Can you follow your own cleaning specifications?

Specific written instructions about the cleaning process don’t necessarily translate into profitable manufacturing. Consider the wisdom imparted by the classic, mid-century T.V. commercial featuring tuna with good taste (a fish exhibiting faux upper-class behavior) and then touting the superiority of tuna that tastes good.  Successful, profitable manufacturing requires both the equivalent of tuna with good taste (clear instructions that meet specifications and standards) and tuna that tastes good (practical cleaning instructions that achieve the desired goal).   How do you achieve the manufacturing equivalent of tuna that tastes good? “Seeing something once is better than hearing about it a hundred times. Doing something once is better than seeing it a hundred times” (Lisa See, Author).

New product lines
Production
Detach yourself from the computer, march out of the cubicle, head right over to the fabrication or assembly area. Ask how things are going. Talk to the production supervisor, the assemblers, the technicians.  An answer that the cleaning process is running “great” may be symptomatic of a desire to get you to go away. That may be ok, as long as they are following the cleaning requirements.  Smile! Stand around for awhile; observe; listen for cries of anguish. If it’s possible, get out on the production floor and try running the process. You are likely to discover why your cleaning instructions are being ignored.

Pilot testing
Are you at the process development or pilot production stage? Even better! Rather than simply writing out the cleaning process, try it out.  Make sure the people who will actually use the process day in and day out have a chance to run the process a few times. Testing once is good, testing more than once is better. An answer of “it works great” may not be enough. Make sure you are convinced that assemblers can and will follow the directions. Ask for feedback on process “doability,” and listen to that feedback and suggestions. If you can, incorporate their suggestions into the final instructions. If the suggestions are technically or contractually unacceptable, explain that to the assemblers as well. Then, figure out a cleaning process with both good taste and practicality.

Product design
Are you designing the product? The concept of design for manufacturability is sound; and there are simulation programs that can help predict the likelihood of success.  Understanding chemistry, cleaning processes, and the impact on surfaces is another matter. If the product can be designed for easier assembly, do it! If not, be aware of potential “gotchas,” and adjust the cleaning process accordingly.

Ongoing production
Change is a given, even for well-designed cleaning processes. Have their been complaints? Don’t ignore them or assume that people are complaining out of a desire to avoid work!  Peering at log books and reviewing process trends is even better. Moseying over to the production area, trying out the process, and listening to the production people provides orders of magnitude more valuable information. Cleaning equipment and fixtures gradually age; and even if they still perform acceptably, but they may not work optimally.  In addition, gradual changes in product lines and production volume can lead to changes in process performance. 

What if you can’t build it or clean it yourself?
And you can’t always do production runs. For example, I used to design clinical laboratory tests. However, because I am not a licensed clinical laboratory technician, I could not run those tests on a routine basis.  The point is to understand how a process will actually be accomplished. Test the process as realistically as possible; envision possible production problems; and interact honestly and iteratively with the people who will actually be doing manufacturing and cleaning processes.  For ongoing cleaning processes, monitoring depends not only on analytics but also on showing up, observing what is actually happening, and responding to comments from operations people. Even if you are not authorized to run the process, you don’t have to turn into Charlie the Tuna.  Observing, asking questions of production people, and being ready to hear (and act on!) their responses and complaints can result in productive changes.

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