This image illustrates a factory with smart technology. The image represents the benefits of smart manufacturing.

3 Vital Benefits of Smart Manufacturing

3 Vital Benefits of Smart Manufacturing

There’s an extensive list of smart manufacturing benefits and many ways that smart manufacturing can add value to a company. Today, there is a “smart” everything and manufacturing companies are not getting left behind on this trend. Technology continues to advance at a quick pace in the 21st century. We have smartphones, smart TVs, but that’s old news at this point. Now we have smart lightbulbs, smart toasters, smart dental floss dispensers. Yeah, I’m not kidding, go ahead and look it up yourself.

10-15 years ago, you didn’t need to have a smartphone. It was cool to have and useful to a lot of people, but you weren’t weird or behind the times if you didn’t have one. Flash forward to today, you are completely lost without a smartphone. Can’t do a quick google search from your pocket-sized computer? Can’t check your email? Get directions anywhere in the world? We can’t live without these things today. Smartphones started as a cool option for people that wanted to spend a little extra money, now nobody can function without them.

Old phone showing how the world has changed into a "smart" everything.My point being, the world is getting digitized, the world is getting “smart.” The manufacturing sector is no exception. Many manufacturers still choose to ignore the benefits of smart manufacturing, IIoT, and Industry 4.0, and those are ones that will get left behind. Just like that big, bulky Nokia 3310 you used to carry around.

In this article, I will go over a few key benefits of smart manufacturing that you should be implementing in your factory today so that you can “future proof” your company.

1. Increased Plant Floor Efficiency with Real-time Data

Every manufacturer needs to focus on increasing efficiency. Nobody has a completely perfect process, or anywhere near one. There will always be places to squeeze out more throughput, increase capacity, cut back on downtime, etc. Manufacturers need to have a continuous improvement mindset. Be proactive about making improvements on the plant floor, and establish that type of culture among the company.

  • Make Quick Decisions and Take Action

It’s really hard to make improvements that actually help when you don’t have much substance or information to base your decisions on. Furthermore, it’s tough to measure success without seeing the numbers. How do you really know if the adjustment you made helped or not? If it did help, how much did it help?

This is where smart manufacturing benefits you and can step in to lend a hand. IIoT and manufacturing analytics systems are smart manufacturing solutions that are equipped with the ability to deliver real-time data. Real-time data gives you the substance to make quick decisions and then act on those decisions to make quick adjustments on the plant floor. Then, measure the success instantly with, again, real-time data.

  • Don’t Get Stuck in the Past

Don't get stuck in the past, focus on the future.

Think about how long this process would take as well as the accuracy if you had to have someone manually gather basic data on the plant floor, and deliver that basic, hopefully accurate data to a decision-maker in a somewhat timely manner. Sort of? hopefully? That data is getting there many hours, if not a couple of days later.

This is one of the major benefits of smart manufacturing, this process can be streamlined. These types of solutions are what the “trendy” manufacturers are turning to. As I said previously, some other manufacturers are willingly choosing to ignore these advancements in technology. Soon, it won’t be “trendy”, it will be the standard. Companies will either have to adapt and change to the new ways of manufacturing, or they will watch competing companies continue to grow past them. There is always someone out there willing to do your job better, cheaper, and faster, and today, the tools are readily available for people to take advantage.

Just like the smartphone example. Yes if you have a “dumb” phone, you could drive to a gas station, buy a map, and then go find where you are trying to go. Or, with a smartphone, you could type your destination address in and be on your way in 10 seconds. It’s the same concept with smart manufacturing.

data delivered instantly in real-time, nobody walking around the shop floor handing out information, gathering information, no operators stopping work to write down their data during a shift. Not only is this a slow and inefficient process, but it’s also poor communication, how often does that data get to anybody else on the plant floor? especially in a timely manner for that data to actually be useful.

2. Seamless Communication

Our second key smart manufacturing benefit is communication. This is one that not many people really talk about or make a big deal about. However, smart manufacturing revolutionizes the way people communicate with workmates, customers, machines, and data.

This image illustrates communication, seamless communication is one of the key smart manufacturing benefits.

Here’s why this is so important. Wasted time and wasted motion = lost production and an efficient process. This goes against lean principles, and every manufacturer should strive to become a lean manufacturer. Strive to eliminate waste and create a highly efficient environment. Smart manufacturing can have a large impact on a variety of different communication scenarios such as:

Machines to Employees:

  • Machines deliver data in real-time, constantly delivering information to operators and other employees. This information is instantly made available to each person within the company. 

Employees to Machines:

  • Employees and operators can consume real-time data to make a data-driven decision and make adjustments on the plant floor. 

Sales team to Customers: 

  • When customers call for an update on their job or a progress update, the sales representative can look at the data in real-time and give the customer an extremely accurate data-based answer with detail on how much is done, how much is left, and when they can expect delivery. With every metric being updated in real-time. 

The communication benefits of smart manufacturing are tremendous and will undoubtedly save you a headache here and there, create a more knowledgeable staff, and improve customer relationships.

Before you start tracking these types of processes, you likely don’t realize how much time and money you could be saving. We have come across clients that have told us that they have people in the company that are consistently spending half of their day running around the plant floor trying to find a certain order for a customer. What a waste of valuable time!

With a smart manufacturing IIoT / Manufacturing analytics solution, you can give customers accurate real-time adjusted numbers instead of giving a rough estimate based on your best judgment, or going to run around the shop floor to deliver an answer a few hours later.

Efficient processes = more production, more production = more time for more clients, good communication = happy customers, happy customers = return customers, and all of this = more revenue in less time.

3. Smart Manufacturing Creates more JobsThis picture illustrates the workforce problems in manufacturing.

Some people will say that automation is going to take over human jobs in manufacturing and that IIoT is going to turn everything into an automated process putting everyone out of work. This is not the case at all. While it is true that there are some jobs that will likely be largely handled by machines, IIoT and smart manufacturing creates more jobs.

It’s no secret that there is a shortage of skilled employees in the manufacturing sector. The industry is filled with a lot of people closing in on retirement. Furthermore, there isn’t a large number of young people that want to go into the manufacturing industry. What do young people want? Tech jobs (source). There is a lot of young people that want to do something related to tech. That is where everything is headed, technology drives our world today. Correspondingly, what will all of these smart manufacturers need? They will need people to fill these new jobs created by smart manufacturing and smart factories. See where I’m going here?

