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Safety equipment manufacturer turns to online tools for 'simple and intuitive' process controls.

Quality control defines many businesses. The ability to follow a standard set of procedures to manufacture consistent and quality products means the difference between life and death for safety equipment manufacturer PSL, and this stark reality has seen it move its business process documentation online to streamline and simplify it for its workers.

Auckland-based PSL manufactures and sells protective equipment used by fire and safety organisations throughout New Zealand and the Pacific, including the New Zealand Fire Service.

Over its 100 years of operation, PSL has attained several international quality assurance certificates; including IS0 9001, ISO 14001, and AS/NZS 4801.

Bernard Phillips, general manager of quality and manufacturing, says that maintaining this level of quality requires constant vigilance from staff.

While safety is paramount for PSL, he says, bureaucracy created through well-meaning, but often overzealous safety legislation, can hinder the ability for small and medium businesses to remain agile.

“We put a lot of effort into making sure our products are safe and up to scratch,” says Phillips. “We have always been a values and process-driven business. The values were easy to uphold and live by, but the paper-bound processers were a different story.”

In 2008, PSL moved its business process documents online using Promapp, which is a hosted business process management system. The hosted service allows PSL to upload and manage its process documents through a web browser, and has the ability to replace wordy business process documents with flowcharts, and multimedia such as voice and video. Staff are then able to view and edit these documents through a web browser.

Prior to this, PSL used paper documents which staff referred to when going through potentially hazardous routines in the factory. Phillips says digitising the process has helped the company reduce costs associated with maintaining cumbersome paper documents.

“The amount of hard copy documentation we had to maintain was huge, taking up the space of an average office and it needed two full-time staff to organise it,” says Phillips. “Today, one part-time assistant spends about half her time maintaining the whole system.”

PSL’s safety and manufacturing processes are now filmed and uploaded to the system, and can be referred to by factory-floor workers when handling specialised areas of work.

At any given time PSL can hold over 5000 stock units on its premises, many of which are hazardous and require specialised handling from trained staff. As new shipments arrive, staff are able to consult the process documents and videos online through terminals located across the factory or on their computers.

Phillips says this is a very simple and intuitive way to get across complex ideas. “There is no doubt staff are far more relaxed and attentive while watching a video, than trying to interpret complex written processes,” says Phillips.

Phillips says there was some initial resistance to moving the documentation online, but he says staff and management are now much more confident important processes are being followed.

“This happens with any changes to any processes. It takes time for people to get used to the change. The important thing is it is installed now and doing well for what we need it for.”

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