LEAN Times Ahead


A few years ago, the buzz in industry was all about Six Sigma – Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control. In the intervening time, technology has evolved which can support and drive the evolved Six Sigma principles, now called Lean Six Sigma.

Originally grounded in discrete manufacturing, Six Sigma was focused on driving out steps in the manufacturing process that did not add value, as well – more importantly – on reducing defects in the manufacturing process, with an aim of 3.4 defects per million. The Six Sigma process has subsequently been applied to other processes and organisations to determine how to structure an organisation that operates as effectively as possible.

According to Wikipedia "the benefits of a Lean Sigma project come roughly 50% from organizational and layout modifications and 50% from digitization."

Both digitization and the principles of Six Sigma are now truly enabled by technology. When the concept of a defect in the hydrocarbon production process is considered, the consequences can be catastrophic – loss of containment, damage to equipment and reputation and, worst case, injury or death of staff. Some steps have been taken in this area with the use of Safety Observation Systems and paper-based audits, but there is a wealth of other systems that can support the digitization foreseen in Lean Sigma.

Technology enables the federation and contextualisation of operational data across an organisation, and allows for the analysis of equipment or process performance to create what is referred to as the "Golden Batch" – in other words, the perfect way to make a product or replicate a process. However, when we take a step back and look at processes as a whole, it can be seen that there are a lot of aspects that are not typically supported digitally and therefore do not factor into this analysis.

Safety observation reporting, for example, is typically a paper-based system that is uploaded into a software package and then reviewed and analysed by the HSE teams to determine opportunities for improvement to reduce risk and improve safety. Competence systems are often ad-hoc, and are typically managed between the HR and Operational teams with more emphasis on the people management and remuneration aspects. Maintenance systems are normally isolated systems which are automated but have few links into the analysis of any "Golden Batch" and many companies' shift logs are still a paper-based system. Operational and maintenance procedures are often location-specific paper-based files.

When the Lean Sigma analysis of the process is performed, all of these systems should form an integral part of the Measure and Analyse stages. What actions an operator took, what competence level he was at, what safety observations have been identified for that process, what maintenance was carried out by which competent person, using what procedure, at what time as well as all of the operational data and log books should be analysed together. By "together," I mean in a common environment, on a common timestamp and overlaid in a single dashboard view. When this is complete, the Improve actions then filter back into the Procedures, Competence Management systems, Operational Limits and training, with a clear workflow and tracking system. Only then is the Control stage fully actioned, ready for the next cycle.

Going back to the earlier point about digitization supporting the Lean Sigma benefits, there are now systems that fully support the Lean Sigma process and these enable the digitization benefits to be captured. The future is bright, the future is Lean.

About the Author
Andy Coward is Senior Director, Business Solutions at P2 Energy Solutions.


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