Digital Technology and the Future of Manufacturing
The amount of data being generated every second within today’s factories and workplaces—every nano second, to be more accurate—is staggering, and growing exponentially as more and more devices are capable of capturing, sharing, and integrating. All that data is highly useful to organizations that put a strategic plan in place to use it as the basis for more informed decisions. Think about the discrete manufacturing operation just 20 years ago: management had to essentially take a shot in the dark when asked about its productivity and profitability. Today, data coming from a single drill press can tell an owner which workers are using it improperly, whether or not its PSI is consistent, at what times during the day productivity is stalled, when maintenance will be required, and much more.
The importance of the availability of vast amounts of data—along with advances in technology, like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), robots, and more—is what’s going to give early-adopter manufacturers a distinct competitive advantage in the coming years. Taking the lead with something competitors can’t offer is especially important when you consider that the growth of manufacturing is relatively soft—profitable growth will require new customers, new products, and new markets, and the only way to achieve that is through leading-edge technology.
Putting Technology to Work
For all that data to provide the insights needed to transform your organization, though, you must create a “connected” factory—one that uses the Internet/Cloud to connect equipment, sensors, computers, and people to monitor, gather, analyze, and use that information. Factors like temperature, pressure, moisture, friction, energy use, speed, worker interaction…all of these affect productivity and performance, and identifying inefficiencies through monitoring can lead to cost-saving improvements. As an example, the Stanley Black & Decker plant in Mexico, using mobile devices and Wi-Fi, monitored multiple outputs along its production lines and was able to increase equipment effectiveness by 24 percent, labor utilization by 10 percent, and throughput by 10 percent.
Once your product is put into the hands of your customer, that connectivity and monitoring can continue to deliver benefits to both manufacturer and customer. Sensors can communicate back to the manufacturer to aid in future design and engineering. By alerting the manufacturer to issues, problems can be proactively resolved, maintenance can be planned, and next-generation designs can account for and eliminate the issue.
Tools That Communicate
A data-driven factory has all functions within the organization syncing with the same set of information, using that data to improve decision making. The entire organization and its data is integrated, from marketing and sales to distribution and customer service. Here are just a few of the ways best-in-class discrete manufacturers are using this approach to enhance performance:
- Improve the design products. Information is shared between engineering and production to reduce the cost of a part and improve its performance
- Streamline workflows. Data visibility across the supply chain pinpoints inefficiencies and leads to more efficient processes
- Reduce maintenance. Sensors embedded in equipment alert operators when failure might occur—a predictive action that could save money and eliminate associated downtime
- Control inventory. Order, fulfillment, and transportation data is used to predict inventory needs, reduce stock-outs, and eliminate overstocks
- Reduce redundancies, errors, and manual work. Today’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions integrate the data coming from each department and provide it through a single platform, so there’s just “one version of the truth”