Manufacturers Use Digital Photography To Enhance Their Businesses

Applications for digital photography are growing at a rapid pace. Many people have replaced the traditional film cameras with these new wonders that provide instant gratification.

Applications for digital photography are growing at a rapid pace. Many people have replaced the traditional film cameras with these new wonders that provide instant gratification. One can argue that there is no such thing as a bad picture with digital photography, as the bad ones magically disappear.

What I find interesting is how manufacturers are using digital photography to improve communications within their operations. Let me share some of the clever uses of this technology that I have seen on my travels.

Workplace Organization: For some time, photos have been an ideal way to communicate improvements in workplace organization. Putting an "after" picture next to a "before" picture effectively communicates to everyone that changes have occurred. Notes printed directly on the digital photo can point out specific changes that have taken place and also illustrate the current expectations of anyone working in the area.

The message of the "before" and "after" photos is that although we were once disorganized, we have since made progress. Now, we expect everyone to leave the workplace in a neat and orderly condition. Photos placed directly on cabinets, shelves, drawers and other storage items send an instant message about what an area should look like at all times.

Work Instructions: The saying that "a picture is worth a thousand words" is reality in many manufacturing operations. As companies have embraced ISO standards, many have found photos to be an effective means of documentation (replacing literally hundreds of written words). Photos of products at various production stages can help operators ensure that parts are being made properly. Photos can be used to convey other important information, such as:

  • proper machine settings;
  • tooling and fixture setups on machines;
  • critical finishes on parts;
  • previously encountered quality problems (and what to look for specifically);
  • component orientation in complex assemblies;
  • proper use of inspection and test equipment.

Maintenance Requirements: As an effective means of communicating machine maintenance requirements, digital photos can be placed directly on machines to show what should be done and where on the machine to do it. It’s one thing to ask an operator to check certain fluid levels daily, but it’s much easier to use a photo to illustrate where to check the fluid and what an acceptable fluid level looks like. Likewise, photos of filters at various stages of their useful life remove some of the subjectivity involved in determining whether or not the filter is dirty.

Proper Operating Conditions: Photos of gages, switches and meters working at proper levels effectively communicate what is acceptable, especially if photos are placed on or near the device. Photos can offer immediate feedback so that anyone in the area can determine if these devices are operating properly.

Proper Use of Safety Equipment: If you are fortunate, you have not needed to use emergency safety equipment such as eye washes, portable showers, fire extinguishers or fire blankets very often, if at all. However, a lack of use can breed a lack of familiarity. Pulling the pin before using the fire extinguisher is something we know we have to do, but where exactly is the pin, and how do we pull it? In this case, a photo may eliminate confusion and alleviate danger.

Shipping Verification: Where many parts are produced and shipped to customers, a photo can assist in verifying that the right product is being shipped before it leaves the plant. Some companies have begun taking pictures of fabricated equipment to prove its condition upon leaving the plant in the event of shipping damage.

Of course, the major advantage of a digital photo is that it can be viewed on a computer, thus avoiding the need to keep a hard copy at the job site. Accessing a photo through a computer database is also a good way to ensure that everyone is looking at the most up-to-date information. Consider shooting a digital photo of a specific part’s setup, the most recent cause of a product’s non-conformance or the proper location for adding lubricating fluid to a machine tool. It’s a great way to enhance training and reinforce proper procedures throughout your operation.