Industry 4.0 • April 19, 2022

Empower the Digital Worker. Become a Smart Factory.

There is no questioning today’s need to do more with less. In the name of efficiency and automation, it makes sense why manufacturers today are investing in digital systems to increase productivity. Whether driven by a desire to adopt a digital process planning and execution system or just trying to cope with the challenges brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic and ongoing geopolitical supply chain issues, manufacturers are embracing technology to move forward. 

The challenge for many manufacturers though is where to begin their digital journey and what to focus on first. It is widely accepted that manufacturing operations are based on the combination of three critical elements:

  • People
  • Process
  • Technology

When pursuing a transformation to digital systems, the technology aspect is a given. Before you can begin to look at process improvement, however, you need to first focus on the “people” element. This applies to every manufacturer. For smaller companies, it is especially important since companies operating in this space often need to phase their efforts over several business cycles. By initially focusing on how to remove the paper from operations processes, smaller and mid-sized manufacturers can effectively start their Smart Factory program quickly with minimal upfront investment.

The Data Story – A Case for Paperless Transactions

The success of any process improvement program is dependent on everyone “rowing in the same direction, from the same boat.” When asking workers to become “digital,” they need to understand how they will benefit. This applies to everyone from the shop floor to the executive suite. 

By getting rid of paper and becoming a data-driven organization there are four immediate benefits:

  • Achieve greater standardization with production processes
  • Unlock data that has been traditionally siloed and hard to access
  • Gain visibility to the real-time data quickly so you can make better decisions 
  • Improve traceability with faster access to the right intelligence
  • Avoid manual errors or rework, to cut scrap and waste

Better Decision Making

Within limits, more data means better decisions. It is possible to monitor a process such as a machining operation with only feedback on the feed speed. But if you also monitor current draw, working temperature, and vibration you can better control the quality of the machining process as well as optimize the production rate. By collecting information automatically throughout the process and aggregating it, smoother production flows are possible with higher quality and reduced energy consumption. 

Leverage Previously Unusable Paper-based Data

When data is collected on paper it is hard to share beyond the immediate vicinity or shift. In other words, for those not physically onsite, the information will rarely be available across all operations. Until it is transcribed, often with a risk of transcription errors, it remains available only to the creator. This siloed data cannot be used to optimize the entire process. Siloed information is the most common problem cited when companies are asked what prevents them from optimizing their production lines.

Make Decisions in Real-time

The objective of any continuous process improvement project should be to get the right information to the right person at the right time. It is far better to focus time and energy on avoiding a process upset using real-time information than analyzing why an upset occurred using historical information. 

Automate Problem Solving

The tribal knowledge of how to run a factory efficiently is often held by a small fraction of the workforce. By collecting data, making it available to everyone, and allowing them to emulate the best of the best, the entire organization benefits. Understanding what works well and then using that as the basis going forward allows production to focus on continuous improvement.

By focusing on the Digital Worker as your initial Smart Factory goal you will see immediate benefits. Mid-market manufacturers can realize immediate gains which will help smooth the way for future Digital Transformation efforts.

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About the Author

Dan Miklovic

Dan Miklovic is the founder and principal analyst at Lean Manufacturing Research, LLC. He has a wealth of experience as an end-user, software vendor, consultant, and market research analyst. He led a plant applications development and implementation team at Weyerhaeuser, was a process system engineer at Scott Paper, led the network design team at a large engineering firm serving the pulp & paper and mining industries. His industry analyst experience includes roles at Gartner, Sustainable Collaborations Group, and LNS Research. He is currently a member of The Analyst Syndicate. He has authored dozens of articles, contributed to several engineering handbooks, authored a text on industrial networking, and was a co-host of World Business Review, a TV program seen on public television, CNBC, and other outlets. You may contact Dan at [email protected].

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