As a production professional, it goes without saying you know what’s going on inside your facility. At least, it should. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chatted with a production manager who brings up a story of some sales guy telling them how to do their job better. Yeah, right.
I’ll lay it out right here. I respect the expertise you hold, both in your field and in your facility. And the last thing I’m here to do is tell you how to do your job. What I am is a communication expert, and something you and I both understand is the value that being able to communicate on the production floor brings.
In this blog, I’m going to cover some ground about high noise communication in industrial facilities. It includes some information about improving communication on the factory floor. But first, let's cover the basics.
Day-to-Day High Noise Communication
Depending on the physical layout of a facility, day-to-day internal communications of a production facility involves everything from scheduling shipments of product, calling for maintenance on a machine, tracking down individual employees and on and on. Some of the most common, yet rudimentary methods you might find familiar, if not slightly hard to accept:
- Finishing supervisor has a broken machine that is costing serious money and time, and it’s a simple part that must be replaced by the Maintenance shop — the supervisor has called Maintenance multiple times, but no answer — because Maintenance can’t hear their phone when they’re not in their shop!
- Scheduler has a critical change to the day’s production lineup, which means everyone from Warehouse to Production to Finishing to Shipping needs to be immediately aware of the change — but half those people never answer their emails…
- Front office assistant notices a strange and rather agitated person walking around the building on camera, and it looks like they are trying to find a way into the building. The Assistant tries to call the Plant Manager but he’s not answering his office phone…
- Employees on a production line use radios and speaker mics to "communicate" while operating an extremely loud piece of machinery — trouble is, no one can actually understand what’s being said over the radio unless they pin the speaker mic to their ear. Even then the words don’t actually sound much like speech — more like garbled mess. It helps to loosen the hearing protection to hear the radio better, which of course becomes evident during the next annual hearing test.
- Employees shouting over their hearing protection, trying their best to hear each other
- Employees using hand signals, their own made-up version of sign language
- Employees wearing disposable earplugs and industrial earmuffs as double ear protection, lifting their earmuffs to make communications audible
- Employees walking (and running) from room to room and office to office to communicate
In every one of these situations, you can understand people are doing the very best they can with what they have. They’re trying to communicate with the tools and resources in front of them, but what if they had access to way better technology?
Improving Factory Communications
Let’s consider the basic assumption that you’ve got plant-wide radio communications covered – radios in every department manager’s office, on every forklift, at every machine center, on every supervisor’s hip, heck you’ve got radios on every production employee to make sure they can communicate with each other to keep production running like a top. Now, assuming this describes your facility you can congratulate yourself on making the top 10% of production facilities out there. Think I’m kidding? Most plants don’t even have a radio at the front office to broadcast an emergency weather alert to employees, let alone the ability to communicate directly with a production supervisor, regardless of his position in the plant or noise that surrounds him.
If you represent the latter group of facilities that don’t have much to brag about in the way of instant plant-wide communications, let’s start with your employees. Is the noise in your facility so loud that they can’t have a normal, face-to-face conversation without raising their voice or even shouting? If so, you need to consider the radio accessories that will incorporate their hearing protection and their communication. Poorly conceived radio accessories can do more harm than good.
Now let’s consider bucking the common trend of issuing foam earplugs and earmuffs to employees who need to communicate with each other in high noise. These hearing protectors are great for blocking out noise, but to communicate effectively we need to deliver speech past the hearing protector. The alternative is to make the communication louder than the background noise, creating an even louder environment than you’re trying to overcome. Intelligent hearing protection that is tied to a two-way radio will make personal communication immediate, reduce the noise exposure to the employee and will create a less stressful environment.
Save Your Legs, Get a Radio
Without radio communications, a production facility can burn up a lot of minutes in the day as employees walk from place to place to relay information. Take, for instance, a facility’s scheduling person. As the liaison between sales and production, scheduling is expected to regularly communicate across departments. Are they outfitted with a radio?
If they’re not, it’s worth considering how much time they spend just going from office to office throughout the day. If you get really curious, try asking your scheduling person if they’ve ever worn a step tracker for a day. The data might surprise you. Employees can end up walking multiple miles over the course of a day, just to communicate.
With proper radio communications, your employees, supervisors, and managers are able to stay on station longer.
Outfitting employees with communication tools doesn’t just save on time and physical wear and tear, it also increases the amount of information employees share with each other. For instance, if one employee learns some information that’s helpful but not essential for another employee to know and they need to walk clear across the production facility in order to relay that information, what will they do? They might:
- Immediately walk across the facility to share the information
- Decide it’s not really that important and focus on bigger things
- Pocket the information, planning to share it when they see each other for lunch
- Get distracted and forget to pass on the information
Of those options, what do you think an employee might choose? How might their thought process be different if they had a radio and could immediately transfer the information? A production facility without communication devices will have a lot of people walking around trying to give and receive information. But outfitting employees with radios can make all the difference.
Better Communication Supports Better Production
So far, I’ve outlined a fair amount of information about some of the ways communication resources impact how production facilities operate, but I also know every production facility is different. There truly is no one-size-fits-all communication solution for high noise manufacturing environments, so it always surprises me when facilities rely on conventional, out of the box products that cause their employees discomfort and work in about half of the places they need to.
We've put together a downtime calculator that can help you determine the impact of operational downtime.