With the many buzz words used to describe smart manufacturing, many non-technical leaders feel anything but smart. Why is this?
Those who design, sell, install and support shop floor technology use terms like Industry 4.0, Factory 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Edge Computing, Connected Manufacturing, Digital Twin, Big Data, Machine Learning and many versions of Analytics. Then there are discussions about where and how to deploy the software holding the business logic that makes the collected information useful. Some solution providers are advocates of deployment of software on-premise, in the cloud, or distributed across all kinds of IT resources in a hybrid blend that is now sometimes described as a fog.
Wow. I have seen the eyes of very capable and experienced managers and business owners glaze over in a presentation where these kinds of rapidly evolving terms are used.
So, where is the value to manufacturers in all of this? Another way to state this question would be to ask “Is it really smart to invest in information technology that we do not understand?”
The very practical and useful answer is yes, IF your goal is to solve some very specific challenges in how you plan, execute and analyze your manufacturing operations. Some early adopters have tried to “boil the ocean” by jumping in hook, line, and sinker to solve all issues at once – in a big bang style. Too many have only heard a thud.
Industry observers who analyze and write about trends in technology often refer to the process of introducing automation of production-related information management as a “digital transformation”. The well-publicized, general benefits of a healthy digital transformation are elimination of wasted time, reduced scrap, fewer unplanned interruptions, more accurate data, real-time metrics and alerts to how operations are performing.
The best way to think of this whole concept is it enables managers to stay connected to their production operations, moment by moment. This is the essence of Smart Manufacturing, which increasingly is the term used by many industry associations like Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA), and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
Yet, I hear many leaders in industry exclaim “we are not made of money” then ask “how can we just get started?” and “where should we focus first?”
Several early adopters over last decade have themselves started with a number of different applications of automated monitoring of production. All have found that sensibly providing operations managers with real-time, actionable information is very smart.
Following are several examples of smart manufacturing projects that have had real, measurable return on investment (ROI).
Successful Project Examples
- Linkage of process parameters like temperature, pressure, and cycle time to records for each work order to utilize them in the job closure review to support continuous improvement efforts since the information is immediately available during and at the end of the job.
- Automatic collection of in-line and off-line inspection equipment measurements that is fed to SPC charting for products traceability and process certifications. This has already been done with coordinate measuring machines (CMMs), electronic calipers, scales, vision systems and temperature sensors to name a few.
- Monitoring of critical equipment and even tooling to minimize unplanned production interruptions by providing insights to optimize preventative maintenance intervals and alert technicians if specific parameters are trending out of bounds before a catastrophic failure occurs.
- Connection of equipment performance measurements to automatically update dashboard metrics and production scheduling based on machine status, daily run rate, downtime, availability of tooling and approved operators.
- Surfacing of relevant information to all operators, technicians and managers on large displays in common areas, machine status light-stick beacons, line-side tablets and even mobile smartphones to provide common understanding and promote ownership of daily results.
- Leveraging of automated production monitoring to enable mistake-proofing of machine set up prior to start of each work order to help assure consistent quality.
The pattern of successful implementations which has become clear in analysis of these use cases is very consistent.
- Start with the end in mind. Have a tangible issue you need to fix.
- Pilot one or two cells or process lines to gain experience with the technologies involved and gain team member buy-in.
- Keep the project scope of features simple to start. Expect to become more knowledgeable and sophisticated over time. It will take time for production team members to become comfortable with the technology and its impact on their responsibilities.
- Analyze ROI from the pilot project(s) based on actual benefits verses planned as well as actual costs verses budget.
- Capture lessons learned to apply in future phases.
- Create an investment and roll-out plan in phases.
- Be cautious about custom, home-brew solutions. Use software and hardware tools with parameter controls to allow you to adjust your results as needed. Too many companies struggle in the future when the engineers and technicians who created the original solution have separated from your organization with important knowledge in their heads.
Following these recommendations, it is possible to demystify the how and why of Smart Manufacturing to capture the benefits of unique value to each innovative manufacturer.