Manufacturers will have new needs for people who can work with new technology, software, and data.

So, no, smart manufacturing and IIoT are not going to take away manufacturing jobs. It is creating new, different jobs, jobs that might be more appealing to the younger generation. These new jobs will help boost up the manufacturing workforce, which desperately needs the help.

These three benefits of smart manufacturing are huge, and they are shaping the future of the industry. Start implementing them today. Put yourself ahead of the curve and don’t get stuck in the old ways of manufacturing.

Use Lean Principles to reduce waste and improve efficiency in this factory.

An Essential Tool to Help You Follow Lean Principles

Lean Principles in Manufacturing

What are “the” Lean principles in manufacturing? There’s a lot of key aspects and rules that go into lean manufacturing, and five main principles you should strive to follow-

  1. Define Value

  2. Map the Value Stream 

  3. Create Flow

  4. Establish Pull

  5. Pursue Perfection

If you want more detailed information on these five principles, we have a separate article that gives a more in-depth breakdown, check it out here.

This time I will do the opposite, and try to sum everything up in a more simple, easy-to-read format.

When following lean principles- you are looking for waste, scrap, and people’s motion. Your ultimate goal as a lean manufacturer is to eliminate as much waste as possible and create a highly efficient environment.

In this article, we will talk about how you can utilize IIoT to give you a massive boost in accomplishing your lean manufacturing goals.

Why IIoT is your Best Friend when trying to Follow Lean Principles

How does IIoT assist in your lean manufacturing efforts? Remember your goal in lean is to eliminate as much waste as you possibly can. IIoT helps you measure that waste, it’s an enabler for lean. You still have to find out what to adjust or what to fix, but IIoT can gather the data you need to make these decisions. IIoT also gathers data in an extremely efficient manner, eliminating wasted time with inefficient manual data entry. If you put a large emphasis on following lean principles but have an inefficient way of gathering data, it can be a little contradictory. Its simple, inefficient processes create more waste. IIoT systems have the ability to efficiently deliver real-time data. This provides a substantial amount of value and falls right in line with lean principles.

Common Issues that IIoT can Help with

One common issue that we see frequently, is understanding downtime and downtime awareness. Every manufacturer has to deal with downtime whether it’s planned or unplanned downtime. There are always going to be stoppages on the plant floor. Being able to really understand the reasons for downtime is something that most manufacturers should put more effort into.

IIoT can provide you with the information that you need in a simple way so that you can begin to pick up on tendencies and understand what is causing downtime on the plant floor.

Here are a couple of real-life examples that we have seen ourselves here at Ectobox. Each of these clients had lean issues that could be fixed with an IIoT system and gathering real-time data on the plant floor.

Client 1

This client produced a lot of home health products and filled gel caps. Some of the guys on the plant floor said their machine should be producing 3000 products in x amount of time, but they were only getting 2100. They were asking “where is my remaining 30% capacity?” They want to and need to understand where the lost production is coming from. It could be attributed to materials not showing up to the machine on time, in this specific case it could be the powder they were using to fill the gel caps, it could be cleaning the machine, or inadequate maintenance. The list goes on, there are many factors that could be causing this loss in production.

How do you determine the real cause? Start trying different fixes one by one and hope for the best? That would be a huge waste of time and resources. What they needed was an IIoT system to extract deep sets of big data directly from the equipment in real-time. With this information, they could see the root cause of the problem. Then, they made an educated, data-driven decision to improve capacity.

Client 2

This company was polishing large sheets of sheet metal. This process included using a big machine that has 21 stages and each stage has 4 buffing pads. One of the key parameters was the distance between the sheets as they are fed into the machine because if the buffing pads were level, they would go right from one sheet to the next. If there is a gap between the sheets, the buffing pad will dip down and then ride back up once it hits the next sheet that was just a little too far away. This would damage the edges of these sheets, creating a lot of scrap. Having the data to find these problems and make small adjustments can yield big results. If they didn’t make this minor adjustment, correcting the spacing between the sheets, they would be left with a large number of damaged products and lost revenue.

At this same company, two of their key decision-makers told us that they spend half of their day running around the shop floor trying to figure out where orders are – “Did they start yet? How far into the process are they?”

This company typically had 24-48 hour turnaround times for most of their orders so this happened a lot.

They would get calls asking- “Did my job stop? How many sheets are done? When can I expect delivery?” Right now, they have people that run out to the shop floor, figure out which machine the job being run on, ask the operator how many sheets they have run, come back and type up an email, then send it to the salesperson, then the salesperson finally communicates to the customer.

This is a lot of inefficient motion. Too much travel time, too many people to go through, and overall a very inefficient process. With IIoT, all of this information would be readily available to each person in real-time, whenever they need it. This aspect of IIoT alone could double the daily workflow for this company.

More IIoT Benefits

In-Process Status

In-process status is huge and this is a great example of why. Not necessarily a problem you run into, but it is very useful and will improve your process.

The process that the second company was using was highly inefficient. It also looked bad to the customer because it seems unorganized. IIoT systems can automate this process so that you won’t have people running around all over the shop floor multiple times every day, and customers can receive accurate updates and delivery times.

Reasons for Scrap

Reducing scrap is cost-saving, but also a time saver. If you are having trouble delivering products on time that means you don’t have time to do these things once, let alone twice.

Understanding Root Causes

IIoT helps drive your efforts in following lean principles by assisting in understanding the root cause of problems on the plant floor. What’s driving the scrap or rework? Knowing that you have a problem tells you where you need to focus. Understanding the root cause helps you fix the problem.

Conclusion

IIoT helps you follow lean principles by delivering real-time data in an efficient manner. At the end of the day, you have to remember the main goal of lean manufacturing- Eliminating waste and creating an efficient manufacturing process. Use IIoT to improve plant floor efficiency, deliver information on time, acquire accurate real-time data, use that data to communicate to customers, make adjustments to reduce waste, and improve your overall manufacturing process.

Graphic illustrating proper vs improper production downtime tracking.

Improper Production Downtime Tracking is Flattening Your Profits

Improper Production Downtime Tracking is Flattening Your Profits

How accurate is your production downtime tracking? Are you even tracking production downtime? Do you have a good idea of how much production downtime is costing you each week, month, year?

Consultants believe 4 out of 5 manufacturers (80%!!) are unable to accurately estimate their downtime (source). This is a crazy number because downtime is a leading cause of lost revenue in manufacturing. What’s even scarier, is when you look at the statistics for how much money production downtime is costing manufacturers on average.

