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Using computer analytics and a new science called "crowd engineering," consultants at the Progress Group are helping companies improve productivity at manufacturing and distribution facilities, says Steve Mulaik, a partner with the group.
"Crowd engineering is a new answer to an age-old problem: how should a job be done to be most efficient?" he says. To answer this question, Mulaik and his team take video of various operators working at a facility performing the same task. They transmit the video to analysts working in Mumbai, who break down each individual movement that goes into a job, then figure out which worker is best at each step of a process. "For each separate step, we figure out which is the best technique and we glue them all together and teach all workers the best way to do a complete process in distribution or manufacturing facilities," he says.
This is different from earlier time/motion studies because in that approach the activities were observed and manipulated in a lab, Mulaik says. "We look at how operators already work today on the floor - engineers don't create the process. The fact is that operators already have innovated and created lots of different ways to do a given job. We simply mine those techniques to figure out which works best."
Crowd engineering is most effective in facilities where there are more than 10 people doing the same task, hence the term "crowd," Mulaik says. "It depends on having a lot of diversity in how the work is done," he says. Crowd engineering is based on the concept of collective intelligence, he adds. "This is the idea that the knowledge and innovation in a mass of average people supersedes the sum of their individual contributions. It is a scientifically rational approach."
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