Continuous Improvement is a method utilized to identify opportunities for streamlining work and reducing waste. It consists of strategies and techniques that when utilized together can help bring processes to optimal levels of effectiveness and efficiency. Continuous Improvement managers are responsible for the application of process improvement methodologies such as lean principles that lead to the improvement of processes. They work inside the factory along with front-line workers in order to understand processes, implement strategies for improvement and monitor progress.
Traditionally, concepts such as Six Sigma, Kaizen activities and Total Quality Management are put in practice by Continuous Improvement Managers. These managers establish and push a Continuous Improvement culture throughout the organization they may work in, and serve as coaches to all parties involved in the drive for efficiency and effectiveness.
With the rise of Industry 4.0, Continuous Improvement managers have been integrating new technologies and strategies into their work. In particular, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has been of great help for Continuous Improvement efforts. A subset of IIoT technologies is Smart Factory Analytics. Smart Factory Analytics is the usage of data collection devices, such as sensors or machinery APIs, and cloud software to gather data about and analyze and enhance the performance of different processes in production. Data stored in the cloud software can be accessed by different working parties and provided in job specific dashboards, speeding up information sharing and decision making. Examples of the successful application of IIoT technologies in manufacturing can be found here.
IIoT technologies are transforming the manufacturing industry and its presence in production plants is rapidly increasing. In a recent survey by IIoT world, “90% of respondents said it will have either a significant or tremendous global impact" on manufacturing.
Due to its numerous benefits, leaders in the industry are investing in IIoT technologies and using them as a Continuous Improvement advantage. In the same survey referenced above, 20% of manufacturing and related businesses surveyed indicated that they will be investing in IIoT technologies this year, while 77% indicate that that they have IIoT initiatives already moving.
IIoT technology can give manufacturers insight into their current and future operations, allowing them to find areas of improvement and take action. Real time data collection removes human errors and allows staff to react to facts, which is important for improvement efforts. Installing IIoT technologies, and utilizing them properly and to their full advantage, will provide a great number of benefits to Continuous Improvement managers and teams.
It is important to recognize the fact that Continuous Improvement is becoming more and more of a hybrid between human intelligence and digital intelligence.
Below we list the main benefits these technologies can have in Continuous Improvement efforts:
- Visibility: connected devices along with data analytics programs allow for great visibility into production processes and their performance. They give Continuous Improvement managers real-time insight into the flow, status and state of key items and machinery in the process. Continuous Improvement managers can efficiently apply testing of process enhancements and get fast feedback on the impact, leading to faster iteration cycles, quicker improvements and accelerated ROI. Not only is there real time visibility, but having access to data that’s continuously gathered for analysis can allow for spotting trends that might otherwise remain invisible.
- Insights: by improving visibility, Continuous Improvement managers are capable of collecting insights much faster and easier, however IIoT technology not only helps managers understand and keep track of processes, but also identify areas of improvement that may exist in them. By building, holding and analyzing a historical set of data, managers and workers can identify patterns and trends in quality, throughput and efficiency. The more data is collected and analyzed from the production line, the more robust the sample sizes obtained to help manufacturers gain actionable insights, so they can make informed decisions for reducing waste and improving safety and product quality.
- Predictive Maintenance: one of the best benefits IIoT offers for Continuous Improvement managers is the capability to understand future events and perform predictive maintenance on their assets. Sensors that monitor equipment and predict when future downtimes might occur enable companies to proactively address potential problems before equipment fails, eliminating unnecessary maintenance and downtime. Digital diagnostics can identify a necessary repair, and connected tools may be programed to fix equipment without human intervention. The Continuous Improvement managers’ job is to make sure processes become leaner with the passing of each day, and visibility into the future certainly helps in achieving this. IIoT allows Continuous Improvement managers and manufacturers to be systematic and strategic, rather than have them react when problems occur. Integration of connected equipment, data and analysis help managers achieve higher quality standards and more control over their processes. Tackling breakdowns before they occur lower downtimes and increase the reliability of machinery. This lowers both waste and cost and contribute towards leaner processes overall.
- Process optimization: having access to numerous metrics, KPIs, forecasts and predictive simulations helps Continuous Improvement managers fix inefficiencies, avoid future deviations and become more responsive and effective overall. The high level of visibility to data, and insights gained from these, allow managers to more effectively strategize on ways to improve OEE, identify bottlenecks, save energy and reduce costs. Artificial intelligence (AI) is another aspect of IIoT that can aid in Continuous Improvement. IIoT technologies can include machine learning algorithms, where machinery learn by assimilation as more data is collected, eventually optimizing processes they performed without being programmed to do so. Machine learning can result in machines behaving as virtual assistants, guiding managers and workers through Continuous Improvement activities before operators even acknowledge these.
- Integration: one of the most important strategies Continuous Improvement managers must follow is the growth of a Continuous Improvement culture among workers. Employees should be trained and mentored, but granted ownership of their process at the same time. A successful Continuous Improvement program is one that focuses on the people (the employees) instead of focusing merely on the actions they should take. Line operators should be engaged in gathering information for later analysis and reporting problems as they encounter them. Plant and production-level workers are an important resource and should be trained and involved in Continuous Improvement efforts. IIoT technologies allow workers across an organization to visualize and analyze operational performance, and generate ideas for improvement. From manual data collection methods, which are usually slow and prone to human error, workers now can gather data faster and easier. Training and access to IIoT technologies and integrated systems empower the workforce to make powerful data-driven decisions and drive improvements. IIoT brings managers closer to front-line workers and permits them to gain insight on the process from people that know it best, improving communication and decision making.
Overall, IIoT technology allows for easier implementation of Continuous Improvement strategies.
It allows Continuous Improvement managers and their workers to better understand the setting in which they work as well as all of the possible impacts and tradeoffs in their decisions. Proper integration of the IIoT into Continuous Improvement efforts can lead to higher throughput, OEE and product quality, less downtimes and lower operating costs and energy waste. IIoT allows managers to have more control over their processes and enjoy numerous benefits. It is improving lean manufacturing exponentially, and its integration is only becoming more rapid.
The ability to gather and analyze large amounts of data will only continue to advance lean manufacturing and give manufacturers and Continuous Improvement managers the control they need to improve processes in ways they have never been able to before.
Interested in learning what Worximity IIoT technology can do for your Continuous Improvement efforts? Schedule a demo today!