Over 7  years ago in 2014, the average cost of downtime per hour across all businesses was $164,000 (source). If I was losing $164,000 per hour for any reason, I know for a fact that I would want to know exactly how and why right away. In addition, I would do everything in my power to minimize such a costly event in the future. Now, don’t let that first number sink in. Just two years later in 2016, that number jumped to $260,000 per hour on average across all businesses. That was 5 years ago, I’ll leave it up to you to determine where you think that number might be today in 2021.

That is a lot of money, there’s no questioning that. But, how many hours of downtime will a company encounter each year on average? 800 hours. Want to know what 800 x $260,000 is? Neither do I, I’ll just say that there are 9 digits in that number, and the first number is not a 1. 800 hours might sound like a lot, but when you break it down, you see how quickly it all adds up.

Why Aren’t Manufacturers Paying Attention to Production Downtime Tracking?

If production downtime is so expensive, why don’t most manufacturers have accurate and detailed data regarding their own downtime within their own facility, if any data at all? It’s tough to formulate a clear answer to this question.

A large number of manufacturers get stuck in their old ways. They have been doing business a certain way for decades successfully and see no reason to make a change now. The problem here is that decades ago, data was not a big part of manufacturing. There really were no tools or technology available to pull a large amount of data from machines and equipment. Consequently, there was not a huge amount of machine optimization or emphasis on increasing the efficiency of current equipment on the plant floor.

Today, it’s an entirely different story. The entire world has been going through a digital transformation. New technology everywhere, and this produces a lot of data. You need to find a way to access this data that is trapped inside of these devices that are loaded with technology, and just need to be unlocked. Companies like Facebook have thrived off of data. They have grown and scaled their business by gathering data and making informed data-driven decisions based on that information.

What does this mean for the manufacturing industry, and production downtime tracking? How can you leverage today’s tools and technology to improve the way you do business?

Leverage Today’s tools for Better Manufacturing and Better Business

The manufacturing industry is vastly different than what it was some years ago. Today, there are tools and technology that help with production downtime tracking, plant floor efficiency, increased throughput, and many other things. Do you need tools that help in these areas, or are they just icing on the cake?

The short answer is yes, you do need them if you want to keep growing your company in 2021 and into the future. The manufacturing industry is growing more competitive. It’s a challenge today to find good employees, draw in new clients, and improve your manufacturing process.

Industry 4.0 has brought new principles to manufacturing. While industry 3.0 focused on machine automation and computerization, industry 4.0 emphasized data and using data to improve business processes. Yes, we know that we can automate machines to take over a lot of the manufacturing work and activities that humans would otherwise have to handle manually. But now, it’s time to start refining and improving these processes. Gather data, and make data-driven decisions to improve operations across the plant floor.

Along with industry 4.0, came an abundance of industry 4.0 capable tools. IIoT systems are one of those industry 4.0 tools that can assist you in improving your process.

IIoT Can Give You the Edge You Need

These IIoT systems can be implemented into any factory, even on machines 30, 40, 50 years old. These systems pull data directly out of the machines and equipment on the plant floor and deliver that information to operators and decision-makers in real-time. This changes the way we do manufacturing. Instead of having a person walk around the plant floor and recording data on a spreadsheet and then hopefully getting that “accurate” information to the right people at some point, you can receive data instantly and make the adjustments right then and there.

Imagine the difference it would make to have access to real-time data giving you insight on production downtime tracking, how much scrap you have, how much throughput, predictive maintenance insights, and asset utilization just to name a few areas IIoT can help.

IIoT delivers information to all decision-makers in a timely manner. You gain the ability to see exactly where you need to improve instantly so that you can make an adjustment, and then see if that adjustment helped or not right away.

Before systems like this were available, it was much harder to gain real insight into the plant floor. Furthermore, it was near impossible to see how adjustments are affecting production in real-time. Production downtime gets extremely expensive. You need to be doing everything you can to continually, and proactively make improvements to give yourself the competitive edge.

Final Thoughts on Production Downtime Tracking

Production downtime is a leading cause of lost revenue for manufacturing companies. Yet, the vast majority of manufacturers struggle to accurately estimate and minimize downtime. Companies are losing millions of dollars from production downtime each year. For an industry with so many moving parts and people, it’s essential to track processes, make improvements, and do everything you can to get the most out of your equipment.

Set yourself apart, be that 1 out of every 5 manufacturers that are aware, and can accurately estimate downtime. Leverage the tools and technology available today to gather accurate real-time data. Make data-driven decisions to improve business processes, and climb past your competitors.

Graphic illustrating the development of a digital strategy vs digital transformation. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Develop a solid strategy to complete a successful digital transformation.

Digital Strategy vs Digital Transformation: Are you Forgetting one?

Digital Strategy vs Digital Transformation: Are you Forgetting one?

Digital Strategy vs Digital Transformation. The benefits of a successful digital transformation in manufacturing are near endless. It opens a lot of doors once you have a truly connected factory. If you look around, the entire world has been going through a digital transformation during the last couple of decades. For the most part throughout the world, the change is welcomed, everyone appreciates the benefits they receive. Digital transformation streamlines a lot of processes, saves time, creates easier communication, and makes many day-to-day activities much more convenient. We can order groceries to our doorstep with a few clicks on our phone, we can communicate with anyone in the world in real-time whenever we want, we can receive alerts on our phones when somebody walks up to our front door.

Why should anything be different within the manufacturing sector? Why do some companies completely reject digital transformation in manufacturing?

The vast majority of people would likely agree that digital transformation has made life easier, especially in the workplace. So why would some companies in the manufacturing sector, workplaces with lots of people and moving parts, choose not to move from Industry 3.0 with automation of machines but still many manual business processes and data trapped in machines, to Industry 4.0 and automating the business and driving decisions based on data and information? Well, it has a lot to do with strategy, digital strategy vs digital transformation. In this article we will cover why some companies reject digital transformation, and what you need to do to complete a successful digital transformation.

