Picture this: you’re the manufacturer of an everyday product and you’ve been tasked with digitally transforming your factory. There’s healthy demand for your product, but experienced assembly workers are hard to come by since the pandemic and turnover is eating at your bottom line. Where would you start?
If you’re SEATS Inc., your goal has always been to drive innovation and technology as an industrial leader. For over 50 years, the Wisconsin-based company has supplied quality products for trucks, off-highway equipment, military and emergency vehicles, and more.
SEATS’ facility in Spring Hill, Kansas is a newer location, being only 5 years old, but it’s the perfect grounds for experimentation. It’s run by 200 people over 3 shifts on assembly lines, and its smaller size – Wisconsin is 3x that volume – means that it’s the perfect ground for testing new improvement processes.
General Manager Tim Stevens leveraged VKS work instruction software to digitize operational processes for better efficiency, accessibility, and increased performance.
Here’s how VKS helped digitally transform Spring Hill for optimized manufacturing performance.
Returns on investment with VKS Pro:
- Increased quality performance
- Ensured ISO 9001 compliance
- Expanded multi-lingual accessibility
- Added accommodations for workers with disabilities
- Decreased onboarding by almost 50% (from 4-5 weeks to 2-3 weeks)
“It was a testament to VKS to see how quickly we’re onboarding skilled workers without disrupting production performance. In fact, our KPIs kept improving.”
General Manager, SEATS Inc.
VKS Reduces the Challenges of Turnover by Capturing & Standardizing Institutional Knowledge
Like a lot of companies, SEATS struggled with fluctuating turnover since the onset of the pandemic. Workers with manufacturing experience are few and far between. As with every discrete manufacturing industry with high levels of automation, human labor is still a major component to a successful production process.
Stevens had to onboard 200 new workers across the 13 separate workstations on each of Spring Hill’s assembly lines. Most of these workers had never even built a seat in their lives, but Stevens wasn’t worried – VKS was the solution that made the onboarding process (including workforce training) headache-free from start to finish.
Here’s how a lawn mower seat is manufactured in Kansas:
- There are about 13 stations on the line, which follows a one-piece flow system. First is the chassis, which could be a frame or suspension depending on the model.
- Next a worker attaches tracks, which allow the user to slide the seat backwards or forwards.
- After that, another worker adds a back frame.
- From there, foam is glued on, covers are pulled over, arms are affixed, seatbelts are sewn in, etc.
When all the parts are assembled, it’s time for quality checks. All seats have occupant presence switches so that the engine automatically shuts off if the user falls from the seat. This mechanism is tested by a weighted plunger that is pressed and then lifted from the completed seat.
Stevens says, “We needed VKS so that we could bring these people up to speed and make sure that our quality wasn’t going to decrease or get worse while we onboarded so many people.”
He told new hires to stick to VKS “as closely as possible” because it was the best way to ensure quality standard work. VKS Forms allow customers to embed quality control straight into the work instructions themselves. This helps to ensure process compliance, and builds quality into the process to improve efficiency.
Seasoned workers with decades of prior experience can be given selective access to VKS’ Expert Mode, which allows for greater flexibility with reading each work instruction. When leveraging this capability, senior operators are only required to go through certain steps that the author has deemed critical, whereas new employees are required to go through each and every step, without skipping any prompts. This guarantees jobs are performed correctly the first time without the need for a floor supervisor checking over every new hire’s shoulder to double-check compliance.
If there’s a better way to complete tasks, employees are encouraged to suggest improvement ideas through the Send-A-Message feature. In this way, VKS promotes a culture of inclusivity and continuous improvement, empowering workers to share tips and tricks which they develop over time.
All of these features help companies standardize their best practices while simultaneously improving quality control. By having clear and concise work instructions, workers are brought up to speed more quickly, and so inevitable turnover issues become less disruptive overall to performance.
Once SEATS started onboarding using VKS Pro, what used to be a 4-5 week process became only 2-3 weeks.
As well as the decrease in onboarding time, there has been a corresponding decrease in actual production time, meaning that operations became more efficient with the addition of quality work instructions.
“Our efficiencies got better, our quality got better, our financials got better,” says Stevens, “So it was a testament to VKS to see how quickly we’re onboarding skilled workers without disrupting production performance. In fact, our KPIs kept improving.”
Since VKS is a product that was originally born on the shop floor, it was the perfect solution for SEATS to standardize real-time work for process-driven results.
Multilingual VKS Work Instructions Make Institutional Knowledge Accessible
SEATS is always trying to improve their assembly processes and quality check processes, and that includes making manufacturing software accessible first and foremost.
The SEATS facility in Kansas is truly multilingual, with workers speaking English, Spanish, and French. Deaf workers also have accommodations so they can communicate using sign language. At one point, supervisors had to adapt quickly to onboard a group of Algerian refugees seeking work.
But when it comes to building a quality product, Stevens swears there’s been no issue with communication thanks to VKS’ auto-translation. He says, “VKS helped us with that challenge in particular. We had more difficulty translating HR contracts than we did shop floor instructions!”
