Tag Archives: Shop Floor


When’s the last time you walked the shop floor and engaged with your people who get the job done on the line day after day? If you’re a manager, COO or CEO, you’re dealing with bottom lines, efficiencies, throughput, supply chain headaches, hiring woes and everything else on your plate. It can seem like there aren’t enough hours in your busy workday to visit with the folks on the shop floor. We’d ask you to rethink that. Engaging with your employees might not seem like a bottom-line priority, but it’s more important now than ever, especially as it pertains to employee retention.

Here are a few stats to illustrate why:

What those varied numbers and stats add up to is, it’s really tough out there. Hiring is more difficult than ever, the skills gap is widening, employees still on the job are not engaged, and all of it is affecting your bottom line, productivity, throughput, efficiency… the whole nine yards.

One simple way to start tackling all of those problems is walking the floor, talking to employees and getting a sense of what’s happening on the line day to day. We guarantee you’ll find it illuminating.

For over 50 years, we at USC Consulting Group have leveraged the benefits of doing just that. Here are six reasons why you should too:

1. You’ll gain a better understanding of your operations

At USC, that’s why we work side by side with frontline workers when we engage with a company. There are no better sources of truth of the day-to-day operations than the men and women on your shop floor. Experience first-hand the ins-and-outs of what makes your operations hum and what is hindering it.

2. Employee engagement equals business success

We’ve seen this time and time again. Just one example: We recently worked with a manufacturer that was dealing with dwindling efficiency due to challenges on many different fronts. They were having employee hiring and retention problems, machinery issues and operations and communications breakdowns. Management had let slip decades-old initiatives that had given them shop floor controls and visibility. This was a key piece to the puzzle. We helped them create a Management Operations System that involved them getting on the front lines and engaging with those employees. The result was a boost in production improvement. Read more about it in our case study, “Construction Materials Supplier Builds Up Equipment and Employee Engagement Programs.”

3. Build a promotion pipeline from your front lines

As you get to know your employees better, you can spot talent that could benefit from increased training and development for internal promotions. This has cascading benefits. Remember that LinkedIn statistic? Ninety-four percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. That’s not just for white-collar jobs. And your whole staff will see your commitment to developing and promoting your people on the line. Internal promotions increase employee retention companywide.

4. You can also spot trouble sooner

Just as you’ll notice who is doing a stellar job, you may well find some people who aren’t. The weak links in the operation. You can also spot breakdowns in efficiency and opportunities to improve what may be going wrong by simply walking around on a frequent basis.

5. You’ll get great ideas to help improve operations

Our clients are all different, with unique challenges. The one thing we see everywhere we go is, the people on the line, the ones who do the job every day, can have the most informed and effective ideas — ideas that may not have occurred to management — about how to improve productivity, efficiency or any other challenges that arise.

6. You’ll help boost morale

Workers feel more valued and appreciated when the “higher-ups” take the time to get to know them, listen to them and are concerned about any issues they may be experiencing.

The bottom line is, take the time to walk around your facilities from time to time. There’s no downside to engaging with your workers on the shop floor. You’ll develop relationships with your staff, gain a good handle on what’s going on day to day, and create engagement up and down the line. Read more about it in “How to Increase Employee Engagement and Training to Improve Retention.”

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If you take in the expanse of a shop floor from a high vantage point, you’ll quickly be reminded of how much coordination is required to keep the operation functioning smoothly. To the trained eye – and probably the untrained eye as well – analogies with a symphony come to mind. Just as you think you recognize the pattern in the flows of people, machines, and materials, something changes, and a new pattern emerges.

Of course, many may find this analogy to be overly romanticized. A factory can just as easily be a messy, less-than-elegantly orchestrated affair. That’s especially true when you consider the sounds more so than the sights. It’s not a symphony, it’s cacophony. It’s not elegance, it’s noise – 80 decibels’ worth in the average factory, approaching OSHA’s recommended exposure limit of 85 decibels.

A brief history

The concept of the factory as it’s known today was born in the Industrial Revolution, in the late 1700s and early 1800s. But the premise of all that turbulent innovation was always the same: find more ways to amplify human power – with water power, with steam power. And exerting power is inherently noisy.

By the early decades of the 20th century the shop floor that’s familiar to us today had largely taken form. And noise levels reached new highs. For this we can credit (and blame) the city of Milwaukee, which at the time was the world’s Silicon Valley of industrial innovation. A cluster of local manufacturers had each built an industry-leading business on an important innovation, inventing or radically improving staples of the modern shop floor – all of which added to the surging decibel levels. A few examples:

The history of the world’s response to high-noise environments and the assault on human hearing can be thought of in terms of two themes: keeping the bad sounds out, and letting the good sounds in.

A symphony of coordination is required for shop floor health and safety

The recent history of noise reduction

Although ear plugs were patented in 1884 and further refined over the following decades, historically the need for hearing protection was typically framed in terms of warfare. It wasn’t until the 1970s that industry became proactive about addressing threats to hearing on shop floors and other work sites. Today, hearing protection comes in the form of ear plugs or external ear muffs, many of which are custom-designed to address a specific noise level or to provide a variety of other benefits.

High-noise environments like shop floors also make it difficult to hear the human voice (typically 70-76 decibels), a problem that may be worsened by wearing hearing protection. Today high-noise headsets solve the problem simply and efficiently. They fit comfortably under hard hats or other protective headgear. When everyone on the shop floor is outfitted with a headset and its paired receiver/transceiver, the human voice speaks directly into the listener’s ear, in essence bypassing the noise-filled gap in between.

But while keeping harmful noise out helps prevent just one type of injury (i.e., to hearing) facilitating communication through high-noise headsets can reduce the incidence of all types of injury – from falling objects, from defective equipment, from collisions, from areas of loose footing. That’s because those headsets will ensure that all warnings will be heard, whether hours in advance or in a matter of seconds before the potentially dangerous situation occurs.

The day after tomorrow

A few years ago Tesla put out a video ad portraying the workings on the shop floor in one of its factories. The ad features slightly speeded-up video of “160 high precision robots” (according to words briefly flashed on the screen) in various stages of assembling a car. While there’s also a brief nod to “Over 3,000 skilled technicians,” the robots are clearly the stars. The sense of harmonized movement is almost mesmerizing, and pretty impressive.

But the entire audio track consists of the hard pulsing song Perfect Day, by the Constellations. There’s not a single snippet of ambient sound from the shop floor. The ad may well give the unconscious impression that robots work virtually silently – and perhaps raises the question of whether high noise levels in a factory might not be inevitable.

But robots are not a solution to the communication barriers found on shop floors. Robots may or not be less noisy than other machines, but it’s not other machines that are being replaced by robots; it’s human labor. Robots will continue to work alongside conveyors, overhead cranes, roller mills, and the like for the foreseeable future, and each of these will continue to generate high noise levels.

Technology is indeed the solution to the problem of keeping shop floors safe by enabling reliable communication. But that technology comes in the form of traditional hearing protection coupled with high-noise headsets – not as glamorous as robots, perhaps, but each on the leading edge in their own way.

Author: Rick Farrell, President, Plant-Tours.com

Rick is North America’s foremost expert in improving manufacturing group communication, education, training and group hospitality processes. He has over 40 years of group hospitality experience, most recently serving as President of Plant-Tours.com for the last 18 years.  He has provided consulting services with the majority of Fortune 500 industrial corporations improving group communication dynamics of all types in manufacturing environments.

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