Comment by Leigh Swalling
The Investment in new technology by a business is often initiated by the need to address a problem or a perceived need to improve manufacturing flow. Sometimes, there is more of a singular focus, with benefits only touching a specific area of the production line. But when you think about having a Smart Factory and Industry 4.0, what connects it all together? What data or information is provided to a business owner in order to monitor flow and results?
When investing in automation, the outcome needs to demonstrate a return-on-investment. It needs to deliver a decrease in the time it takes to produce the product, as well as an increase in the quality of the product. Overall, it needs to be simple and easy to follow.
The investment outlay required can often be viewed as a major constraint. However, consideration needs to be on the “real time saving” that the overall system provides: boosting productivity by way of increasing flow. Ideally, the system would be predictable, automated and on demand. A system like this could highlight bottlenecks in the various stages as they are forming, and allow for real-time corrections and adjustments to be made.
Many business owners have learned this the hard way after many years of lost productivity. They are running the gauntlet to find staff, especially those that have traditional tradesman skills. Meanwhile, demand continues to increase for both product and services. As a result, businesses are forced to look for technologies which allow them to remain competitive while also being time friendly and profitable.
If we improve digital communication and tighten up the various stages in production, with a view to save time, we become more efficient. We avoid employees walking around searching for missing components and we make improvements in all stages of production to maintain quality control and avoid dispatch errors. A system like this would help us enormously with training new staff, as it could include instructions that guide them through processes directly, relative to each individual stage. Most importantly, we can detect production bottlenecks early.
Perhaps, the secret is in the details around embracing systems. Systems that connect various stages, provide on-demand instructions, facilitate quality control at each individual stage, and maintain a balanced overall production line with steady flow. Simple, task orientated and measurable systems appear to be the key ingredient. Training new staff to perform a particular stage of the process needs to be uncomplicated. Furthermore, maintaining the flow by focusing on nominal, set tasks is crucial.
Many businesses have invested in technology to aid in streamlining their manufacturing, but some have not made the transition to automation. Bear in mind that the aim of automation is to boost efficiency and most importantly, reliability.
The next level of automation for your business must be dedicated to reducing cycle times by linking all the critical areas of the manufacturing process. It must be digital, intuitive, and provide the business owner a clear outlook for capacity planning. View this as the Smart Factory of tomorrow.