by Lara Copeland, contributing editor
Plastics Business

Tribal knowledge, information that is known within a specific group of people and not often known outside of that circle, can be both beneficial and damaging for any manufacturing company. The wisdom and capabilities that specific employees possess can produce exceptional results that are not achievable for others. However, if these employees retire, quit or don’t come to work for any number of reasons, it may be catastrophic for business.

Thankfully, losing that specialized, technical information about a product or process can be prevented. Automation Plastics, Aurora, Ohio, is doing this by utilizing a web-based document control and training platform.

Capturing tribal knowledge

The system chosen by Automation – Dozuki – supports continuous improvement and empowers manufacturers. “The purpose of this technology is to capture tribal knowledge in a system where any individual can be trained correctly on any shift – removing inconsistences, providing standard workflow and increasing engagement of employees,” explained Chris Miller, plant engineering manager at the Ohio company. “The system features a format for building work instructions, tracking or training, version control and integration of existing documents,” he continued.

For the first four years of content development, Automation’s Dozuki leadership team met biweekly to address standard guide format, training, technology and tablet needs. Miller reported that by the fifth year, the team felt comfortable enough to meet monthly.

The leadership team is made of up cross-department managers and its two Dozuki administrators, who manage all content, users, teams, approval processes and ISO compliance with the standard work software company. The team is responsible for directing content development and assigning authors to create guides that are used in all aspects of training and process documentation. The assigned authors can make changes within the guides, including attaching and embedding pictures, video, PDFs and XMLs.

Once authors create and import content into the standardized format, the process guides are moved into an approval process. All guides are examined by the Dozuki administrators and forwarded for review by appropriate departments. The approval process generates an email to the designated approver with a link to the guide. The guide is either accepted or rejected and, once it has finished the approval process, the revision is instantly distributed across teams, shifts and locations.

Just a few years ago, Automation Plastics used a combination of an ERP system and Microsoft Office programs for training, documentation of competency and work guidance. Unfortunately, this combination created a weakness in control of paper documentation.

According to Miller, many of the documents had outdated revisions accompanied by handwritten notes. “Personnel had conflicting information, and timely change to work guidance was lacking. We had insufficient communication to affected personnel, and tribal knowledge took precedence over documented procedures,” he noted.

These challenges provided much frustration for the company’s work guidance authors. “We had two people in charge of documents that were scattered all over our in-house server, originating from six generations of document control managers,” Miller confessed. To remedy the situation, various on-site and cloud-based document control and training platforms were explored.

“In the end, we felt that Dozuki not only offered the best value, but it also provided many advantages, such as ease of use, standardized format, ISO compliance, user control, document control and training features, and support from its customer success team,” he said. Automation started a trial in July 2015 and purchased a contract by the end of that year.

Reducing task variation

The benefits of using this platform have been felt by the company and its customers alike. “Internally, the system has helped us reduce variation on the way we perform tasks, improve the quality of our products and create meaningful communication and feedback among all levels in our organization,” Miller said.

It also has assisted with internal and external audits. “All the information is right at the employees’ fingertips,” he explained. “Tablets were placed at presses and computers throughout the company so that an employee can answer the auditor within mere seconds.”

Miller also confirmed the document control system has helped by removing the wait time that used to occur when it was necessary to contact a specific employee at the company to find, research or answer a customer’s questions. Additionally, the system is accessible via mobile devices, so a company’s site can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

Automation Plastics had about 100 employees to train once the system was implemented. “It felt like it took a year before everyone was fully competent and comfortable using it daily,” Miller stated. He also mentioned that some people simply were not comfortable with the technology. To combat the discomfort and unfamiliarity, the company held plant-wide training sessions as part of the onboarding process, and individual sessions were provided for those who needed extra help.

“Today, all our fully onboarded employees are competent using Dozuki and assist those that are inexperienced,” he continued. “It’s pleasant to see a positive culture change when at first we struggled.”

Documenting training and evaluating employee competency

Due to what Miller calls “passionate, involved and intelligent employees” at Dozuki, he plans to continue utilizing this technology. Employees have recently started using the latest system feature, Courses. This training platform is specifically designed to document training activities and evaluate employee competency. A course is composed of a group of guides and is assigned to certain users who have a specified number of days to complete the guides in the course. When a user finishes a work log session for a guide or reads and certifies completion of a guide, completion has been achieved. The administrators can track the completion status for each assigned user, and they can set these courses to expire based on time criteria or whenever a new version of a guide in the course is published.

One example of a training module created for Automation Plastics requires any individual working with ladders or any type of elevated work to complete the course titled, “Personnel Lift Training and Elevated Work.” “This course is comprised of ladder and lift safety and elevated work, complete with a competency test within the guide and a field test with a safety coordinator to certify the individual is competent,” Miller explained. All documents and training forms are maintained within the Dozuki platform.

Going forward, one of Automation Plastics’ goals in 2020 is for the administrators to create matrices directly within the document control system. Typically, these are created in Excel on the company’s server. “Having all guide content and training in Dozuki, with matrices and training modules in another platform, seemed cumbersome,” Miller noted. “Creating a matrix directly within Dozuki easily identifies who needs training and when training was completed.”

Assigning, tracking and viewing training competency with one platform is ideal for the company. After all, it only takes a short amount of time to create a new user, assign the user to a training course and track the training. This allows department managers to quickly see training progress throughout the organization.