On My Mind: The Numbers Game

Essentially, running a business has always been a numbers game.

Essentially, running a business has always been a numbers game. The object, of course, being to make more money than you spend.

Decades ago that numbers game was left to chief financial officers, accountants and other front office employees. It was their job to make decisions about which products or processes were profitable based on numbers and statistics.

This was in contrast to those individuals that worked in the plant, whose decisions were more often than not based on knowledge, experience and instinct derived from years spent working with a particular process.

During the last five to ten years though, the numbers game has moved from the front office to the plant. This is in large part due to the increase in computing power, the Internet and other technological advances. Each year I see more and more companies using automated systems to track the temperature of their pretreatment tanks, monitor the pH of their plating tanks or track the amount of powder used for each job.

All of this monitoring and data collection has helped quality control managers verify that their shop is meeting the exact standards and specifications given by their customers. It has also helped shops run more efficiently. Plus, this wealth of information has helped finishers comply with environmental regulations and meet ISO and QS standards.

While I'm quite confident that all of this data collection about a plant's process and new statistical measures have helped improve the finish quality in a number of plants, relying strictly on numbers can be detrimental to the quality of your company's work and ultimately the success of your company.

Numbers can provide you with insight into your process. But, without the experience and knowledge to interpret those numbers, the numbers don't mean a thing.

You could provide me with reams of paper with statistical information about your line, but you would still get a poor quality finish since I don't have the experience and knowledge from working in a finishing plant to apply that data in any meaningful way.

The bottom line is that numbers and data are an invaluable resource. But, so is the operator who has been running your line for the last 15 years.