Spreadsheets or a dedicated plant-floor solution – what’s best for your factory?

According to our recent survey, 64% of you continue to use spreadsheets to collect and analyse data in your factories. Typically, you re-enter task times and other job details into spreadsheets, having first collected the numbers from the shop floor on hand-written paper.

While spreadsheet software is a standard office desktop tool and therefore widely available, spreadsheets have many fundamental limitations when you need an effective shop-floor data collection and analysis solution. So, compared with using a dedicated plant-floor software solution, are spreadsheets still the best solution for you?

Manual data collection

The use of spreadsheets for data collection and analysis often goes hand-in-hand with paper. Our recent review of paper-based data collection on the shop floor looks at the problems with manual data collection, many of which also apply to the use of spreadsheets.

While spreadsheets are a step up from the use of paper only, they perpetuate manual data collection and entry as the basis for informing critical decisions. Like any manual process, the use of spreadsheets is slow, labour intensive, subject to inaccuracies and errors.

By way of comparison, our dedicated plant-floor solution automates the task of collecting data from the shop floor, whether that’s labour metrics, materials use, quality or many other manufacturing-related data. Simply scanning an item or touching a screen will log and time an event. The information we collect is accurate and takes place in real time.

Effective factory communication

Being electronic files, spreadsheets are a lot easier to share across your team than a pile of paper. However, this strength quickly becomes a weakness when the sharing and editing of files proliferates across your organisation. It’s too easy for everyone to save a different version of a spreadsheet, with their own individual ideas about how to calculate your business’s KPIs.

With our system, there is only ever one version of the truth. To see that, you open a web browser and bring up your factory dashboard, which enables you to see your KPIs presented graphically in real time. You can then drill down by clicking to isolate the specific detailed information you need to help inform your decisions. Our approach ensures you can collaborate more effectively with colleagues by all sharing a common view of industry-standard KPIs, which is readily available to anyone in your team.

Garbage in, garbage out

Spreadsheets have no way of validating that the data you enter is correct. It’s perfectly possible to put rubbish into Excel with no consequences – except of course your analysis will be wrong and your decisions ill-informed – but it may take months for any errors to come to light. Manual data entry is a sure-fire recipe for making mistakes.

Because the data entering our system is automatically collected from the shop floor, it is correct by construction. We also validate the data as it comes in to the system. For example, we know what time operators start and end their shifts; we can ensure they’re not booked to two jobs at the same time; we can validate that they’re only booking time to jobs they are qualified to do – and so on. The possibilities for built-in checks and balances are endless, ensuring that the information you collect for analysis is watertight.

A familiar scenario

You’ve collected the timesheets for the week, someone has spent a few hours re-entering task times into Excel and you can now review your data. Unfortunately, it looks like one of your operators didn’t get anything done for three hours on Tuesday afternoon. And now it’s too late to do anything about it. You may be able to investigate the issue and prevent it from reoccurring, but you will never recover the lost time. Sound familiar?

Our real-time data enables on-the-job decision making. For example, within our solution, one of the most popular dashboards is a live display of what each operator is working on. This view also informs supervisors of any operators that are unable to progress a task, and the reasons why – for example, a lack of material, job or tooling. Armed with this information, supervisors can address the issue there and then and get the operator working again, minimising lost productivity.

Prioritising and communicating jobs

Informing operators of which tasks to prioritise relies on printing and handing out job sheets when your factory floor processes depend on the use of spreadsheets. If a job changes priority it can be complex – and time consuming – to ensure that all the right spreadsheets are revised and shared with the right people.  We enable supervisors to allocate jobs by simply ‘dragging and dropping’ tasks on a screen. The new job priorities are communicated instantly to the individuals or teams – or the whole factory – whoever needs to know what to work on next.

The popularity of spreadsheets in manufacturing businesses is understandable. Microsoft Excel is widely available and so are the skills to use it. And in the right hands, spreadsheets can perform powerful analyses with their rich set of built-in functions.

However, spreadsheets are severely limited when it comes to running a factory floor efficiently and effectively. And while spreadsheet software is cheap, it may be costing your business dearly in lost productivity. Using a dedicated plant-floor solution has many advantages – we have explored just a few of them here; there are many more.

Replacing the use of paper and spreadsheets with our affordable, software-based factory floor data collection system is the fastest way to transform productivity in a labour-intensive manufacturing environment.

Ready to find out more

To learn more about how MESTEC could help with your manufacturing challenges and reduce costs or to request a demonstration, please contact us or call +44 (0)1344 535120.