Roberto Priolo on the advantages of automation and why lean should embrace technology.
Reducing downtime is a very important part of any attempt of a company to improve its operations. The effects of downtime can be devastating: if a piece of equipment stops for a few minutes it’s bad enough, so it’s easy to imagine the catastrophic consequences of having a line stopping a few hours or a day.
The ability to respond quickly to issues occurring on a production line is critical to ensuring the well-being of a business and its ability to protect itself from the consequences of faulty machines that stop working.
The debate on applying technology to lean is on-going, and sometimes very heated, but there is a company that thinks it has solved the riddle. For the past four and a half years, German firm SCHAD has developed a solution that, it believes, will save a lot of money and time to companies facing downtime. EXTEND7000 is a software application that aims to improve uptime by providing a platform engineers can access from any mobile device.
“It’s applicable to different markets,” says James Hannay, senior vice president, global sales and marketing, SCHAD. “Our biggest clients are airports and large scale distribution centres. Any activity with a high volume throughput can benefit from this solution. We also have customers in the food processing industry.”
Automation comes in handy when you have a problem on a production line that needs fixing and your plant is huge. Somebody who has worked in that plant for 20 years may know every inch of it, but somebody new might struggle finding the exact location of the problem. The solution SCHAD developed offers a lot of information to the person travelling to a particular event: documents, connection to CCTV to take a first look at what they will be dealing with, maps indicating the exact location, manuals, maintenance history. The person who is picking up the alarm will be able to do it more quickly and efficiently.
“The question is, ‘How quickly can you respond?’,” says Hannay. “This product reduces human involvement and helps businesses to save money, both in terms of headcount and in terms of costs of downtime. It’s not unusual for our customers to see a reduction in downtime of around 50%.”
There are also knock-on costs to consider. If a company doesn’t meet its deadline to supply products to a customer, that’s going to be a problem. Think about lost or left-behind baggage in airports.
EXTEND7000 also provides an overview on the maintenance status of a piece of equipment. As an engineer approaches a faulty machine, he will be able to know in a few seconds when was the last time that machine was maintained. Knowing what the problem is in advance, he won’t have to travel back and forth to and from the spare parts shop, wasting time, which – as we know – is money.
SCHAD has made its debut on the UK market a couple of months ago. Hannay says there is already a lot of interest in the company’s product. “We want to catch the imagination of people in the UK,” he adds.
Christian Schad, CEO and founder of SCHAD, comments: “This is a very high-quality software developed with a very technical background. We used a very ‘German’ approach to create it, and there is a lot of know-how behind it. It was designed by engineers, which means that it’s an easy-to-use solution for anybody from jam-busters to technicians. It can also help management to identify waste and eliminate it.”
SCHAD’s plan is to connect the product to SCADA systems and PLCs, as well as making sure that no matter what brand or type of device an engineer uses, EXTEND7000 will be compatible with it. In order to expand, the company will both sell directly to customers and work with automation companies to integrate its solution within their technology.
One of the most exciting projects the company is embarked on is perhaps the supply of the solution to the new Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt airport, the major hub that in June next year will replace the three airports serving the German capital (Tempelhof, Tegel and Schönefeld). Already in use in Tegel and Schönefeld for baggage handling, EXTEND7000 will be integrated in many aspects of the automation of the new airport.
Imagine how much lean thinking could help night before the Berlin Brandenburg Airport opens, when all flights will be diverted from Tegel and Schönefeld and tonnes of material will be transported to the new location on lorries.
Editor, Lean Management Journal