IoT and big data may have arrived, but don’t forget the basics

IoT Internet of Things

The internet of things; 3D printing; cloud deployment, and big data may have captured the imagination and budget of many manufacturers, but amid this glamour, it's easy for the basics to fall to the bottom of the list of IT priorities, warns Andrew Kinder - industry and solution strategy director, Infor.

The shop floor is still the heart and soul of any manufacturing operation, and ignoring shop floor processes is a serious oversight.

Andrew Kinder, industry and solution strategy director, Infor.
Andrew Kinder, industry and solution strategy director, Infor.

Issues like inventory inaccuracies or idle equipment can go undetected until a major customer-affecting incident brings them to the forefront. Unexplained fluctuations in labour or material costs can suddenly escalate, affecting growth, profits and production cycles across many departments.

It is these internal workings of scheduling; planning; material handling; inventory; logistics, and time and labour tracking where most shop floor pains originate. And it is here that businesses need to deploy proven technology to avoid painful errors.

Where it starts

Managers may simply have a vague feeling that productivity isn’t “where it could be” and delays “are getting out of hand” and “something” needs to be done. Refining this instinct is the first step.

Perhaps occasional gaps in communication are delaying orders? Perhaps machines are sitting idle while shipments of raw goods are waiting to be moved from the warehouse to the floor. Perhaps the necessary components aren’t even in stock, not received from the supplier—or even worse—not ordered yet.

These types of “glitches” in production may seem like normal, necessary aspects of complex manufacturing. They are not.

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Even the small hiccups in production cycles can add up to significant impact on the bottom line.

High performing manufacturers typically have eliminated those types of nuisance errors. They know that even the small hiccups in production cycles add up to significant impact on the bottom line.

Every delay wastes resources and risks delivering orders in full and on-time to customers. This is the slippery slope that puts the manufacturer that may be difficult to stop and turn around.

Material costs

Tracking material costs is another shop floor function that is often overlooked but “felt” to be wrong.

Design engineers may specify materials and components and then project costs in the early stages of product planning and pricing. But the unseen materials costs may be forgotten and or may not be updated as processes evolve.

Running production equipment incurs costs, including preventive maintenance. Make-ready and rework uses materials. Rejected units that didn’t pass quality control have a price attached.

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With material tracking capabilities the manufacturers will not only be able to monitor the volume of goods used in production, but will be able to dive into anomalies.

With material tracking capabilities the manufacturers will not only be able to monitor the volume of goods used in production, but will be able to dive into anomalies.

Why is one shift using twice as much adhesive on packaging than the shift before? Why is Machine B scrapping more electronic components? Why did three shifts on May have a 10% increase in make-ready materials that had to be recycled?

Without the right software, a manager may simply have to observe, ask questions—or speculate. None of those options can justify difficult decisions, or achieve standardisation.

Labour and automation

Every manufacturer spends heavily on recruiting and retaining right-skilled workers. Yet in many facilities, idle personnel can be found on the shop floor.

Production crews may be on hold while they wait for the configured product specifications or confirmation from the customer on a design change. Engineers may be tasked with simple data entry and product configuration roles, while important design innovations have to wait for spare time.

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Automation improves many of these problems. The question, though, is often which tasks to automate and which to try to fill with workers.

Optimised labour management starts with understanding the current circumstances. Many manufacturers simply lack the insight on shop floor labour and how time invested relates to particular orders.

Without the ability to track labour—from shop floor, to the warehouse, to shipping—the manager is guessing at the cost of running particular machines or functions. This means billing and quotes to customers may be too low—or too high.

At the very least the automation solution should provide plant operators the right information at the right time to increase productivity.

If the plant floor operators are constantly looking for updated job packets, or if supervisors lack clear visibility to team activities, productivity is seriously being impacted—and escaping detection.

Turning the shop floor into a digital hub helps managers control workflows and streamlines processes. When workflows are tracked and monitored through integrated IT solutions, managers often see improvements in speed and productivity.

Event triggers and workflows can be created so that next steps in the production cycle are assigned automatically, eliminating the need for person to make a decision and take action.

For example, the company can track quality metrics throughout the production process (from incoming raw materials, work in progress (WIP), all the way to job receipts) with non-compliance components immediately being removed for the batch—rather than waiting until the final inspection.

Excessive quality failures can trigger a full quality audit.

Quality and recalls

Tracking abilities can also handle multi-level serial number hierarchies (end item, sub-assemblies, parts etc.); tracking material consumption; scrap rates, and machine run rates.

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Product inspections can be automated and controlled by sensors which are often far more accurate and reliable than human inspectors.

Any anomalies can trigger further reporting and inspection. Such detailed tracking of serial numbers and sub-assemblies helps automate recalls and improves adherence to regulatory mandates.

Product inspections can be automated and controlled by sensors which are often far more accurate and reliable than human inspectors.

Sensors can detect microscopic imperfections and check for weight, volume, size and density in fractions of seconds. By automating the check points, compliance with specifications and tracking reasons behind any quality infractions can be quickly dealt with.

Protecting quality and on-time delivery of goods helps ensure the manufacturer’s brand is protected. Even the manufacturer with multiple locations, sub-contractors and off shore suppliers, can rely on consistent product specification and performance.

In order to remain competitive in today’s highly global economy, it’s important for manufacturers to continually evaluate their current shop floor processes and look for opportunities for improvement.

Modern software solutions improve the capability plus give new insights to generating greater profits and increasing customer satisfaction.