CHECKING IT TWICE

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Checklists are a Customizable Method to Pinpoint Problems and Solve Them.

Checklists for managing optical labs is a great way to prioritize and stay focused on goals.

As in most manufacturing industries, having a safe and productive environment would be the first item of importance along with quality assurance, which is just as critical.

The challenge of creating an effective checklist is staying focused and not making the process more complex than it needs to be. Keeping these goals in mind while looking to improve the overall environment – along with being thorough — will make a good starting point in devising a checklist.

These lists ensure all departments and managers are aware of problems, changes and improvements that are made on a weekly basis, in addition to how they have affected their departments and the results.

Lab managers can start evaluating processes in different departments by creating standard operating procedures (SOP’s) for training purposes. Begin by creating a checklist that focuses on every step made in order to ascertain which needs improvement — and do this prior to writing SOP— to prevent making changes to them in the future. For example, when I evaluated the surfacing department, I noticed it had tool racks for surfacing/polishing machines located in the middle of the department, which faced both the finishing and
no-glare areas, a setup that caused employees to go from one department to the other to get around the equipment — a walk that was almost the width of the entire lab.

By using the data already collected from the checklist, I created various diagrams of the area that would show whether changing the tool setup would positively or negatively affect the quality, safety, or productivity of the area. At the end of the analysis, the diagram and checklist proved a change would be positive: By rearranging the tool racks in alphabetical order and lining them up vertically, a much-needed walkway was created, eliminating unnecessary steps by all three departments. This small change also allowed the tool range to be seen by the employees who picked the tools, making them easily located and accessed. Overall, it eliminated extra steps from the process and data collected showed an increase in productivity from 30% to 33%. The point? Seemingly small changes can have a huge effect.

Creating a checklist for other departments can be done by using the same format, layout, and basic setup in Excel, a common and useful program for tracking your data. Being thorough and detailed is key. As you begin the process of making the list, having a clear understanding of every step made will help you categorize positions in your area. If you’re new to the business, I suggest tracking a job from start to finish, noting each step.

Making improvements or changes to an area has to be done with precaution. Employees can have difficulty adapting to change but may be more willing to accept changes if they are aware of and are part of the process. This can also result in better communication between departments and foster a positive, open environment. Making copies of checklists and posting them in each area ensures all employees are aware of any changes. It’s also a good idea to create a column for comments and suggestions, which promotes involvement.

Shannon Swaim is a former process control/quality analyst at Walmart Optical in Crawfordsville, IN.

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