Continuous Improvement Through New Eyes?

Industry has pursued formal continuous improvement for more than a century. One can argue that it dates to Frederick Taylor and continues to evolve through Six Sigma and beyond. There have been many good initiatives and one or two fads in between. A common thread in all of these efforts is Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. Observe what’s happening and use that knowledge to plan and execute improvements … then watch how they work and make adjustments.

However, continuous improvement has always had a serious, but subtle, limitation. Put simply: humans don’t see complex processes very well. Good as they are, the human eye and brain evolved for other things.

For example, the image we see has a relatively small region that is clearly in focus. That’s our “foveal” vision. Everything else is our “peripheral” vision. When you “watch” something, you are missing most of the detail. Try it yourself … focus on something across the room and note the area that is clearly in focus.

So how can we really watch an industrial operation? Our eyes flit from point to point and our brain struggles make it seem coherent. By Murphy’s law, the event of greatest importance will always happen where we don’t happen to be looking. Next, our brains are very imperfect recorders. We lose interest and forget if the action is too slow. We can’t track and process the action if it happens too quickly. We struggle to keep competing views in focus and in sync. And, of course, we can’t see the whole process if parts are blocked from view.

These practical limitations are probably at least part of the reason that we’ve developed so many tools and techniques. We know process variation is critical and we can sometimes see the differences among specific items, but we can’t remember enough detail to be certain of the underlying pattern. Hence our reliance on inspection protocols. Hence our SPC charts and Taguchi. Hence standard work and SOPs.

But … what if we saw processes completely and retained the images perfectly?

Would that have any implication for continuous improvement? Would that change our approach to management and training? Would that affect our innovation and technology? Would that impact corporate culture and accountability?

At DeeperPoint, we are convinced that recent advances in video security technology have brought us much closer to that reality. Virtually every facility has a system that they use to monitor points of security interest and archive what is seen for as long as the company chooses. Why not extend it to see and remember our value-added operations?

The answer, until now, is that security video technology simply wasn’t good enough and, worse, it had an operational and philosophical model that didn’t fit. Security staff mostly watch live video feeds to try to “catch” inappropriate human behavior. For a company with an empowered work culture, that’s the last thing you want.

However, in the past 3 to 5 years, security video systems have improved amazingly:

  • Camera resolution has improved 8 to 30 times
  • Camera prices fell 60% or more and storage costs fell 70% or more
  • Add smarter software, web, IoT, cloud and smart analytics

This photo shows the improvement just in camera resolution:

These radically improved capabilities and drastic cost reductions mean that we can now realistically think about operational (not security) video systems that are designed to enhance our operational vision and memory:

Imagine if we use this to study our operations. We place ultra HD cameras to permanently record everything that happens at a macro scale over a large facility. We install low-cost HD cameras to focus on critical operations: at quality control panels, at vulnerable equipment, at key manual tasks, at buffers, etc. We store weeks, months or even years of video from every camera and we can search the recordings quickly with sophisticated software.

With a system like this … one we can build today … we will have a real-world “time machine” that will show us anything that happened at any time in our recorded history … usually from multiple camera angles.

Surely, that MUST change our thinking on continuous improvement!

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