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26 May, 2006 - 09:44 By Staff Reporter

Cambridge University researcher creates the ‘immortal’ manufacturing workforce

A Cambridge University researcher has created an ‘immortal workforce’ – a Human Resources capacity that never dies and can be used throughout the entire lifetime of manufacturing companies around the world.

Dr Tony Holden in the Department of Engineering has developed a software program that ensures a manufacturing company’s brainpower survives generations of its employees.

Structured via an electronic PC network, the new ‘Lifetrack’ program will capture employees’ experiences as they perform their duties and provide productivity in perpetuity. Plant status and history is accurately recorded from one shift and one generation to another so any disturbance can be logged.

The timing could hardly be better as a generation of baby boomers anticipate retirement, leaving manufacturing industry bosses fearing a wealth of knowledge will be lost with their departure.

To stem this drain of information, Dr Tony Holden worked for two years on an industrial research program sponsored by BP, Honeywell Control and Cambridge University to model the social, communication and information dimensions of how staff work in industrial manufacturing plants.

To use Lifetrack, manufacturing businesses require Windows PCs with at least 256K RAM; with multiple users, all computers running Lifetrack would also need to be connected to a network – the likely scenario for most major manufacturers.

Operational staff systematically record and track the details of events and actions as they happen so their colleagues – whenever or wherever they are – can immediately know what is going on and take action based on relevant information.

The faithful, electronic memory is designed to improve plant safety, integrity and efficiency and enable continuous improvement.

Team communication should be significantly improved, downtime reduced, and there is a degree of harmonisation of best practice.

While Lifetrack is a shared resource within the factory, it is customised to the way each individual plant operates and customisation takes hours, not weeks or months.

The software will record and track maintenance jobs, operational problems, record and monitor production figures and generate summary reports.

Most of the basic functions can be actioned with a single click.

Dr Holden said: “Paper based recording and even a Google-style database app-roach are only part solutions and not at all satisfactory.

Lifetrack provides a structure where there was none and is an exceptionally reliable mechanism, capturing workers experiences and incidents job by job, moment by moment.

“An incredible amount of underlying research has gone into the software.”

Lifetrack is being marketed by US-based company The Works Software, whose CEO Dinesh Vadhia says: “Serious problems at plants have been traced back to inconsistent views of the same operation.

“With Lifetrack, everyone has the same consistent view of operations to reduce the chance of misunderstandings and reduce the learning curve of new staff.

“Today, knowledge rete-ntion programs don’t provide anything for capturing tacit knowledge where it really exists in an organisation – with operational staff at the ground level. The trick is to capture, retain and share knowledge while operational staff are doing their job.”

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