-Depth Training
This is perhaps the single most effective way of reducing all types of human-related error: training through digital work instructions and SOPs.
In one fell swoop, you can greatly reduce setup & configuration errors, assembly errors, measurement errors, AND ensure workers adhere to health and safety requirements while on the line.
With visual digital work instructions, nothing is left up to chance because workers aren’t left guessing. Eliminate the assumptions that may lead to critical quality and process errors by showing workers exactly how to do what they are supposed to do in each step of the manufacturing process.
This also ensures that each worker is performing identical work to each other while on the same line – virtually eliminating variability within your operations.
Audit Workflow and Accountability SOPs
A great way to fine-tune your processes for error prevention is to audit your workflows and SOPs. Get a sense of the chain of command, and where there may be weak links in the chain.
Delineating your chain of command is essential for proper error-proofing and response procedures.
“Organizational factors and the process of recruiting employees can be responsible for a notable percentage of mistakes… because some workers are being assigned to tasks [outside of] their experience and skills."
Human Errors In Industrial
Operations And Maintenance. Appl. Sci. 2021, 11, 749.
Remember that mistakes do happen even under the cleanest of operations. Therefore, set up automatic reports and streamline approvals processes directly in your digital work instructions system or MES so that these procedures are already in place and you aren’t left scrambling in the event of a point of failure.
Implement WMS or MES
It can be difficult to simultaneously monitor all of the moving parts that contribute to a healthy manufacturing ecosystem. That’s why software solutions like a WMS (warehouse management system) or an MES (manufacturing execution system) are highly recommended for all types of manufacturers.
These platforms are particularly useful for inventory management and supply chain coordination, which are organizational workflows that benefit from constant monitoring and adjusting of strategies. They can also track key incident report metrics that are valuable for process improvements.
With an MES or a work instruction platform, critical insight is relayed directly to team leaders in real-time so that corrective actions can be deployed instantaneously.
Offload Laborious Tasks to IIoT Where Possible
It’s not always feasible to make every task in your factory autonomous, but it is within best practices to offload any dangerous or laborious tasks onto your IIoT network wherever possible.
These tasks can be done more efficiently and safely with connected devices than with human workers:
- Dangerous work such as exposure to harmful chemicals or extreme temperatures
- Dangerous work performed at tall heights, precarious locations, or small enclosures
- Menial work such as daily logs, reports, and administrative tasks
- Meticulous work such as precise measurements or comprehensive quality checks
Shifting these types of work onto your IIoT network is better for worker health and safety. Plus there’s the added benefit of that information being available at all times in a central database to managers no matter the location or device being accessed.
Conclusion: Balancing Manpower and Industrial Systems Going Into Industry 5.0
It’s entirely normal (and expected) to encounter production errors due to humans or machines or any combination of the two – in fact, it’s the modern problem of our Industrial era.
Going forward, try to see the possibility of human error less as a failure and more as an indicator of improvement.
As one of the key elements in production of all types, manpower fuels innovative revolutions in manufacturing, and it should be seen as a wealth of possibility for continuous improvement.