Why Some Manufacturing Companies Reject Digital Transformation

There have been a lot of failed digital transformation projects, some by very well-known companies such as GE and Ford. The reasons for failure all have one common theme, they lack some part of the overall strategy. When you are digitizing your company, the overall goal is not to include as much new technology as you can. The technology can help you get there, but it’s a tool to help you, not the complete solution. With that being said, here are some reasons that some companies fail, or choose to reject digital transformation-

  • Unclear Goals
  • Single Project
  • Projects Aren’t Agile
  • Wrong Technology
  • Resistance Within the Company
  • No Culture Change
  • Focusing on the Technology Challenge, not the Business Challenge

Unclear Goals

It’s not beneficial to digitize your company just for the sake of digitizing. Many companies fail the digitization process because they fail to set clear goals and expectations. They might have been going through a digital transformation because they thought that was the next step and the future of manufacturing. While this is true, it is important to innovate with new technology to keep a competitive edge, companies need to define clear goals and make sure that everything they are doing is helping them achieve those goals.

Single Project

Digital Transformations are not a single, one-time event. As said above, there are a lot of moving parts in a manufacturing company and many people to work with when making the transition. Change takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Digital Transformation at GE or Ford or even for Bob’s Precision Metals shop, for that matter.

Projects Aren’t Agile

When implementing Digital Transformation projects, as already stated, it will take time to change a whole company and to change the hearts and minds of the people at that manufacturing company. Therefore, change in the company must be incremental, one project at a time.

Wrong Technology

All too often companies will see the flashy sales brochures of companies that provide the silver bullet products…the product that will take care of the whole digital transformation. “Just buy our whole stack of products that integrate together seamlessly and your issues will be taken care of.” That is a proprietary approach to a solution. Rest assured there’ll be a very hefty price tag for that full stack of products as well.

This is one example of the wrong choices that are made in digital transformations around technology. We use 4 rules or tenets to figure out what technology to use (Report by Exception, Edge Driven, Light Weight, and Open Technology). The resulting solution ends up being highly scalable and flexible, at less than half the cost of proprietary solutions.

Resistance within the Company

Everyone needs to be on the same page. The whole company needs to be on board with the process, it’s important that employees buy into the ideas presented. For a successful digital transformation, employees need to have the right mindset and adapt to the new way of manufacturing within the company. If there is a division within the company, it complicates the project. This becomes particularly important when we are working with the leadership team of a company to plan and execute the digital transformation. Even at the top levels of an organization, we’ll find resistance. We’ll often have a conversation with the people in the C-suite, the board, or others to recommend the resistors be swapped out for other people to ensure the digital transformation will succeed.

No Culture Change

Falling in line with the last reason for failure, culture change is also very important. Digital Strategy is just as important as digital transformation, if not more important. Make sure that everyone knows why the company is making a change, and how it will be beneficial. This is where everyone from the CEO down should know the Digital Strategy and have a part in executing it. Then, as the digital transformation process is well on its way, if employees are doing the same things they were doing before the digital transformation, and not utilizing the tools they have, or understand reasoning, the project will ultimately fail.

Focusing on the Technology Challenge, not the Business Challenge

A lot of companies get wrapped up in solving the technology challenge. Once they get started on their digital transformation they become more focused on the technology they can add, rather than the problem that technology is actually solving. They keep adding more technology, more tracking, and more sensors but forget the reasoning for any of the technology being there in the first place. Define your goals, and let that drive your actions to make changes that will actually yield good results.

These are all leading causes for a failed digital transformation, and it may scare some companies away. The entire world is becoming digitized, it’s getting to the point where it is a requirement for any modern-day organization. So what can you do to ensure that you have a successful digital transformation?

How you can Avoid Failure, and Complete a Successful Digital Transformation

The risk of not digitizing your company outweighs the risk of failure. It’s crucial for companies that want to remain competitive to adapt to the new ways of manufacturing. So, here is what you need to do to complete a successful digital transformation-

  1. Have a Clear Digital Strategy

  2. Start Small, Think Big, Get Wins

  3. Establish a Proactive, Data-Driven Company Culture

  4. Always Focus on the Business Challenge

  5. Be Agile

  6. Open Technology

  • Have a Clear Digital Strategy

Establish clear goals, clear expectations, and stick to them. When you compare your initial digital strategy vs digital transformation, the project should reflect that initial plan. Spend the time to make a good plan, and make sure you keep that plan in the front of your mind. Determine what you really need, what problems digitizing can help you solve, and make sure all of your actions fall in line with your digital strategy.

  • Start Small, Think Big, Get Wins

You don’t need to do everything at once, Start small. When connecting to machines on the plant floor, start with a pilot project. Connect to just one or two machines, gather data, find what works, what didn’t help, and go from there. Once you have established the value and found out what you need to be tracking, then you can scale the project. This way you are staying on task and making it much easier to follow your initial digital strategy. Make adjustments periodically instead of making tons of changes all at once, and not knowing what really made a difference, what did nothing, and even what made production worse.

  • Establish a Proactive, Data-Driven Company Culture

Everybody within the company needs to be on board with the transformation, furthermore, you need to establish a proactive mindset among the company. The digital transformation will bring lots of new data and new opportunities to improve operational efficiency. It’s very important to enable your employees and machine operators to make data-driven decisions and act on those decisions. A unified and proactive company culture can be what makes or breaks the digital transformation, as well as the overall future success of the company.

  • Always Focus on the Business Challenge

Earlier I mentioned how companies can get wrapped up in the technology challenge, this can be fatal for a digital transformation project. The technology itself is not going to improve operational efficiency, customer relationships, lead times, or anything. However, you can leverage technology as a tool to help you improve your company in all of these areas. Always remember, solve the business challenge first, and use technology as the tool that helps you get there. Keep this in mind to help you stay on track, and not add meaningless systems to your project that do not actually help solve the business challenge.

  • Be Agile

Projects need to be agile. The hope is that all projects can be back-to-back to keep the momentum and excitement going. Drive valuable results and keep a good pace. Small, incremental, but still consistent projects will ensure that people do not get overwhelmed but also stay on task continuously.

  • Open Technology

Don’t get stuck in a proprietary solution. For a successful, scalable, and flexible solution the technology must be open. This keeps the door open to connect to new systems in the future. It will provide a solution that works today, and one that won’t hold you back, keeping your hands tied in the future. Keep in mind these four rules when choosing technology-

  • Open Architecture
  • Report by Exception
  • Edge Driven 
  • Lightweight

Digital Strategy vs Digital Transformation: Conclusion

Digital transformation is essential for manufacturing success now and in the future. Many companies have failed in the past because they get off track, lose focus, and do not structure the project correctly. Worse yet, companies that choose to ignore the benefits of a digital transformation won’t be able to compete in the future. It’s becoming more apparent each day that digitizing your manufacturing company is a must, but you have to do it right. Establish a strong digital strategy. Use accurate digital data and information to drive decision-making, quickly, and in real-time, and you can put yourself in prime position for a successful digital transformation.

