Data collection offers manufacturing clarity for UK firm

The real-time insights offered by robust data collection processes are already paying dividends for John Guest, a world-leading UK plumbing systems manufacturer.

With output now measured in the millions, the company has turned to automation to help meet growing demand - image courtesy of John Guest.
John Guest has always had a proactive approach to developing and investing in new technologies – image courtesy of John Guest.

John Guest has always had a proactive approach to developing and investing in new technologies, and is now “dipping a toe” in the world of big data, data collection and analytics.

The West Drayton-headquartered, family-owned business has become renowned for its innovative ‘Push-Fit’ technology, a concept used in all its connections and currently exported to countries across Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australasia.

The business has recently installed an overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) system in its dedicated machine shop, chosen because it’s a small, self-contained unit of 14 machines. The project is expected to serve as a pilot and allow directors to quantify the benefits with the aim of a much broader roll-out in the future.

It’s a project which is already offering benefits, according to Peter Short, the business’ director of manufacturing, who recently sat down with The Manufacturer.

He explained: “One of the main benefits of data collection and analytics on the manufacturing side is clarity of what is actually going on. You make assumptions about people and machines performing their roles properly, but it’s quite difficult to know for sure. However, as soon as you can see visibly via data that someone or something isn’t performing, you can deal with it.

“We are already seeing a 5-10% productivity improvement through the OEE pilot in our machine shop. More than anything, the benefits relate to downtime. Almost all our machines are fully automated and we have technicians conducting regular patrols to ensure each is performing as expected. However, the OEE system isn’t just picking up what’s underperforming, it’s also informing as to why.

“The machine shop runs lights-out at night. We are getting to see exactly when machines are stopping with far greater clarity and understanding exactly what’s going on. The other, more hidden improvements come on the admin side of things, largely through not having to capture all the information manually via clipboard and pen, which represents a significant timesaving.”

Introducing the OEE pilot did create some initial resistance in the machine shop, with the team expressing feelings of being under constant surveillance. However, the concerns were quickly recognised and addressed by the management team.

Short commented: “The cultural change is so much more difficult to overcome, and the key really lies in embracing staff, getting them involved right at the outset and clearly communicating what’s is going to happen and why.

“We asked the team to provide input into how the display screen looks in order for them to appreciate the benefit of having it. That was really important in achieving buy-in early on.”