Delivering business value with smart manufacturing

Posted on 9 Nov 2022 by The Manufacturer

Last month, Henry Anson, Director at Hennik Group, publishers of The Manufacturer, chaired a virtual round table discussion with key individuals from industry. Produced in collaboration with Bosch, this session was designed to drive conversations around the pivotal area of smart manufacturing.

As the voice of the manufacturing industry, these sessions, where senior figures from the sector share their first-hand experiences, are so valuable for us here at The Manufacturer. 

Huge thanks to Jonathan Wright, Automation & Electrification Product Manager at Bosch Rexroth; Guy Denis, Business Development Manager at Bosch; Steve Cartwright, Chief Engineer – Technology at the Manufacturing Technology Centre; and all the senior manufacturing leaders who made it possible. 

Harnessing and leveraging data from connected assets 

A senior executive from a multinational defence company kicked things off by asking the group if anyone had any real-world examples of companies that are harnessing OT data and actually using it to their advantage. 

Jonathan Wright cited how some of their customers are using connected asset data to drive sustainability initiatives through gamification among similar plants. 

“By leveraging and publicising the relevant data, these companies are actively instilling a culture among their plants whereby people want to better themselves. This is a powerful and novel approach”, he said. 

The MTC’s Steve Cartwright continued, highlighting how connected asset data is now also being used by robot manufacturers to identify performance discrepancies among their equipment out in the wild. 

“Robot manufacturers are now finally breaking down that cybersecurity barrier to collect the operational data for all their robots across various manufacturers. Where this becomes powerful is companies can gauge the performance of their equipment against others in the industry using the same solutions. Any discrepancies can then be investigated to ensure everyone is getting the most out of their investments”, Steve said. 

The Managing Director of a heavy equipment manufacturer then provided some fabulous insights into how they are utilising connected asset data to boost quality control. 

“Our robots have access and utilise data relating to around 3,000 different part numbers. So, as well as painting the parts the right colour, they can also identify quality issues. For example, if a part has come through that’s 3mm too long or short, the robot will pick up on that. The result is zero ppm, which is incredible”, he said. 

This segment of the discussion was concluded by a senior executive from a British multinational consumer goods company, who highlighted the importance of keeping things simple when it comes to taking advantage of data. 

“When you begin to analyse all of the connected data you are harvesting and tracking, you may realise that you are in an exponentially complicated situation”, he said. 

“So, if you have a very dynamic, complex environment, then you probably need to cut it down into much smaller pieces before you attempt to join up all the dots”, he added. 

Smart manufacturing stock image - shutterstock

By leveraging and publicising the relevant data, companies can actively instill a culture among their plants whereby people want to better themselves. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

The evolution of the maintenance function 

The conversation then switched to how all the data and digitisation is transforming specific functions within manufacturing organisations. Maintenance was one example cited, with a Maintenance Lead outlining how his teams are witnessing their roles shift significantly. 

“We’re going to be 300% more digital than we’ve ever been. We’ll have the ability to mine data relating to and report on all kinds of metrics. I’ll own the landscape that reports on business success, so to speak. From a maintenance point of view, we’re expected to maintain all of that. 

“We will be able to report on everything from condition-based monitoring outputs to the number of finished products we produce and the quality output. The challenge I’m facing is how to equip my teams to be able to take on this level of complexity in the future”, he said. 

Steve Cartwright said it’s a reality they come across regularly at the MTC.  

“What will a day in the life of a maintenance engineer look like in five years’ time?” is a question we keep asking ourselves, he said.  

Steve added that the maintenance engineers of tomorrow are the younger generations that are coming through now. A huge opportunity exists to shape their training, which means it likely won’t be the same as their predecessors 15-20 years ago. 

“We’ve seen great success with gamification. There are tools available that help younger engineers relate to modern technology controls”, he said. 

By making the right data available in an intuitive format, maintenance engineers’ jobs can be made a lot easier. For example, analytical data could be presented to a maintenance engineer in a way that enables them to make a more informed decision or choice as to the best course of action to take. It could be something as simple as quickly directing the engineer to the right cabinet or control panel.  

So, two huge pieces of the puzzle are training and data, which is why the MTC is putting significant effort into these areas with its partners. 

Guy Denis followed up by saying that the data produced by equipment and the warnings it can feed, are pivotal. For example, a machine might flag an alert that it is running too hot or fast, putting it at risk of failure. Maintenance engineers can then proactively resolve an issue before it even becomes a problem.  

In the event of a defect occurring, the equipment can even provide the engineer with further details, including part numbers, where to order or where to find in the stores. All this kind of information makes the maintenance engineer’s job that much easier and more efficient. 

Steve Cartwright was keen to emphasise that traditional core skills should never be lost. There will always be the need to fault find, replace a cable and/or get a spanner out. The “future is multi-skilled”, he said. 

Chair’s summary 

I’d like to thank Jonathan and Guy from Bosch and Steve from the MTC for helping make this event possible. I’d also like to express my immense gratitude to the senior manufacturing leaders who gave up their time to attend.  

In addition to the in-depth points outlined above, here are some of the key points I took away from the event: 

  • We need to leverage the knowledge base from both the operations and IT departments within manufacturing firms, working together is what makes the difference. 
  • Make no assumptions about what data is important. 
  • Sometimes it is as simple as taking a step back to reassess the true requirements before you begin/continue, and ensuring the foundations are set before you can start to overcome your challenges. 
  • The technology is available to enable people to become key players and make good use of the data. It’s about finding the right people and the right approach to help us with the end goal. 
  • You can’t improve what you’re not measuring. 

Bosch as a global manufacturer has implemented “Smart Factory” I4.0 and IoT programmes in most of its own production facilities and would welcome sharing the business outcomes attained from these programs. If you are interested in learning more, please contact either Guy Denis or Jonathan Wright.