The sight of Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) being used in the workplace is a familiar one in best practise companies. But will these paper based documents become relics in the digital factory?
Why do we have them?
SOPs capture the best current method for doing each job.
They detail how to use manpower, materials and machines in a safe way, to ensure we get the right output performance every time.
Having eliminated variation from the process we expect it to run in a predictable way. To maintain this standard, and prevent abnormalities form occurring, we encourage the sheets to be used at the place of work.
Initially we use them to train employees in the best method. Then they are used at set periods to check that employees are following the correct sequence of tasks and the associated quality, ease and safety points.
As in the pictures, they are often displayed as close as possible to the place of work, for reference. Or used to investigate when an abnormality has occurred.
The sheets are also used to check that the process is operating as it should in terms of time and layout.
Is this the best we can do?
Paper based procedures are a vast improvement on having no agreed standards.
- They capture the knowledge accumulated by individuals over the years.
- Training becomes more comprehensive, allowing people to reach a higher level of skill more quickly.
- They improve communication of the best methods, not just to immediate colleagues but those in other departments or on other sites.
However in today’s world, the use of physical documents is a slow process and feels out-dated. And using them to conduct spot checks on an operation is never going to prevent abnormalities from occurring.
What can emerging technologies offer us?
The automotive and aerospace sectors are already experimenting with virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) technologies. Here are a few examples showing how well designed digital products may well replace the physical piece of paper, but keep the benefits of standardisation.
- Training operators in an immersive environment can happen off line before full scale production starts. Tests show that errors and time to assemble are reduced, even for first time users.
- An immersive environment allows a person to interact with 3D virtual items.Assembly tasks, or checking the running condition of equipment, is enhanced by having an AR overlay of information and instructions on top of actual physical items. The information can be anything from physical position to temperature, speed and flow rates.
Have a look at this video of the Daqri Smart Helmet. This device projects the information in front of your eyes and also doubles as a hard hat with safety goggles.
Now imagine the possibilities of AR technology linked to SMART products and tooling.
- Prevention of abnormalities caused by following the incorrect procedure.
- Live tracking of actual versus target performance with instant alert.
- Ability to very quickly update procedures and communicate them.
- Faster problem recognition.
- Ability to instantly capture issues and share world-wide.
- Ability for the user to request more information through the system and receive answers from archives almost instantly.
So while the introduction of paper SOPs has improved the repeatability of tasks, the introduction of technology will further improve the prevention of abnormalities and speed up the detection and resolution of other issues.
Let me know what you think about the future of our paper SOPs.