Smart Manufacturing: When & What to Connect in your Factory?
Smart manufacturing was once considered an utopia for tech enthusiasts, but is currently a standard among top-tier manufacturing companies.
This digital transformation of the industrial sector has ambitious goals and is now part of the collective imagination. However, although IIoT will without a doubt unlock major opportunities in a very near future for all manufacturers gifted with a real growth mindset, a lot of small businesses have not yet taken a first step in the fourth industrial revolution.
In order to help your company enjoy smart manufacturing benefits like assets performance improvements, better operational efficiency and many more, the following article will help you to figure out what should be connected in your factory and more importantly; when ?
First, you need a clear vision.
Data has the power to change everything, but can you & your team clearly identify what you need to change in the first place?
Indeed, without defined and agreed goals, it is hard to set the right KPIs...and without them, you can expect to easily get lost in an ocean of data.
Now, let's say your main quarterly objective is to reduce unplanned production shutdowns by 10%; where would you start? A typical answer is usually either with the production unit that interrupts your production flow more often or the one that's in charge of a bigger production load.
Yet, none of these are good answers because your objective is not clear enough. How do you measure unplanned production shutdowns? In time? In quantity of goods produced by the hour? In number of shutdowns? Answering this question from the start will greatly help you determine where to focus your energy first.
Once your vision is clear, the "what to connect" suddenly becomes an easy question, but the following factors weigh in favor of faster treatment:
- Equipment that operate continuously (24/7), because their malfunction impacts the following shifts;
- Machines that deal with expensive raw materials that are perishable, because their malfunction costs your company more;
- Bottlenecks, because they are the only reason why your whole production line can't produce more;
- Availability of wifi or existing network, because it requires less preparation to connect;
- Almost obsolete equipment that needs imminent replacement. Before going forward with the expense and the trouble of disturbing your daily operations and having to coach all your employees, validate that you are truly using it to its maximum capacity. You might be surprised by the result of monitoring it closely and you can probably wait a bit longer for that new piece of equipment;
- One production line among three similar production lines underperforms. When performances that should be equal are not, it might also human-related, so it's critical to discover the best practices of your top performing team to coach the other teams and boost your overall efficiency.
Next, remember that lean is smart.
Transitioning from traditional to smart manufacturing is a significant engagement and should always be implemented with incremental steps. The main reason why a slow & experimental approach should be prioritized is to find your business' "when to connect". Indeed, digitizing your whole production represents a considerable investment that could be very profitable on the long run... or not. So, instead of going all-in from the start with an overkill solution, why not start with one production line and see how it goes?
That way, your team can gradually get used to new ways of doing things and have some time to master their latest tools before the solution's ROI is correctly evaluated.
The ROI should be positive, so the "when to connect" question will likely become a "connect ASAP" answer. Even if your company's cashflow is tight, you might have to wait for your next year's budget, but at least you still figured out the "when".
And if ever your ROI is negative, it wasn't too expensive to test PLUS you have some data on which to rely while planning your next move.
Then, why should you connect your factory?
Although this article is supposed to deal mainly with the what and when to connect your production lines questions, without the why, the previous answers listed above can be debated and the project postponed. Here is a summary of the main reasons why smart manufacturing is best for your business:
Improving uptime by reducing downtime
When your production lines are connected, their information is compiled in real time, which reduces your team's reaction time to unplanned production shutdowns. It also becomes easy to figure out earlier when some machines are slowing their whole production line and to set alerts triggered as soon as the predetermined standards are not respected.
Reducing the cost of production per unit
Less downtime means greater efficiency which also means your company could increase production volumes with existing resources. It seems obvious, but spreading your costs through more units reduces your cost/unit. Everybody wins: it’s great for your bottom line and the planet.
Unlocking IIoT potential
Connecting your production lines to a database & automating data collection allows greater operational efficiency and productivity gains. This is a crucial step to become a smart factory, but the real value lies in what follows, like collaboration between humans & machines, new business models around products-as-a-service, pay-per-use models and monetization of data.
Many more benefits could currently be listed, but these should be sufficient to understand the value of IIoT. And, the best part? The Industrial Internet of Things era has just begun.
The fourth industrial revolution is happening with or without your company.
If you are still reading this, it's safe to think that digitizing your production & updating your processes is truly important for you... and you are right! Manufacturing companies must be aware that taking a step into the fourth industrial revolution is less of a risk than the status quo in such a competitive and globalized marketplace.
In order to begin your smart manufacturing journey, remember that it is critical to be laser-focused when targeting your business objectives. Then, starting small will increase the likelihood of the project's acceptance by all members of the top management team, because it's not expensive and it's an easy-to-implement project.
Finally, prior to this blog post, you probably already knew that becoming a smart factory is a mandatory step towards achieving manufacturing excellence. However, if it's not the case for some of your colleagues, please remind them that IIoT has been shown to reduce costs, improve efficiency, unlock new opportunities, increase the business value of IT and much more ...
... or have them read it by themselves.