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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Alternative Representations of Statistical Measures in Computer Tools to Promote Communication between Employees in Automotive Manufacturing


In manufacturing industry, many employees need to interpret and communicate statistical information to monitor and improve production processes. Often the information is reduced to the form of numerical measures, on the logic that numbers are a convenient and understandable type of information to pass among the diverse groups of employees that make up a manufacturing operation. We investigated by means of interviews and observation how several numerical measures, ‘process capability indices’, were used in an automotive factory and how employees were trained to use them. We found that the typical introduction to the measures deployed statistical and algebraic symbolism as well as laborious manual calculations that did not appear to support employees’ understanding of the underlying mathematical relationships. These measures therefore failed to be ‘boundary objects’ – artifacts that inhabit different social worlds and satisfy the informational requirements of each. The goal of our subsequent design-based research was to design a representation of the process capability indices that would be easier to engage with than the existing formal symbolism used in shop floor calculations and in training. We did this by re-presenting relevant mathematical relationships in computer tools – technology-enhanced boundary objects (TEBOs) – developed in collaboration with company trainers. To evaluate our interaction with three trainers and 37 trainees in three courses in two factories, and the impact of the computer tools on practice, we followed the computer tools’ trajectory from the stage of co-design with the original car factory through to the stage at which the computer tools were used by factories beyond this research project. The evaluation points to the importance of aligning statistical and workplace norms and meanings, and gives illustrations of how the tools facilitated communication between employees.

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