With VKS, critical insight from completed job orders is always at your fingertips no matter your physical location or digital device.
“The more accessible you can make your work instructions regardless of the platform, the better your actual production becomes,” Stevens says. “If a corrective action is needed, we update the instruction in VKS and it’s integrated immediately.”
In contrast to VKS, most ERP software is inaccessible to shop floor workers because it’s designed for a variety of high-level activities, and not shop floor use by operators. ERPs usually claim to feature work instructions, but they’re far from user-friendly and generally only offer the ability to add a few lines of text instruction to guide workers.
For example, take robotic welding, one of the technologies used in Spring Hill’s assembly lines. Barebones ERP work instructions would include only a Bill of Materials and a direction to turn on the machine. Once the worker loads up the jig or the welding fixture, they step back, the table flips, and the robot does all the welding.
The problem with this above scenario is that ERP instructions lack specificity and are inaccessible to workers. For example, there’s nothing in place to help the worker properly place sub-parts or affix equipment properly. If the jig or fixture isn’t set up to the most precise requirements, the robot isn’t going to be able to perform the job properly. Thus, quality starts at setup, and so must instructions.
In contrast to your traditional ERP, VKS work instructions embed quality into the product from the get-go. This is done through the many features that help to streamline and standardize work from assembling required materials to turning the final torque wrench. This ensures that the right information is available to every worker exactly when they need it. As well as providing a Bill of Materials, VKS work instructions provide visual direction for how to manually thread a sequence of bolts into a component by hand, for example.
Says Stevens, “VKS work instructions are so much more than just, ‘Here’s your parts, now… weld!’" Live worker guidance facilitates standard work on the shop floor for consistent quality in production. Pictograms and annotations provide added detail for complicated tasks as well as empower workers to provide further insight for continuous improvement.
When VKS software prompts operators for inspections or measurements, it automatically validates that they are within tolerance before letting the operator move to the next step. Because of this feature, quality is guaranteed because potential process deviations don’t happen in the first place.
Process control is streamlined, and all of this extra insight within VKS is easy for workers to access in the middle of assembly for a top-notch product.
VKS Supports Vertical Integration Via Process-Driven Industry Compliance
SEATS is a strong example of vertically integrated manufacturing; the company is in charge of almost every process involved in the production of a seat besides raw materials processing. This means standardization must be implemented evenly across all of these processes in order for lean gains to be effective when it comes to the bottom line.
Stevens gave us the lowdown of factory management: “Most of our indicators are process-driven, like efficiencies, productivity, or actual cost-savings.” Behind the actual indicators, SEATS adheres to lean methodologies like 5S and kaizen. These higher manufacturing concepts are useful for “taking a step back” and assessing current production within a larger context.
“VKS work instructions are so much more than just, ‘Here’s your parts, now… weld!’ We have just scratched the surface of VKS’ capabilities.”
General Manager, SEATS Inc.
SEATS knows industry standards aren’t just red tape – they’re important for guaranteeing you have the systems in place to deliver quality to customers. For example, VKS has been instrumental in ensuring SEATS Inc’s continued ISO 9001 compliance by streamlining document control and quality checks. With full version control and version history for work instructions, companies have traceability data on each version of work instruction ever created, including who created it and who approved it.
Additionally, they can guarantee that operators can only access the most recent version at all times. VKS standardizes the approval process for any changes and then reliably implements them with automatic updates and intelligent notifications & alerts.
VKS is a versatile tool that is used for various tasks in multiple applications at SEATS. In their robotic welding department, VKS is leveraged for standardized work, whereas in their assembly operations, VKS is used for in-depth work instructions and data collection. The software supports assembly workers by prompting for quality checks and collecting live productivity data for performance insight.
Overall, VKS can be deployed for targeted purposes across any area of industrial production, and SEATS’ vertically integrated one-piece flow benefits from the different ways that the software can be used.
Why SEATS Inc. Chose Visual Knowledge Share As Their MES SaaS Solution
Since its foundation five years ago, SEATS’ Spring Hill, Kansas location has been the perfect grounds for trying out new processes, software, and equipment.
Before Stevens and SEATS Inc. decided on VKS, they researched other software enterprise solutions. After testing back and forth, they concluded that VKS was a better fit than other MES solutions for 2 main reasons:
- VKS’ user-friendly work instructions surpassed traditional MES and ERP capabilities for shop floor instructions; and
- VKS’ excellent scalability and API connection meant integrating with SEATS’ current software ecosystem would be easy.
VKS features such as ToolConnect and DataConnect are going to be crucial moving forward, as SEATS’ Wisconsin location uses production lines that adhere to automotive industry standards. These Smart features help with process control, traceability, and automation, allowing for cutting-edge Just-In-Time manufacturing decisions that are industry compliant.
“I can only expect more positive feedback, to be honest,” says Stevens. “We have just scratched the surface of VKS’ capabilities.” We’re excited to see the future development of Smart manufacturing solutions from SEATS fueled by VKS work instructions.
Thankfully, the grass isn’t just greener on the other side of digital transformation – it’s also freshly mowed.