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Uncovering the Hidden Factory — Ready to Boost Productivity?

Ten percent.

That’s the percentage of the total mass of an iceberg that is visible above water. The rest, the great majority, is hidden underwater because of its sheer weight. And, as we know from historic shipwrecks, what you don’t see can be incredibly dangerous.

When it comes to manufacturing, you may see some visible metrics that require correcting, but what is happening that you do not see? It’s called the “hidden factory,” and it robs companies of untold profits every day of every year. These wasteful processes and work go unreported and undocumented and are dangerous to a company’s bottom line.

Of course you care about lost time, money, and effort, but how are you supposed to correct something you can’t see?

Manufacturers have surely tried. Methods implemented to track and measure productivity include simple observation (writing what is seen in a logbook), recording an operator’s station productivity using a stopwatch, having a whiteboard nearby on which to record causes of downtime, and even noting/confirming issues with a signature in a recordkeeping quality log.

While the attempt is noble, these simply cannot accurately capture what’s really happening at every station, on every line for every second throughout the day. Companies know issues exist that hurt productivity, but they “don’t know what they don’t know.” Much of the dangerous iceberg remains hidden.

MES — How it Exposes the Hidden Factory

A modern Manufacturing Execution System (MES) captures data that can be analyzed to uncover flawed processes, providing insights that expose the hidden factory. How?

A flexible MES documents, tracks, and reports the time it takes to deal with events (see some examples below). When studied with a trained eye, these reports reveal what went right and what went wrong.

What training is needed on an MES? A modern MES performs complex functions, yet it doesn’t have to be intimidating. A 2-day training course is enough for managers and operators to gain the confidence and abilities to understand the system enough to capture events, pull needed data, uncover the hidden factory, and gain additional productivity.


Examples of Uncovering Hidden Factory Productivity Issues

Andon Alert — The classic Andon system alerts when a problem occurs. A switch changes stack lights from green to yellow or red, and a supervisor addresses the situation. However, what’s captured? Maybe the issue was noted in a log book, but likely nothing was recorded; the station just resumed production.

With an MES, the reason is captured instantly, and a timer starts. The system records in a database when the supervisor arrives, who logs in, what action was taken, and the solution — all so problems can be tracked over time, analyzed, and eliminated.

Quality Alert — In most manufacturing facilities, when a new quality alert is issued, the operator signs off that they’ve read it. That paper (likely) is often thrown into a drawer and may only be seen again if there’s an audit (assuming it can ever be found!)

After logging into an MES with name/password, the operator verifies that the alert was read. All names, dates, and times are captured. A question could even be added to ensure they understand the alert. When audit time comes around, a simple report can be run to prove who has read and acknowledged all the quality and safety alerts issued to the plant floor.

Cycle Time — How long an operator takes to perform that station’s tasks is important to understanding productivity. Again, the old-school method of a supervisor with a stopwatch can log the aggregate time, but that’s rarely useful because the operator knows they are being observed, which can throw off actual numbers.

An MES, however, captures exactly how long it took the operator to complete the station’s steps, and even each individual step, if that’s needed. If the cycle time goal is exceeded, a reason for the overage can be noted by the operator.

Those are just three examples of how an MES exposes details about events that wouldn’t otherwise be seen. Over time, recurring problems can be noticed in regular reports and properly addressed to eliminate inefficiencies on the line.

The 5-Bucket Model

PINpoint created a model that represents the five possible states that a station can be in at any given time. The 5-Bucket Model goes beyond traditional cycle time, providing a new level of visibility that couldn’t be possible without an MES.



Waiting — Station doesn’t have product, and there’s no product in the station’s queue
Available — Station doesn’t have product, but product is available in the station’s queue
Suspended — Station has product, but the system is preventing work
Working — Station has product, and the operator is actively working through their process steps
Complete — Station has product, and the operator has completed all process steps

As I mentioned, an MES solution captures the time taken in each activity at all times. This data reveals inefficiencies as well as shows improvement opportunities. The wasteful processes that once went unreported and undocumented are now known.

Action Rooted in Knowledge

Of course, manufacturers try their best to understand all they can about their processes to gain competitive advantages. They pay attention to the metrics that they can see:

  • Plan vs. actual
  • Labor hours
  • Scrap
  • Rework
  • Inspection

Yet, the only way to truly understand what’s going on and squeeze every ounce of quality and efficiency information out of a process is to properly use a modern MES. Only then can the hidden metrics be revealed:

  • Labor utilization
  • Station efficiency
  • Long cycle times
  • Over cycle reasons
  • Non-value add time
  • Process variation

Our core belief at PINpoint is “Action rooted in knowledge is the path to manufacturing excellence.” The knowledge gained from revealing the hidden factory’s metrics elevates a manufacturer to new levels of performance and quality.

50-100 feet. That’s the height of the visible portion of the iceberg that sank the Titanic, according to survivors. With about 90% more of the iceberg lurking below the sea’s surface, it’s easy to understand how what was unseen proved to be incredibly dangerous.

When you’re ready to uncover your own hidden factory, let’s talk! You’ll be amazed what PINpoint MES Software can show you. Contact PINpoint Information Systems today by calling 905-639-8787 or send us an email

Interested in learning more about the power of an MES solution? Don’t miss our guide, 4 BIG Benefits of an MES for Discrete Manufacturing. Simply click the button below! 

4 Big Benefits of an MES Solution
for discrete manufacturing