Steps to properly using data, creating a proper data-driven culture.

The 4 Stages to Creating a Data-Driven Culture

The 4 Stages to Creating a Data-Driven Culture

What is a data-driven culture, and data-driven manufacturing? It’s simply gathering, analyzing, making decisions, and acting on data. It’s for companies that have the expectation to be more productive than they were the day before. Going from point A to point B, continually improving, continually setting goals, and being proactive about reaching those goals.

Company success is typically defined in terms of revenue, profits, and evaluation of the company. To improve in these areas, companies need to do more with what they already have. They need to work towards increased efficiency, increased plant floor production, quality control, on-time delivery of products, and they need to meet and exceed customer expectations. To accomplish this you need to be able to find and eliminate inefficiencies, get visibility into the plant floor and understand what’s going on. You need data to understand, and better yet, real-time data.

Data-Driven Culture Simple Breakdown

To have success as a manufacturing company, you need to become a data-driven company and establish a strong data-driven culture among the entire company. There are 3 key aspects to a data-driven culture. These aspects are simple to define but can be tougher to truly implement.

Steps to properly using data, creating a proper data-driven culture.

  • Understand What’s going on

    • You need to develop a deep and detailed understanding of what is happening on the plant floor, inside your machines, and in each department of the company. This is your baseline, your starting point, the initial gathering of data and analysis. Everything starts with what you already have so it is essential to know these things very well.
  • Make Decisions

    • Once you have an understanding of what’s going on, you can start to make decisions based on the data you have. Make sure you are making your decisions based on complete and accurate data.
  • Take Action

    • You have a deep understanding of everything happening within the company, and you have made your data-based decision. Now you need to take action based on the decision. Remember the goal is to find and eliminate inefficiencies to drive revenue and profit. You already have the data to find the inefficiencies, now carry out the decision and make the proper adjustments.

In doing these 3 things, you are developing a competitive advantage. You are creating data asymmetry between yourself and the competition, giving yourself the edge.

5 Facets to Creating a Data-Driven Culture

A graphic showing the 5 facets of creating a data-driven culture.

1. Single Version of the Truth

    • All data needs to come together into one place that is available and acceptable for everyone to analyze and consume. This creates a centralized solution with one version of the truth. No separate databases for different departments inside the company.

2. Data and Tools

    • Proper data and tools need to be available for each person within the organization. They should be readily available to any person at any given time.

3. Broad Data Access

    • Falling right in line with having proper data and tools, the data itself also needs to be widely accessible for everyone. Everyone should be able to benefit from accurate real-time data. It’s important to ensure everyone will have access when creating a data-driven culture.

4. Data Dictionary

    • There needs to be some definition somewhere of what data is being tracked. It should show each data metric that is being gathered. Some type of literature should be made available so that each person will know and understand what data will be available even though not every person will use every single data metric.

5. Decision Making

    • People need to understand how to analyze and consume the data, how to review it, and come to a data-based conclusion. Then, be enabled to take action based on that data-driven conclusion.

These are all great characteristics of a data-driven company and principles that company leaders should consider when trying to establish a data-driven culture. But where should you start? There are 4 stages most companies go through on their journey to creating a data-driven culture.

4 Stages to Creating a Data-Driven Culture

The 4 stages most companies go through on their journey to creating a data-driven culture.

Stage 1. Conjecture

This is when the company has little to no data available to them. Making adjustments and decisions based on past personal experiences- it might be knowledge from a past job, or just a gut feeling. Generally making quick decisions on what to do without much confidence and no real substance backing the decision. Many times they are not very well thought out or consistent conclusions.

Stage 2. DIY

The company is starting to collect data using an excel sheet or similar program. Typically a small database is scattered across the company. You might be recording data manually on paper, or using a whiteboard reporting system. There is a possibility that you are manually sharing data with a handful of people in the company. Many times in this stage, it’s the tech-savvy people who are asked to record, manipulate, and analyze some basic data. Of course, this data will be very limited in detail, accuracy, amount of data, and will often times be old by the time it gets used by a decision-maker.

Stage 3. Towers of Babel

First of all, I love this term, it makes perfect sense. This is when companies are further along in their journey of creating a data-driven culture and truly becoming data-driven. What typically happens in this stage, is the company unintentionally ends up creating numerous silos of data. Each separate department has 1 or 2 primary databases for collecting data. The good news is they are collecting more data, better data, and more systematically.

It’s much easier for the company to get data from these databases as opposed to the DIY stage. Much better for gathering data and getting some basic visualizations. However, it’s a situation of BYOBI (bring your own business intelligence).

This can work for a while but for a company to continue down the path of maturing, growing, driving more revenue, profits, evaluations, etc. These companies need to keep improving and drive even further towards becoming data-driven companies.

Stage 4. Nirvana

In stage 3, companies got their databases to drive data-based decisions with accurate data. So what’s next? Creating a single version of the truth that everyone has access to. The problem with stage 3 is that each department has different data, different data sources. These are all separate solutions, not centralized for everyone. Everyone needs to be on the same page, with the same data. Sales won’t know what marketing is doing, marketing won’t know what operations is doing, operations won’t know what purchasing is doing.

There needs to be one single, full architecture for data with a single version of the truth. A data architecture where all data is consistent and shared between every person and every department of the company. A Unified namespace. This type of solution allows for flexibility and scalability. It is also the most accurate data when it is from one single location and extracted directly from the equipment itself. One centralized database for everyone to make decisions and drive action.

Where to Start

It takes some time and effort to completely transition into becoming a data-driven company. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, and tough to determine where you should start today.

Studies say that analytics pay back $13.01 for each $1 spent (source). There’s a lot of value in being data-driven, getting started as quickly as possible can be crucial for company success.

Analytics typically returns $13.01 for every $1 spent visualization.

A good way to get started on your journey to creating a data-driven culture is to define your own business challenge. Determine where you need the most improvement, and start gathering data. Even if you are just starting with pen and paper. There are stages to becoming a data-driven manufacturer, and you need to start somewhere.

