Role of Technological Discipline in Process Performance

Role of Technological Discipline in Process Performance

A steel plant consists of a large number of processes. The steel plant organization is required to attain certain levels of productivity, safety and quality in the processes for achieving overall organizational performance level which can cause employees, investors, customers and other stake holder a sense of pride and which  the peer organizations can bench-mark for improving their performance.

The organizational processes are to be operated through the operation of the equipments, devices, instruments, and systems constituting the processes. The operation of each of the processes consists of a series of actions which are to be performed by the process operator.  The actions of the operator are to exhibit knowledge, self control, character, orderliness, and efficiency.

The process converts inputs into outputs. Output of one process can be input of other process. Technology is the back-bone of every process and it decides the equipments and furnaces for carrying out the process. The technology also decides the quality and the quantity of the input materials. Further, every process can have several sub-processes which are technologically inter-connected. The performance of the process is heavily dependent upon the performance of the sub-processes.

The technology of the process needs that the process is to be conducted by following of certain procedures. These procedures are made for meeting the technological (metallurgical, chemical, mechanical, and electrical etc.) requirements of the process. The technology of the process also requires (i) maintenance of the quality and quantity of the input raw materials, (ii) maintenance of the quality and quantity of the fuels and energies, utilities and consumables, (iii) maintenance of the process parameters (such as temperature, pressure, speed, and rates etc.), (iv) maintenance of the operating steps in certain sequences, (v) close monitoring of the process and equipment conditions for ensuring that the conditions remain within the design limits of the process, and (vi) many other such things.

All the above aspects of the process are to be followed strictly and faithfully while operating of the process so that an effective and efficient performance of the process can be achieved. The term normally used for this is the ‘technological discipline’. Technological discipline is also sometimes called operational discipline, or process discipline.  It is the dedication and commitment by the operating personnel to perform the work consistent with the requirements of the process and defined procedures. It is indispensible since it supports the smooth and efficient working of the process. Adherence to technological discipline is the most important feature for the successful operation of a process. Without technological discipline, processes are unproductive and unsafe.

Technological discipline can be defined as a force which prompts the employees to observe rules, regulations, and procedures which are considered necessary for the effective functioning of the process. It is an activity which involves acting in accordance with a set of known rules, proven guidelines, and conventions framed for the purpose. It is basically an attitude and the behaviour of the employees who are operating the process and is strongly influenced by the organizational culture and the environment in which the process is functioning.

Steel plants spend a lot of efforts in making standard procedures and work instructions for its processes. These processes and instructions are written documents in which employees are trained so that employees do not have any problems while operating the process as per procedure and instructions. Hence, during the preparation of the standard procedures and work instructions, it is necessary that the requirements of technological discipline are embedded in t standard procedures and work instructions and get well reflected in them.

There are three requirements for the technological discipline. These are (i) employees are committed to it, (ii) employees are to have awareness about its importance, and (iii) employees are to have knowledge about it. Process manual, standard procedure, and work instructions help the employees in complying with the technological discipline. Knowledge of various aspects of the technological discipline is the fundamental thing. Awareness of the employee that the technological discipline is important for the smooth functioning of the process is a necessary aspect. With knowledge and awareness but without commitment, compliance to the technological discipline cannot be achieved. Hence commitment is very necessary for the compliance of the technological discipline. Fig 1 shows these aspects.

Fig1 Technological discipline and its requirements

Organizational management wants all the employees to strictly comply with the technological discipline in their area of their working. Non-compliance can have serious negative influence not only on the process but also on the entire organization. It is because, in an integrated steel plant, the processes are inter connected, and negative effect on a process also gets reflected in th performance of the succeeding and preceding processes. Further, the need of the compliance to technological discipline assumes more importance when the process is hazardous in nature and most of the processes in a steel plant are hazardous in nature.

