Peter Drucker claimed that the value in a knowledge company lies between the ears of each employee, more than it does in the machinery on the factory floor. (Knowledge at Wharton Staff, 2020). The knowledge that lies between the ears is called tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is acquired via personal practical experience and is difficult to convey to others. The benefits of tacit knowledge are described in more detail by Prabhakaran (2022).
The proper function of manufacturing facilities relies on the continuous operation of the machines. This is especially important in production lines where a problem in one station halts the whole process.
Annamalai (2010) claims that production processes in any manufacturing plant are based on a series of operations that repeat themselves over and over again. He describes three different types of expertise that are acquired while working.
I. Ideas and suggestions for the improvement of workers in the field
II. R&D people who develop universal solutions for all problems.
III. Insights learned by operators and process engineers while handling faults
In this article we will focus on the third type- insights learned while handling faults. This topic is essential as a great deal of the tacit knowledge lies exactly in these areas:
Expertise in different aspects of a particular process sometimes develops out of necessity because most specifications or documented work procedures do not cover all aspects of the process. Specifications describe how to proceed in the ideal situation (assuming nothing goes wrong). For example, in a process that requires heating in an oven, the specification will indicate the schedules that must be followed, but may not specify what to do if the power goes out in a situation where the oven is at peak temperature, and returns after ten minutes
The expertise and experience of the employees are reflected in the development of solutions when there is a need to deal with unexpected problems and malfunctions. While working for a long time an employee encounters many such unexpected situations and how to handle them. An operator/engineer who solved this type of problem becomes an expert in this field, as he knows more than anyone else about this process and can handle a new emergency with relative ease. As long as the employee is available, there is no problem, but when he leaves due to retirement or another reason, fixing a fault could be a problem.
This type of experience, or expertise, is regarded as tacit knowledge, that, In principle, is possible to impart to someone else. When the recipient's knowledge is also tacit, for example, in a conversation, the knowledge of the recipient is similar to the source, but never the same. This is the essence of the socialization stage in the SECI model. When this knowledge can be captured and articulated, it is commonly regarded as implicit knowledge (Nichols, 2010).
Continuous and systematic capture of implicit knowledge that is created while fixing an operational problem is the basis for KCS, Knowledge Centered Support methodology, (Källgården 2022). The new knowledge that is created when a new problem is solved is immediately documented in the system (a mandatory step in the process), which makes it available to all service personnel that uses the system. In cases where the knowledge has not been documented, there is a high probability that this knowledge would become tacit knowledge that cannot be documented.
Applying the KCS methodology means documenting not only new knowledge but also every occurrence related to a certain fault. If it turns out that there is room for improvement - the suggestion for an improvement is documented (after control, of course). In an organization where the application of the methodology is an integral part of the organizational culture, there is a constant process of immediate documentation of the newly created "between the ears" knowledge.
The basic principles are:
Creating an intelligent, continuously evolving knowledge base, used by all relevant personnel.
Focusing on content creation as a product of problem resolution and knowledge sharing.
The KCS methodology was originally developed for service organizations.
The major benefits of using KCS are:
Larger percentage of first-contact resolution
Faster conflict resolution
Fewer call deflections to a higher authority
Greater customer satisfaction
The KCS methodology is also applicable to manufacturing plants, especially for the maintenance of complicated systems.
Case study: Palziv, a polyethylene foams manufacturer
Palziv is an international manufacturer of cross-linked, closed-cell polyethylene foams, providing R&D and production solutions with complete logistics support and customer service to North American, European, and Asian markets.
Experienced engineers and technicians are responsible for the maintenance activities and the troubleshooting of failures in Palziv’s manufacturing sites.
Palziv's main challenges:
Too often, a failure repair process is inefficient and involves a lot of trial and error, which ends up in long downtimes, materials waste, and poor quality that can kill the bottom line. The insights from new repairs are seldom shared.
Several experienced engineers and technicians will retire and leave in the coming years. The amount of knowledge and “know-how” that they keep “in their heads” is vast, and there is a high risk that important knowledge will leave with them.
Technical information such as electrical schematics, maintenance manuals, maintenance procedures, spare parts data, etc., are spread in various locations and systems. When a technical member needs them while working on his/ her tasks, this information is not easily accessible or getting it is time-consuming.
These challenges were practically solved by using the system that is based on the KCS methodology.
The operator or technician enters the system and searches for the relevant documentation for the fault. The repair process is then documented, even if the cause of the malfunction and the fix were already in the system.
A big advantage of this type of system is a significant reduction in the duration of handling the fault and, consequently, a significant reduction in the time during which the machine was disabled. This type of system is especially important in manufacturing plants that operate on a conveyor belt where the shutdown of one machine shuts down the entire production. Additional benefits are the creation of a knowledge base that is accessible to everyone related to maintenance, shortens the time for entering work for new employees, and prevents a situation in which it is not possible to deal with a malfunction due to the departure of an employee.
Palziv’s maintenance manager summarized the experience: “The implementation process was a wonderful experience that made our team more professional and much more collaborative.”
The main benefits that have been observed:
Faster and more efficient failures troubleshooting process, cutting machine downtimes, optimizing the use of materials, smaller waste, fewer recurring failures, and better overall quality.
Collaboration and knowledge sharing among the technical team members resulted in a highly rigorous and effective technical knowledge base – an "organizational memory" captured from the experienced employees' “know-how” before they retired.
Shorter and more effective new employee training and qualification process.
Improved technical capabilities of professional staff members.
Detailed descriptions of three case studies are given in a forthcoming article (Miron & Maor, n.d.).
The use case demonstrates the benefits of implementing the KCS methodology in manufacturing facilities to convert tacit knowledge to explicit. The added value of such a system is more obvious at facilities with complicated machinery, especially those that use step-wise manufacturing processes