Example

Let’s say that your specific business challenge is not understanding your asset utilization. Not understanding why your machine line or plant overall is not producing as much as you think it should. This is a perfect opportunity to start gathering some basic data. Start now, and try to develop a good understanding of where you are today. How active are your machines? When are the machines off completely? When are they on, but not running? When are they on and running, actually adding value and producing parts?

Gather and analyze that data over time to understand what’s going on. Start capturing downtime reasons– not just that the machine broke, capture the cause of downtime and the machine’s symptoms. Gather data, analyze it, make a decision, and take action. You can look at an asset utilization + downtime reason code Pareto chart to understand what’s going on and what the inefficiencies are.

Conclusion

The above example is a great way to start. The important thing is that you get started, start working towards creating a completely data-driven culture. Use these first small collections of data to help you determine which long-term metrics would benefit you most to keep tracking, and go from there. Start small, think big, and take action.

 

A whiteboard you could use for basic manufacturing reporting.

Manufacturing Reporting: Are Whiteboards enough Today?

Manufacturing Reporting: Are Whiteboards enough Today?

Manufacturing reporting and data collection have always been important. The manufacturing sector is becoming more competitive each day. Manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to set themselves apart, make more revenue, and increase operational efficiency.

IIoT, manufacturing analytics, and smart manufacturing systems are great. However, a great number of manufacturers are not quite ready to jump in headfirst with these technologies. They want to improve but don’t want to make a substantial investment right out of the gate without knowing if it will truly help.

What do they turn to?

Pen and paper, and whiteboards. Manufacturing analytics and similar solutions have become more available and affordable in recent years, however, it is most definitely not at the same price point as a whiteboard and some dry-erase markers.

The question is, are whiteboards enough for manufacturing reporting today?

What Whiteboards can do for Manufacturing Reporting

Whiteboards definitely have benefits, and you can make a lot of improvements using a whiteboard system for manufacturing reporting.

You don’t want to be taking a shot in the dark, you need data to base your decisions on. Whiteboards can be the first step to becoming a data-driven company. Becoming a data-driven company is as important, if not more important than the technology itself. Whiteboard reporting gets you started on the process, and keeps you engaged.

You can have your operators record basic information periodically throughout the day. Choose certain metrics that need to be improved, track them, and start making your adjustments. Once you start tracking information, the numbers might surprise you. If you act on that data, you could start to see great results fairly quickly.

Isn’t this the goal of all of those fancy IIoT systems? Gather data, analyze it, make adjustments, and see the results? If you can accomplish this without investing in an IIoT solution for manufacturing reporting, do you really need one?

Why Whiteboards are Not a Long-term Solution for Manufacturing Reporting

Whiteboards are a great start, and great to get you into data-driven manufacturing. However, they have a low ceiling, and they can’t give you everything you will need down the road. Again, a great starting point, not a great long-term solution.

There’s a lot that whiteboards are missing. Unfortunately, it is a lot more than just seeing the data on a digital screen as opposed to a whiteboard.

  • Real-Time Data

With a whiteboard system, you could be finding data too late, missing your opportunity to make an improvement. When you record data manually, it is inevitably going to be at least slightly outdated information. There’s no way around it. At best, you might get to see data for the first time roughly an hour later, and that is if you are really on top of things and making the time investment to manually record and analyze that data quickly. Real-time data is a huge benefit with an IIoT/Manufacturing analytics system, however, it’s simply not an option with the whiteboard manufacturing reporting system.

  • Time Investment

It’s tough for your operators to manually record data. They’re smart, they know what they are doing, they hear noises, they canUsing a whiteboard for manufacturing reporting is a time investment. pick up on things quick when machines jam, or when it sounds like it’s breaking. However, they are also trying to do their job, they cannot put that much time into recording data when they have a job to do. They need software to help out. It takes a lot of time to continually record data manually, breaking the focus on the actual manufacturing process. Short term, this can mean fewer parts produced each hour and that’s on the operator. Data is extremely important, but operators also understand they have current expectations, and they want to perform. IIoT systems can automate data collection for your operators, and deliver contextualized data to them so that they can stay focused on their process and benefit from the data.

  • Data for the Whole Plant Floor

It takes a lot of time to manually record sufficient data across the plant floor. Likely, you aren’t able to get consistent data on every single machine or piece of equipment. We have visited plants before and see a machine not turned on, not producing parts, not doing anything. We ask “Why isn’t that machine running?” Nobody has an answer, they have no idea why that machine isn’t running. The first problem here is that nobody even knew the machine wasn’t running. The second issue is that you don’t know why, or for how long. A Whiteboard reporting system will not help you here, because nobody knows or has any information on the how or why. The whiteboard system can really fail you here, especially as you continue to grow and have more and more machines, and equipment to keep track of.

  • A Centralized Solution

A centralized solution is a solution that is in front of everyone, available for everyone to see at any time. It should be easy forUsing an iPad with IIoT enabled manufacturing reporting software is a great example of a centralized solution. everyone to find and check on. Recording data with pen and paper or a whiteboard is the opposite of this. Whiteboards are not a centralized solution. Using pen and paper is even worse. What happens after you record data with pen and paper, who will see that information? Likely, just you. You record data, and you stick it in a folder. Only you are aware of that data even being recorded, and only you can benefit from it, that is if it doesn’t just get lost in the folder and you do actually look at the data again. A Whiteboard is slightly better than pen and paper in this aspect. A Whiteboard might be able to be seen by a few people, but definitely not everyone on the plant floor and every decision-maker that could benefit from the data.

  • Communication

IIoT is also a communication tool in a way. Let’s say you are taking really good notes as an operator, recording good data. How often does somebody actually come to you and ask for that data, and then react based on that data? Chances are not too often if at all, and definitely not in real-time. Then there is the data-entry time between people, which is a job all on its own when someone else wants to record that data for themselves. It’s just not efficient. You can have runners that go around the plant floor to record and share data between people, but just saying that out loud, does that really sound like a better solution?

  • Accurate Data with Product Changeovers

Many manufacturers have product changeovers multiple times a day. When you are using a whiteboard it’s hard to accurately adjust and record data when you are accounting for product changeovers. Every product will require a different process and take different amounts of time. You don’t want to mix them up and act on inaccurate data. Remember the goal is not to make as many adjustments as you can, the goal is to make the right adjustments that will actually make a difference. IIoT will seamlessly give detailed information on when each product was being produced, how long it took, and the efficiency during the production of each product.

