Workforce Productivity & Digital Transformation: An ABB Success Story
ABB Saint Jean, a plant in the installation products division of ABB Group, is a market leader in electric boxes and fittings. In 2016, the plant was looking for ways to further improve product quality and customer satisfaction, while driving greater efficiency in production. So began a 5-year journey to transform its operations by modernizing outdated equipment and IT systems, and empowering their workforce.
Digital Transformation at ABB
ABB Saint Jean is committed to consistently exceeding customer expectations and in today’s economy, that means being more agile in order to quickly respond to customer requests.
The plant recognized an untapped opportunity to harness and build upon the knowledge of its factory workers. They knew workers were key to uncovering what’s happening on the factory floor, finding solutions to problems and contributing to continuous improvement.
But to empower workers to share their knowledge, they needed to close the digital gap once and for all.
“The way we get our information and communicate has evolved dramatically in the past 15 years. Everything is digital today. Yet how we do things on the factory floor hasn’t changed in over 25 years,” reflects Mike Shenouda, Operations Director.
To address this problem, the plant implemented a mobile performance support app to enable its workforce to have instant access to the information they need and to connect with other team members, right from their workstations.
Developed by Poka, this one-of-a-kind app combines digital content, communications and collaboration into a single, worker-centered interface to support the unique needs of the factory floor. Workers just scan a QR code on their equipment or work order using an iPad to access the most up-to-date instructions, drawings and training guides.
Over 450 employees at the plant now use Poka to instantly access the resources they need to work to standard, troubleshoot problems, and share updates directly at their workstations.
This has enabled ABB to digitally transform its Saint-Jean plant. Workers are now able to share and learn from one another in real time and contribute to continuous improvement as part of the flow of their daily work. This includes preventing issues that affect product quality and resolving problems in minutes, rather than hours and days.
Keeping its entire workforce digitally connected is leading to higher engagement, productivity and performance.
“We had never seen anything like Poka before,” said Shenouda. “We immediately saw the value and simplicity of the tool.”
Improving Information Access and Quality
Providing workers with access to the most up-to-date instructions and drawings is the first step towards safeguarding quality at the Saint-Jean plant. Equally important is tapping into the collective knowledge of its workforce and continuously improving on best practices in future updates to its documentation.
To this end, ABB has taken a two-phased approach to digitizing work instructions & documentation.
Phase 1, completed in 2016, involved uploading all their existing PDF documents into Poka and giving workers easy access to the digital knowledge base. Now workers scan QR codes directly at their workstations (see right) and are brought in seconds to the relevant instructions, production settings and training content.
Work orders are one example of how the plant is leveraging the platform on a daily basis to improve operations. In the past, drawings and documentation for each work order were printed for each of the plant’s 170 work cells. Now with Poka, work orders come with QR codes that pull up the all that information on an iPad.
Not only has this improved the efficiency of the production planners tasked with distributing work orders, there is also less risk that an outdated instruction or drawing will reach the production floor.
Phase 2, which is on-going, is focused on encouraging workers to share their knowledge and contribute to content creation. Workers can now take photos and video of issues they are experiencing and ideas for continuous improvement. By posting these ideas to Poka’s live news feed the company is creating a goldmine of insight for root cause analysis and the content for new and updated instructions.
To-date, workers have shared over 2,000 updates and ideas, and that number is steadily growing each day.
Next on ABB’s radar is building a library of photo and video- based instructions and training guides to make it even easier to create content and to understand the instructions.
“It’s faster to record a video showing a procedure on a 100-foot machine than it is to write out each step with text and photos,” explains Shenouda. “What’s more, video is easier to understand.”
Communication and Solving Problems
ABB Saint-Jean’s manufacturing operations span 200,000 square feet and includes three shifts. As a result, it can take a long time to get a message out to everyone. And when relying on word-of-mouth, the message can get lost.
To enable real-time communication across its entire operations, ABB uses Poka’s factory feed. This live news stream lets workers review updates, post messages, ask questions and interact with one another from their workstations.
Workers now typically begin their shift by checking the factory feed to see if their supervisor or co-workers from a previous shift have posted an update or message that deserves their attention. For instance, if a preventive maintenance check is scheduled during their shift, or if someone has experienced a problem with the equipment.
The factory feed also enables workers to be more proactive in reporting and resolving issues which is a key pillar of the transformation journey underway. Signs across the factory reading “Don’t Look the Other Way” remind workers to watch out for issues that might have an impact on safety, quality and waste, and to share what they see with their team members.
They then use the feed to post calls for help and get instant input and involvement from anyone on the floor with a solution or idea. (see image)
“An operator recently noticed something hanging from the ceiling, which could have been a safety hazard” explains Alain Dube, Production Supervisor. “He took a picture of it with his iPad, posted it to Poka and tagged his supervisor. The entire factory, including maintenance, was alerted. The issue was resolved in less than 30 minutes. In the past, that might have taken hours.”
By giving all 450 employees a voice and the means to instantly communicate in real-time, the manufacturer has increased visibility into what’s happening on its factory floor and increased engagement and accountability.
“Once something is posted in Poka, everybody sees it and you can’t sweep it under the rug anymore,”
Building and managing worker competencies
Another top priority for ABB Saint Jean is to build the knowledge and competencies of its workforce. The reasons are easy to understand.
“As we upgrade equipment, production is getting increasingly complex, while at the same time, we have a good portion of our people retiring each year,” says Shenouda. “Some of them have 30, 40 years of experience. When they leave, all that knowledge goes with them.”
To effectively replace and support workers through this transition, the plant recognized the need to make it easier for people to learn, both during their initial onboarding and on an ongoing basis.
That’s why the training team is building electronic versions of all their procedures and work instructions. Workers will have access to video-based micro-lessons in a matter of seconds right at their workstations rather than needing to wait for formal training events to occur.
The plant also needed to make it easier to track worker competencies. An adjuster, for example, has over 40 competencies that he or she must learn at three levels of mastery: basic, work post, and equipment.
To empower workers to take ownership of their development, Poka provides an at-a-glance view of all the skills they have been assigned, what training they have completed, and what new or updated instructions need to be watched.
“Because employees can see their own skills matrix and monitor their progress, they will be motivated to improve,” says Katie Bessette, HR Manager at ABB’s Saint-Jean plant.
The skills matrix also provides human resources and supervisors real-time visibility into the skills of workers - enabling them to quickly identify who has the right qualifications to fill required positions and vacancies.
“Poka was the answer to our prayers,” adds Bessette “People frequently move positions throughout our organization, so we needed to be able to track and document people’s skills so that we can be agile, prove our compliance during audits, and maintain our certifications.”
“Because employees can see their own skills matrix and monitor their progress, they will be motivated to improve.”
Building a Foundation for the Future
ABB’s modernization and worker empowerment strategy are certainly paying off for its Saint-Jean plant. Since implementing Poka as part of the transformation project, the plant has seen improvements in the areas of worker productivity, safety and quality, on top of the harder to measure benefit of worker engagement.
And while the plant is still uncovering creative, new ways to fully leverage this worker performance support app, one thing is clear: Poka has become essential to their daily operations and workflow.
“Poka has been an integral part of ABB’s digital transformation journey,” adds Shenouda. “It enables us to leverage the knowledge and capabilities of all our employees in realtime. That’s the true value of Poka.”