Boosting productivity with human-machine interconnection

Posted on 13 May 2016 by The Manufacturer

UK productivity is far behind our European neighbours. Andrew Steele, managing director of FORCAM UK, explains how to combat low efficiency by embracing new technologies.

Productivity in the UK is roughly 30% behind other G7 nations, such as the US, Germany and France.

Andrew Steele, managing director, FORCAM UK.
Andrew Steele, managing director, FORCAM UK.

The Government has highlighted the need for investment in capital equipment, skills and innovation. At conferences earlier this year, politicians and executives urged manufacturers to embrace new technologies to close the productivity gap.

The Germans are one step ahead with Industry 4.0, a concept to network humans, industrial assets and systems to ensure complete information exchange. The aim is to make manufacturing more transparent, processes more efficient and promote innovation.

In the UK, we seem to have neglected these necessary steps towards increased productivity, but it’s not too late to embrace new technologies.

Software vendor, FORCAM is one of the companies helping lead the fourth industrial revolution with more than 60,000 machine tools and processes connected using its software.

The software is categorised as a manufacturing execution system (MES). The concept is:

  • Connect your machine tools to a web-based system
  • Communicate real-time data from the shop floor to your ERP system
  • Supercharge your business planning with reliable data from the shop floor
  • Visualise your production infrastructure to boost process transparency
  • Analyse the data to identify room for optimisation

This forms the foundation for continuous improvement processes (CIP) based on lean methodologies.

The key challenge is the networking of machine tools. Different machine makers use varied systems to gather and transmit operations data.

Leading manufacturers, such as Heidenheim, Siemens and Fanuc, incorporate communication software with standardised protocols to facilitate machine interconnection. However, legacy machines often use obsolete systems for data collection.

Data also needs to be aggregated and processed so that it is streamed into the MES in a consistent format.

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Forcam’s answer is to use powerful plug-ins that are relevant to the machine and control protocols. These enable consistent and reliable data transfer covering many facets of machine operation, such as alarms, tool allocation and the transmission of NC files.

Effective MES demands totally integrated data collection, with no exclusions for legacy or hard-to-connect machines.

Only by 100% data capture can management have a fully transparent, real-time view of operations and the objective information for correct decisions.

Without the necessary knowledge and experience of implementing, large scale machine integration, in-house teams, or less experienced MES vendors, may face long delays.

Forcam caution that some vendors, lacking the library of plug-ins and experience of large scale system integration, will resort to the use of third-party communication software, incurring high licence fees and an on-going additional cost.

Every company is cost driven. Ensuring expensive assets are running to full capacity with zero downtime directly effects the bottom-line.

Monitoring machines in real time brings tangible benefits:

  • Better return on capital investments
  • Real understanding of process cost
  • Predictable delivery for finished products

Britain, now is the time to invest in new technology to bring productivity up to international levels and create the platform for sustainable improvement.