Lack of the technological discipline can result in non-compliance with critical safety, product quality or other process parameters. Violation of technological discipline causes the process going out of control which can result into (i) process product going out of specification resulting into its downgrading or rejection, (ii) reduction in the yield, (iii) increase in the specific consumption of input raw materials, (iii) increase in the specific consumption of fuels and energies, utilities, and consumables, (iv) damage to the equipments and furnaces causing additional maintenance with resulting implication of lower equipment availability for production and increase in the production and maintenance cost, (v) endangering of the safety of the personnel and equipment, (vi) causing of environmental pollution, (vii) increasing the risk of serious incidents or regulatory violations and (viii) and many more such outcomes.

The organization with sound technological discipline has the characteristics of (i) availability of sufficient resources for the process, (ii) leadership is by example, (iii) enforcement of rules and procedures without accepting any deviations, (iv) upto date operational manuals, procedures, and work instructions, (v) working practices are consistent with the upto date documents, (vi) continuous monitoring of the required process parameters and maintenance of proper records, (vii) simultaneous continuous analysis of the process parameters for determining the deviations of the parameters for timely corrective actions, (viii) absence of shortcuts and ‘at risk’ behaviours of the process operator, (ix) strong sense of teamwork amongst the process operators is to be available at the workplace, (x) active lines of communication are available covering the entire process, its sub processes and also preceding and succeeding processes (xi) operators need to have high level of training , they have to practice important skills, and their proficiency is to be demonstrated during the process operation, and (xii) existence of excellent cleanliness and housekeeping at the workplace. Fig 2 shows these characteristics. Further the operators need to have shared values which mean that they are to driven by common beliefs. They need to have a sense of pride for the organization.

Fig 2 Characteristics of technological discipline

Following of the technological discipline supports the safety culture of the organization. Violation of the technological discipline can result into catastrophic releases of toxic, reactive, flammable, or explosive gases and hot and liquid materials which endanger the environment for the safe working of the people working in the area.

The supplier of the process while designing the process normally introduce in the process and its equipments all those features which are necessary for the safe and healthy operation of the process. When the operator operates the process with technological discipline then no violation takes place against the incorporated safety features of the process. This eliminates any cause of accidents thus ensuring the safety of the plant, equipment and personnel.

Communication is one of the important requirements of the technological discipline. Communication is needed not only between personnel but also between the instruments, and also between the instruments and equipments. Communication is to be effective, fast, and noise free. Communication failure can lead to process failure.

Employees, while following the technological discipline, are to respect the rules and regulations, follow the procedures, act with professionalism, communicate effectively, report information in exact and prescribed terms, and have a team work with fellow employees working in various areas of the process. They are to recognize that they are part of a system which is made up of several people, facilities, equipment, sub-processes, and procedures. In this system they are to work in harmony. If something can be improved, they are to use the appropriate channels to formally make those changes. There is no place for adhoc working in an environment of technological discipline.

In technological discipline environment, employees are to communicate with one another in a consistent, defined manner to ensure that information conveyed is reliable and understood. They are to treat other employees with respect and value the roles others are playing. They are to respect the facilities where they work in and the equipment they use. Housekeeping is important aspect of the technological discipline since it represents respect for the facility, equipment, and other employees. When employees understand that they have a responsibility to others, they are mindful of the task at hand.

Technical discipline needs commitment from all employees not only to themselves, but also to one another. The concept of ‘Forceful Watch Team Backup’ is to be rooted in  employees’ understanding that they are part of something larger than themselves, they are to  work in concert to be effective, and they are to understand that no one person is ever perfect. Recognizing the seriousness of the jobs that they are doing, the employees are to rely on one another to look beyond their own activity to back each other up and ensure that the team as a whole is doing the right thing, the right way, every time. They are to actively look for what a co-employee can have missed and expect others to do the same in return. They have the courage to step in and the courage to care.

The Pillars of technological Discipline

Technological discipline is essential for the right conditions to exist for the processes to achieve the expected level of the performance. With technological discipline, the technological processes start functioning as per the expectations. Technological discipline helps to create the required conditions for the processes all the time. With right conditions existing, the processes start fulfilling in a better way the objectives of achieving the safety, productivity, quality, yield, cost, and environmental and regulatory compliance.

