Anyone in an office has experienced a process that’s a little behind the times, involves too many steps and probably wastes quite a bit of paper. Embracing digital tools to handle a process once completed with pen and paper is often a no-brainer. So, when Steve Matthews, lead application engineer for enclosed controls and soft starters in the Industrial Controls Division at Eaton, and his team came up with a solution to cut down on material waste and employ a digital tool, it was easily adopted and ended up being a major asset during the pandemic.
Pumps & Systems: Tell me about an issue that came up in your workplace that you and/or your team decided needed a new look or solution.
Matthews: Almost a year prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, our administrative assistant resigned. Her primary responsibilities included receiving incoming orders, creating a physical job folder, and placing the new job on the schedule. It doesn’t seem like much, but it involves retrieving and printing all documents pertaining to the job, hole punching them, placing them on a manila folder and labeling this job folder appropriately. This process also introduced many opportunities for human error by mistyping the order number or putting the information in the wrong area, which would be catastrophic for the order. It could cause a lot of problems and extra work.
Additionally, around the same time our “Green Team” was looking for ways to cut down on waste in the workplace and the use or overuse of sticky notes was getting out of hand.
P&S: How was that issue affecting you or your coworkers? How was it interrupting productivity or the workplace culture?
Matthews: These tedious tasks can take hours to accomplish depending on the number of orders on a given day. Suddenly, these tasks were adding hours of work to an already full workday for the product application engineers. As you can imagine, this certainly took a toll on them by adding an additional five to 15 hours of work per week trying to stay organized.
P&S: In what ways did you address this issue? How did you seek input from others? How did you roll out the solution to get others on board?
Matthews: The Green Team experimented with other methods of passing on information between engineers and the production team. One of the first ideas was to laminate cards that included check boxes and places to write notes with erasable markers. This certainly worked to eliminate the use of sticky notes, but still had the element of human error inherent in data entry.
Finally, during one of our brainstorming sessions, we started looking at the solution differently. If all the documentation on a job is digital and we print it out and manually fill out the information in our digital schedule, then why not keep it digital from start to finish? Well, it just so happened that we had a brilliant new employee, Nick Ortiz, who was on his first-year rotation out of college in Eaton’s LDP (Leadership Development Program) and had experience creating Macros with Visual Basic in Microsoft Office. So, he got to work creating a tool that automated the process. He created a user interface that allowed the user to review the job, create a digital job folder, and put the new job on the schedule.
P&S: What has been the turnout of this solution? Why would you deem this idea a success or recommend it to others?
Matthews: This tool not only drastically reduced the administrative duties, but it also eliminated the human error and reduced our waste. It was such a success with our team that he ultimately developed it for use in all the product lines throughout the plant. And, during the pandemic, this tool allowed the engineers to continue to work on jobs without using the physical folder. This digitizing of the job folders allowed engineers to continue to work efficiently while they worked remotely in order to maintain social distancing.
Since many workers are continuing to work remotely, digitizing processes like these not only eliminates error, but also allows work to continue without delay. Business professionals and managers are already looking at solving issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and using tools like Visual Basic could be the solution that helps them continue to serve their customers successfully.