  • Validating Data

Collecting data is easy, validating the data is tough. The data you collect is likely not going to be exactly what you expected, whether that is for better or worse. Many times manufacturers will completely disregard data because they don’t trust it. This is why you need a system that is reliable, consistent, and trustworthy with proven results. What would you trust more- basic information manually recorded by a human and analyzed at a later date, or real-time data changing instantly that is pulled directly from the machine itself? The bottom line is that you need data you can trust. If you gather data just to ignore it and cannot trust the data, you will never act on it and it will do nothing for you.

  • Operator Breaks

When using a whiteboard reporting system, say the operator is allowed to take a break during the hour, so at the end of the hour, you say that the operator should have produced x amount. But the data is inaccurate because there was a break in the hour that wasn’t accounted for. If you take the time, you could record these details manually with a whiteboard, but it’s a full-time job on its own to record extensively detailed data manually. This is just one more factor to think about that all add up to the whiteboard just not working long term. Again, whiteboards are great to start with, and great for finding the key metrics you want to track, but they are very limited.

  • Understanding Downtime

You are recording basic data. When you do encounter downtime, a lot of times the machine does not know why it’s down, and you have to figure that out. Whiteboard data is just too slow, basic, and overall inefficient. Frequently a machine will tell you that something is wrong, but it will just say “fault occurred.” That doesn’t really help, you need to know- was it a jam, did it get clogged up, or what happened? You need to have the data to understand the root cause of the problem as well as symptoms, not just that “it broke.” Manufacturing reporting with a whiteboard does not provide you with this amount of detail.

How to Determine where You are, and Your Next Step to Take

It depends on your specific goals and business challenge, but to excel and be the best, you need to equip yourself sufficiently.

What is the best starting point for you? Whiteboard or manufacturing analytics software? Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine where you are now, and what your next step should be on your journey to becoming a data-driven manufacturer.

  • If you had data sooner, what would you do differently?

  • Is there a lot of value in that time difference?

  • How often does somebody actually come to you and ask for that data, and then react based on that data?

  • Would it be valuable to have more key data or metrics than you have now?

  • If you were told that something is wrong, would you react right away to change it?

  • Would you like to get alerts or status information sooner such as a critical money-making machine is down?

  • Do your operators need to focus more on their job of manufacturing your products than entering data?

What’s Best for You?

If you were told that something is wrong, would you react right away to change it? Then use manufacturing analytics. Some manufacturers only make changes once a day unless it’s an emergency. This is not ideal or the most efficient, but it’s not uncommon, and much better than doing nothing at all. This will get you to 60-65% OEE, but it will not get you to 80-85%.

Real-time manufacturing reporting systems are good for the people who will actually react right away, if you get a real-time system and still just look at data and make changes one time at the end of the day, you are leaving a lot on the table, and not getting the most out of your investment.

Final Answer: Are Whiteboards Enough for Manufacturing Reporting?

The answer is that it’s situational. There is no one size fits all. It completely depends on your specific business challenge, and where you are in your data-driven manufacturing journey. A Whiteboard manufacturing reporting system has its place. Its place is for manufacturers who are still determining what metrics they need to track to make improvements. It can also be beneficial for manufacturers who are not ready to jump straight into a manufacturing intelligence/IIoT solution.

What’s important is collecting data that you are actually going to act on, which might go against conventional wisdom that says if the data is there, grab it. Sometimes it is good to gather all of the data possible if you don’t know what metrics are most valuable to you yet. Then narrow it down to what you will actually use.

Conclusion

You need to be able to measure if things are actually getting better based on the “improvements” you are making. It’s a maturity model- define where you are today, and then define where you want to be. Make sure everything you are doing is actually helping that cause. How much better could you be if you really spent the time and energy to improve? What’s your potential for improvement? Then map out what that looks like, and where to start first.

 

This team looking over data on a device could be utilizing IoT and industrial automation to improve their process.

How to Utilize IoT and Industrial Automation to Generate More Revenue

How to Utilize IoT and Industrial Automation to Generate More Revenue

IoT and industrial automation can work together to help you improve operational efficiency. They can assist you in creating the most efficient factory possible. Some manufacturers view IIoT systems or manufacturing analytics systems as expensive and unnecessary. Some think that these systems are only used by multi-billion dollar corporations that have a lot of capital to make large investments.

While there might have been a point in time when IIoT technology was a new concept, and not very widely available. This is not the case today. Today, IoT and industrial automation together are not only available to those billion dollar+ corporations, or even just the larger companies in general.

Today, IoT and industrial automation technology is available for any sized manufacturer. Furthermore, it does not require a substantial upfront investment to get your foot in the door. As the solutions become more available and affordable, more companies want to and are able to buy into the idea. It’s slowly becoming more standard for companies to implement IIoT technology. If you want to continue on an upward trend, you have to keep up with the times. Adjust and adapt to industry changes.

At the end of the day, we are all chasing more revenue, more money, and more profit in an efficient manner. In this article, I am going to provide more insight into what IoT and industrial automation are, and how you can use them to generate more revenue.

IoT and Industrial Automation are not the same things

First things first, we should define what IoT and industrial automation are. While they do go hand-in-hand, they are not exactly the same thing. The two terms are often used together. As a result, they are commonly interchanged and thought to be the same thing. However, there are some key aspects that differentiate these two terms.

Industrial IoT

Industrial IoT (IIoT) is connected sensors, PLCs, HMIs, and other devices that are networked together to extract and share data and information from machines and equipment on the factory floor. The key here is the network, IoT devices are all internet-enabled devices that can share detailed information in real-time.

Industrial IoT has a lot to do with the connected factory idea and digital transformation. It takes the capabilities of industrial automation and makes deeper data available more broadly, in a very efficient manner.

Industrial Automation

Industrial automation is any activity or instance where machines and AI take over tasks that would otherwise require human intervention. Any process that can be taken over by machines can be considered industrial automation.

Now that we have defined both Industrial IoT and industrial automation, it is more clear to see how they complement each other and could be used together in many ways.

A Change in the Manufacturing Landscape

A lot of manufactures are stuck in their own, old ways. They have been doing business a certain way for many years and do not see much reason why they need to adapt and change now. The vast majority of these manufactures are leaving a lot on the table. They could be making the uptime of their machines more efficient, employee’s time more efficient, taking on more projects with saved time, and producing more with what they already have.