Pillars of technological discipline support the goals of safety and production. These two goals depend on the critical operation of the processes. With technological discipline, the operators are able to assess and monitor the process correctly all the time and are in a position to take the corrective action in case there are deviations in the process parameters. The operators are in a position to take the right actions at the right time. Their timely actions impact and are impacted by the work of others. They become dedicated and are willing to always do the right thing and not taking the ‘easy path’ while expecting the same from others.

These behaviours of the operators rest on a very specific set of five pillars which define and support a culture of technological discipline in the organization. The five pillars of technological discipline as shown in Fig 3 are (i) integrity and self-control, (ii) operational manual and procedures, (iii) training, knowledge, and experience, (iv) monitoring and record keeping, and (v) co-ordination and teamwork. It is important to understand the background and rationale for each of the pillars. It is also important to understand that they are self-reinforcing and all of the pillars are needed together to drive the importance of the technological discipline in the organization.

Fig 3 Five pillars of technological discipline 

Integrity and self-control – Technological discipline requires integrity and self-control from the process operators which in turn is dependent on the operators’ attitude and behaviour. Integrity is also needed with respect to mechanical integrity, information flow (communication), operating procedures, and record keeping. A strong organizational culture supports integrity and self control which in turn assist in the compliance of the technological discipline in the organization.

This means that the operators can be relied upon to do what they say, and to do what is right, whether or not someone is looking. They are to be able to rely on each other and their line managers. Operators with integrity and self-control do not manipulate the process records since they are aware that the process records are important for ensuring the process to function normally. Their behaviour is to lead them to work in a safer work environment. Integrity and self-control allow the operators to act in calm way while tackling a process abnormality. Integrity and self-control of the operators lead to accurate daily work planning, reduce waste, harmonize activities, and drive higher productivity. Without Integrity and self-control, there is no reliability, no confidence, and no trust.

Operation manual and procedures – Operation manual and procedures explain the operators the key aspects of the process functioning as well as the specifications of the equipments and spares. They constitute the standard operating practices. They define specifications of the input and output materials, standard process parameters, those parameters which are to be closely monitored for the smooth functioning of the process, and the records which are necessary to be kept for the analyzing the performance of the process. They tell the operators, the actions which are required to be taken during process abnormalities. They describe the maintenance needs of the plant and equipment for smooth functioning of the process on a long term basis.

Training, knowledge, and experience – For the implementation of the technological discipline during the operation of the process, it is necessary that the employees have the necessary knowledge of the process. Initial knowledge of the process is received by the employees through training and then it gets embedded in them through the working experience. With sufficient knowledge of the process, employees are able to determine what the right thing is to do in various situations and how to do it. In a complex operating environment, this requires a level of knowledge which extends beyond their immediate work areas and beyond just knowing manuals and work procedures. It means that the employees are to understand the broader systems and environments in which the process operates and they need a deep enough level of knowledge by which they can identify abnormal conditions and potential hazards, react effectively to unanticipated situations, and be able to back each other up.

Monitoring and record keeping – The technological discipline requires continuous and close monitoring of all the process parameters. No relaxation is allowed in this respect, since any abnormality in the process parameter, if the operator misses to notice in time, can become a cause of major process failure and in extreme case this can become a safety hazard causing damage to the equipment and personnel. Technological discipline needs proper and accurate recording of all the process parameters. Analysis of the proper and accurate recording of the process parameters provides an insight of the process and helps in the process improvement. Casual record keeping and missing recording of some of the parameters prevent the people to assess whether the process has function normally over a period of time or has deteriorated in the performance. In such case where the process deterioration cannot be assessed, the corrective actions cannot be taken since the reasons for deterioration cannot be accurately determined because of the missing records.

Co-ordination and teamwork – In a steel plant, each process consists of a number of sub-processes and each sub-process has its own set of operators. For overall process to function normally there is a necessity that close co-ordination and teamwork are available amongst all the operators of the sub-processes. Technological discipline requires fast and accurate communications between all the operators of the process so that in case any abnormality happening in any of the sub-process, preventive actions can be taken to reduce the damaging effect in the process performance. Further, since the process impacts and gets impacted by the performance of the performances of the preceding and succeeding processes in a steel plant, close co-ordination is also required with the preceding and succeeding processes.

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