Capturing Tribal Knowledge for Nidec

October 13, 2020

Capturing Tribal Knowledge

As a high variety, low volume manufacturer, Nidec was in need of a work instruction software that could keep up with the high diversity that their processes included. As a result of the high variety of products made, training is a challenge because by the time an operator is fully trained on one machine, it then becomes time to switch gears and learn something else entirely.

In operation since 1896, Nidec first started making plowshares and clutches, eventually moving onto specializing in their main product, stamping presses. Since paper work instructions have been the standard way of operating for a long time, that’s what they were still using up until a couple of years ago.

And while they have faced some resistance, the initiative garnered an overall positive reaction from the team as most operators are eager to demonstrate everything they know to help train newcomers faster and with heightened accuracy. It’s only when they reached out to IMEG, an engineering consultancy firm, that the decision was made to switch to electronic work instructions.

60% Reduction in TimeMore specifically, Emily Stroh, the IMEG Engineering Manager, explained: “We identified VKS as the best digital work instruction software.” While it used to take five hours or more to create work instructions before, Nidec has since run studies and determined that with our work instruction software, it now takes just two hours to complete — a 60% reduction in time!

“We identified VKS as the best digital work instruction software for Nidec to use.”

Emily Stroh

Emily Stroh

IMEG Engineering Manager

Solution #1: Capturing Tribal Knowledge

“Twenty years ago,” explained Jill Howe, the Manufacturing Engineering Manager at Nidec, “we had operators on our second shift with over 30 years’ worth of seniority and now we don’t.”

Nidec Knowledge TransferUsing our work instruction software, Nidec now rests assured that when their senior operators retire, the knowledge that they would have acquired throughout the decades is stored in their systems. And while they have faced some resistance, the initiative garnered an overall positive reaction from the team as most operators are eager to demonstrate everything they know to help train newcomers faster and with heightened accuracy.

But that’s not the only advantage of digitizing tribal knowledge. Jill also explained that the fact “that it’s captured forever” is a major asset to their company.

Unlike paper work instructions that can get lost or easily misplaced, digital work instructions offer the clear-cut advantage of being backed up and restorable with ease. The Mass Updates feature also provides Nidec with a quick way to update multiple guidebooks with just one click. This is in stark contrast to the old-fashioned way of having to search through cabinets filled with documents and then having to cross out and re-write information in paper standard operating procedures!

Solution #2: Training

As a result of a wave of retiring workers and the skills gap in manufacturing, Nidec’s shop floor reality has shifted to include an influx of newcomers among their team. “It takes a long time to train these operators, expand their knowledge, and show them how to work all of the different machine types that we build,” further elaborated Jill. Transferring tribal knowledge into digital format goes hand-in-hand with training new employees. Once the knowledge of senior operators is put into digital format, it then becomes easier to train any newcomers.

Since a large part of manufacturing training often involves complex steps for completing a specific task, our work instruction software offers the unparalleled advantage of being highly visual. It’s well-known that people learn best with pictures and videos. In fact, the visual aspect is one of the primary reasons that Jill and her team use VKS every day.

When we asked Jill about her favorite feature, she didn’t hesitate to answer: “the pictures”. She also continued that she particularly enjoys, “the structure of the work instructions as the formatting is always consistent with every single work instruction”. Standardization in manufacturing is crucial and with VKS, Nidec is able to control every action taken.

Using the Reports feature, Jill and her team are then able to extract information on each completed job. For example, they can see exactly how long an operator spends on specific operations and ensure that no crucial steps are skipped or missed.

Switching from paper work instructions to our work instruction software has also allowed Nidec to run studies on the time spent building their printing presses. While these time studies would have been challenging to perform previously, Nidec is now able to clearly identify the amount of people needed for a job, the exact work instructions required – all in an organized way!

Nidec Minster Shop Floor

Solution #3: Knowledge Transfer

As Nidec also has factories in Spain, China and other locations around the world, Jill explained that one of the biggest advantages of using VKS’ cloud abilities is that the work instructions are easily accessible anywhere. The easy accessibility to work instructions from anywhere in the world also effectively facilitates knowledge transfer between facilities. Instead of sending people to another location, only to encounter language barriers, it’s as easy as creating a work instruction guidebook and hitting the translate button to then have the work instructions translated into any of the available 28 languages.

The ability to easily transfer knowledge across different locations is also a huge advantage in times where travel isn’t as easy as it used to be due to the changing landscape of the pandemic.

“Being able to visually see step-by-step how long they spent on certain operations and making sure they aren’t just flipping through the process,” is another main reason that VKS increases accountability for Nidec, according to Jill. Through the generated reports, supervisors can now ensure that each step of the instructions is viewed with diligence and appropriate training can be implemented when necessary.

Using the Approval Process feature, managers can log in from anywhere in the world and ensure that the information in each guidebook is accurate and ready to be broadcasted onto the shop floor – even if it’s at a facility across the ocean!

Solution #4: Process Control

When a company has been in operation for over a century, as Nidec has, one of the biggest challenges is that operators grow accustomed to completing their jobs in the way they want to do it. While many would argue that it’s fine as long as the job gets accomplished, the fact remains that in this way of building, traceability becomes very challenging.

For this reason, process control is one of the main ways that VKS helps Nidec. Jill explained that while before supervisors would have to clarify with operators the way in which a process was accomplished or a product built, now it’s as simple as looking back through the guidebooks to know exactly the way it should have been built.

“I used to ask, 'In what way did you build this?' Now I ask instead, 'Did you follow the work instructions?”

Jill Howe

Jill Howe

Nidec Manufacturing Engineering Manager

Troubleshooting issues that may arise is now easier as a result.

As a result, there is now increased engagement and accountability. “People are more engaged with their work and how it’s supposed to be done,” added Jill. This has the advantage of creating more meaningful work that employees feel truly attached to and care about doing right.

The Result: Extra Product Lines

Given the complexity of Nidec’s processes as a result of being a low volume, high variety manufacturer, the process of integrating VKS took a few months to implement. This included the process of capturing each single detail that goes into building the machinery, followed by a stringent review process by the appropriate departments.

Since implementing VKS, Nidec has now added additional product lines and are looking forward to adding more as they further continue to use VKS to standardize its operations, enforce process control, and improve product quality.

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