31 January 2023
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EZ Factory was rewarded with a Gerard & Anton Award in July. The start-up makes an app that allows operators to systematically finish their task lists for machinery in factories.
How is a biscuit or a dessert from your local supermarket actually made? You don’t think about it when you eat them. But this is done in a large factory where there are rows upon rows of machinery that each time take the product to a further stage and lastly packages them to be sold in stores.
Operators in the factories must ensure that these products are made during the production process. They also have a vital task: they have to make sure that all the machines are operating perfectly. This is only achievable if the machines are properly maintained, cleaned, inspected and, if necessary, repaired.
EZ Factory has created an app called EZ-GO in order to list all the jobs that eventuate and manage them in a clear and structured way. Operators can use the app on a tablet. When the operator starts their workday and launches the EZ-GO app, a drop-down menu opens up. This menu contains, among other things, a checklist of the jobs that the operator has to do on machines that day. Suppose the operator begins with a job that entails booting up a machine or cleaning it. Then the tablet can show a video which illustrates how it should be done. When the job is finished, the operator confirms this in the app so that their colleagues can see that it has been done. After that, the team leader also checks and confirms that the job is finished so that all operators can see that the job is completed and that they no longer have to do any work on it.
The advantage of the app from EZ Factory is that it unburdens operators of a lot of administrative hassles. “The alternative is that they wander around with printed Excel lists stating what jobs they have to do,” says one of the two founders, Randy Appiah. You can imagine that is a bit of a hassle. On that paper Excel list, they have to tick off which mandatory tasks they must carry out. The team leader then has to sign that list and rework it in Excel. And that’s it. Instructions on how machines work are contained in separate documents that are often stashed away in cupboards,” says Appiah. The operator has to bring those along on their work rounds. Another thing that can happen is that the operator is instructed by another operator on how to do something, but then he or she has to remember everything all at once. Chances are that this doesn’t always work out as well.
This is not handy at all when you compare it with the features that the app from EZ Factory has to offer. It contains instructional videos that are always available, which means you no longer need to lug around any separate documents.
Randy Appiah and Robert Bouwman Photo: EZ Factory
Another advantage is that operators can pass on any inconsistencies regarding instructions for machines, and then make improvements. “Suppose the operator wants to change something in a work instruction because something is not quite right. For example, an operator is not wearing protective work clothing in the instructions. They can indicate this in the app. The team leader can susbesquebtly authorize the operator to replace this instruction photo with a proper one. That way, you give the operators scope to improve the existing standards in the current app,” says Appiah. “After all, they have to work with it.”
The EZ-GO app is also useful for the team leader, because they can see on their tablet at the touch of a button what maintenance has been done, by whom, at what time and how this has affected production.
Results so far have been promising. Factories using the EZ-GO app report fewer malfunctions and fewer off-spec products because their machines are functioning better. “That’s because they are being maintained more systematically with the help of the app,” Appiah states.
At the moment, it is mainly the factories of Dutch FMCG corporations (Fast-moving consumer goods) that are using the EZ Factory app. Like FrieslandCampina, which uses the EZ-GO app to process milk products. Heineken uses the app for brewing beer and Verkade for baking biscuits … To name but a few.
In this respect, the first Appiah and Bouwman client to register in 2017 seems like a fish out of water. That was FlexiForce, a manufacturer of garage doors for use in the industry sector. “They bought our product before we even had it,” says Bouwman. “We only had a ‘clickable’ model of what the app would look like on a laptop.” After that, Bouwman and Appiah had to set up their company EZ Factory in double-quick time.
And they succeeded. Apart from Dutch, the EZ-GO app is available in six languages, in English, German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. It is currently just being used in European factories. “But we also anticipate expanding to countries outside of Europe, such as Asia,” says Bouwman.
The question is whether there is a lot of competition that might rival EZ Factory’s app. Bouwman: “If this were to happen, the market would still be large enough. You can also use the app to manage buildings, for one thing. We are not yet working on that at all, but we could. Its potential is enormous.”