How to identify, quantify, and mitigate risk in industrial operations

Identifying and mitigating risk requires a wide understanding of what it means and how it goes beyond basic safety principles.

By Randy Otto August 29, 2022
Randy Otto is the CEO of ECS Solutions and brings more than 25 years of experience in diverse industries, including glass fibers manufacturing and custom assembly machine manufacturing. Courtesy: ECS Solutions

A key responsibility of executives and managers in manufacturing is that of risk management. This refers to the obvious risk of physical operations and staff protection, but it also includes quite a bit more: Risk to contracts, availability of brands of the direct employer and those of other clients, reputation(s), regulatory, and risk to public safety and health are all increasing concerns with the operating level of a senior executive or manager.

Risk identification is a critical first step; without which, corrective actions cannot be undertaken or could possibly be misguided. Because risks evolve constantly, it is rare that they can be spelled out in a succinct and comprehensive volume. One obvious solution is to install the correct staff in the tiers immediately below the executives but that often raises questions about the specific qualifications of these employees, their tenure and familiarity with every facet of their role within that organization, and whether an overarching net has been cast to identify and compartmentalize relative risks. Further concerns arise around whether an internal team is free of groupthink and whether they possess the proper experience, qualifications, and motivations.

Fortunately, outside advisers exist who specialize in comprehensive risk identification and mitigation.  As in most cases where outside counsel is sought, these are firms that have spent a significant amount of time in the direct or immediately tangential business of the clients. These firms can discuss and, more importantly, identify problem areas that exist based on their vast experience and they can bring new ways of investigating and quantifying these for clients.

ECS Solutions (ECS) is a valuable partner in this arena. ECS has been in business since 1977 and they have served dozens of unique clients each year since then. They also boast an impressive track record for both new talent acquisition and senior management retention.  This means that their decades of experience are well preserved and regularly imparted upon emerging staff.  The staff has grown in both numbers and experience over the years and those ever-increasing capabilities are used by clients regularly to assist with the problem identified here.

ECS performs these comprehensive manufacturing risk assessments on a regular basis. Their studies include all items on the manufacturing floor, covering overall process functionality, both automated and manual, and the associated control hardware and manufacturing software. They assess the obvious vintage and condition of the hardware and software, but they also review with an eye on SOPs and possible gaps and opportunities that exist within those procedures and related documentation. In addition, they identify and quantify levels of exposure and deliver a tiered roadmap for future improvements. Perhaps most importantly, they review all of this with materiality in mind.

As with all ECS projects, their team works in close concert with their clients’ teams. Existing information is utilized as a reference but is verified throughout the process. The team and baseline documents perform the field investigation of functionality via interviews with operations staff. Any discrepancies are identified and, whenever possible, the client’s own templates and documents are used as the basis for notations. They couple this information with their investigation into the types and vintages of software, controllers and I/O cards, variable frequency drives and key control electronics, and communications devices such as Ethernet switches and connection points.

Following the time onsite, the ECS team works behind the scenes to quantify the data and couple it with more detailed information. Their output report is not simply a statement of obvious facts but includes insights and reasoning behind all risk notations about the likelihood and impact of all the covered areas. Depicted are the physical location of key equipment included in the investigation as well as cross reference lists to the physical items and related software. The report also includes visual reference to both a process flow diagram and a functional ecosystem layout which highlights the interconnected elements from the plant’s operations hierarchy. ECS reviews all of this during the client’s project wrap up conference during which they focus extensively on the included matrices which quantify all the included items and relationships with reference to the likelihood and impact of the risk to each.

Clients are left with a detailed understanding of everything they own, what a failure of each would mean to their operations, and the likelihood of these occurring. This comprehensive view of the components, systems, and processes that drive their operations is valuable information that helps them to understand more than just the pieces and parts, but how those elements support each department and, whether previously known or not, how those pieces may inadvertently impact adjacent departments or functions. This is key information to have at a moment in time and serves as a solid base from which to plan overall risk mitigation.

Whether you are new to an organization or facility or are tenured but in need of an independent, fresh perspective in helping you to understand your operation’s vulnerabilities, you have a partner you can rely on in ECS Solutions. ECS stands prepared with their clients to perform these assessments along with related corrective actions and future reviews to keep their clients secure for the long term.

Author Bio: Randy Otto is the CEO of ECS Solutions and brings more than 30 years of experience in diverse industries, including glass fibers manufacturing and custom assembly machine manufacturing. Before joining ECS, Randy spent 10 years managing the delivery of assembly equipment for Integrated Systems Manufacturing and process control systems for Premier System Integrators. For most of the last 18 years, he has managed business development and sales for ECS and more recently as a part of his duties as CEO. Randy graduated from Purdue University with a degree in electrical engineering technology. He has an MBA from the University of Southern Indiana.