The Other “Big Data:” How Will You Collect It?

Have you established a mechanism for culling your experienced machinists’ shopfloor knowledge before they move on?

If you haven’t already started to experience them, you soon will: those days when your most experienced baby boomer machinists retire, taking with them a wealth of captive knowledge amassed over years of diligent work on the shop floor. That’s the “big data” I’m taking license in referring to here.

My question to you is: How are you going about capturing as much of that knowledge before it goes out the door?

Implementing digital systems, such as those shops use in an effort to go paperless, offers a means to document some of it. For example, it enables you to permanently record notes they’ve scribbled on part prints that relay some tips to more effectively machine a given tricky job, hints to simplify setups and so on. These systems also make it easy to share photos and video to communicate relevant job-related information.

But what about the more general type of shopfloor intel in your experienced machinists’ heads? How do you capture that?

They might be able to tell just by the sound an end mill makes that the cut data is off or perhaps that the tool is becoming dull. Or they might know a certain trick to more easily tram in a given machine. Or they might have learned there’s a certain sweet spot on a large-bed machine where cutting is most accurate.

Your younger employees are starting to gather that type of knowledge, too. However, tapping into that knowledge can be even more difficult, because they might be less inclined to share their know-how, feeling they’ll lose their competitive advantage over other employees. This means you have to make strides to establish a team-first work culture in which these employees understand that freely sharing information won’t come at a cost of diminished job security.

What I’m describing here mirrors the initial steps in establishing a smart manufacturing facility by implementing strategies such as Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things. That is, you first must establish a mechanism of collecting information before you can analyze and apply it to improve your processes. Except in this case, we’re talking about collecting information from individuals, not things.

I’ve raised a lot of questions here, but I have one more, because this has been on my mind for quite some time: Would you share with me ways you are dealing with this issue of culling shopfloor knowledge from your employees? Big Data initiatives rely on effective collection of relatively small bits of information. Similarly, the sum of these bits currently stored in the heads of many of your machining experts is likely quite significant after all.

Be open to emailing your thoughts to me so I might share them with others.