Yes, doing more with what you already have. IoT is not forcing you to make a multi-million dollar investment and create an entirely new factory with all new smart machines. You can implement an IoT device on a 30-year-old CNC machine, or even older than that.

This is a big reason why any sized manufacturer needs to take advantage of IoT and industrial automation now. As more companies become aware of this technology, and how much more readily available it is and continues to become, they will start to take advantage. Your competitors will take advantage.

You can start small, and at Ectobox we actually recommend that you start small. Start with just 1 or 2 machines and go from there.

Now, as promised, I will go over a few of the benefits you will receive from IoT and industrial automation that will help you put more money in your pockets.

How you will generate More Revenue by Combining IoT and Industrial Automation

More money in less time, that’s the goal. So how do IoT and industrial automation help with this? Industrial Automation automates the tasks and IoT gathers and delivers the data to make adjustments. Once you implement the IoT system your job is to analyze the data and look for areas that can be improved.

Combating Downtime

One area this would be extremely beneficial is with combating downtime. You can analyze the trends and pick up on machine behavior patterns that may occur before a machine goes down. It’s near impossible to completely eliminate unplanned machine downtime. With that being said, if you utilize machine learning and analyze trends, your machine downtime can decrease dramatically.

The ability to be Proactive, not Reactive

Continuous improvement is a fairly common philosophy that manufacturers should be following. The name says it all, you should constantly be actively searching for areas to improve. How are you going to know what needs improvement if you have no data? With big data analytics and IoT, you will have deep sets of data and information that would otherwise never be available. You might think you have a pretty good idea of what is running well and what really needs some attention. You might be surprised as many manufactures are when they see that their “most optimal, most efficient” machines are the ones that possibly have the most room for improvement.

Not to say those “best” machines aren’t running well, but they might have the ability to be even more productive. This is continuous improvement- be proactive, look for areas to improve. Don’t be reactive, only giving attention when there is a stoppage. Take advantage of the modern tools and resources available today for your benefit.

These are just a couple of ways that IoT and industrial automation can generate more money when utilized properly. On the Ectobox blog, you can find many articles that highlight more benefits such as predictive maintenance, improved lead times, how you can decrease planned downtime, quality control, and many more IoT benefits.

Summary

Time have changed. The manufacturing landscape has become vastly different compared to how it was even just a few years ago. Industrial automation is not really a new concept. Implementing IoT systems with your automated machines is the big difference. Industry 4.0 is here now and it’s here to stay. The benefits are there, many manufactures are beginning to see the value and take advantage. Don’t miss out on the benefits of IoT, the connected factory, and get stuck in the old outdated ways of manufacturing.

Could be using this laptop to analyze common problems in the manufacturing industry.

3 Common Problems in the Manufacturing Industry that are Holding You Back

3 Common Problems in the Manufacturing Industry Holding You Back

There are many common problems in the manufacturing industry. We can all agree that there is no shortage of problems that need to be dealt with. Especially in the industry, there are a lot of people involved and a lot of big machines with many moving parts. Inevitably, with that amount of moving parts and people, there are bound to be issues that come up frequently. These problems go far beyond just the plant floor.

All of this means that there is a lot of money moving around and changing hands often. Even small errors can equate to a large amount of lost revenue and profits. In this article, we will discuss 3 common problems in the manufacturing industry that could be holding you back. The goal is to help you make your factory as efficient as possible and maximize revenue and profits.

1. Lack of Skilled Workers

Let’s not waste any time, and get right to the facts. Manufacturing is a huge industry, employing a lot of people. It’s the fourth largest industry in the united states based on the total number of employed persons (source). This is good, a lot of people working in the industry. Here’s where it starts going downhill- almost one-fourth of the manufacturing workforce is age 55 or older (source). There’s not a lot of young people pursuing a career in manufacturing. This is a growing problem for manufacturers. It’s not a good sign when roughly a quarter of the manufacturing workforce is on the cusp of retiring, along with low numbers of new and young employees entering the field.

This is forcing manufacturers to come up with a stronger recruiting process, and looking for ways to attract more young people to the sector. This may not be the main problem that you think about on a daily basis, but it is not to be overlooked. The statistics are scary for the future of manufacturing.

2. Lack of Awareness

The second common problem in the manufacturing industry to go over is general awareness. There are many different angles you could take here.

Overall plant floor awareness, downtime awareness, accurate data awareness, digital transformation awareness. At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that there is a lot of moving parts and people in the manufacturing industry. It can be a challenge to keep track of and remain aware of everything happening. On the other hand, it is near impossible to make improvements if you aren’t even aware of what’s really going on. So the first step to improving operational efficiency is to become aware and accurately define where you need to focus or improve.

Downtime Awareness

More often than not, manufacturers cannot accurately estimate how much, or where their downtime is coming from. Downtime is a leading cause of lost revenue in manufacturing. That means it should definitely be made a point of emphasis, and that manufacturers should at the very least be aware of where of the amounts and causes of downtime. Sadly, downtime awareness is still a very common problem in the manufacturing industry.

Accurate Data

The way in which you gather data changes everything. It doesn’t matter how much data you are attempting to gather if it’s all data that you can’t validate, and you can’t trust. Many times, manufacturers will gather data, see the numbers, and not believe them or disregard them. This makes the initial act and effort in gathering the data completely useless and reinforces the value of using a reliable system for gathering data that you can trust. Manufacturers need to become aware of the validated, trustworthy, and accurate data that they could be extracting from their equipment and benefitting from.

With IIoT and manufacturing analytics technology becoming more available in recent years, it’s just that much more important to have accurate data if you want to continue to grow, stay competitive, and become a data-driven company.

3. IIoT and Industry 4.0

This leads us to our last common problem in the manufacturing industry. You might wonder, how are IIoT and Industry 4.0 common manufacturing problems? The problem is not the technology or the solutions themselves, it’s actually more of a mindset problem. A large number of manufacturers are choosing to ignore the value that IIoT and Industry 4.0 bring.

While others are open to the ideas, but struggle to become data-driven and use the technology to its fullest capacity. These companies need to focus on solving their business challenge, rather than focusing on the technology challenges. Instead of saying- “How can we equip our factory with the latest and best technology?” Ask yourself- “How will this actually help me?” Or, “What will get improved by gathering, analyzing, and acting on this set of data?”

A Happy Medium

There are two extremes here, the best spot is a happy medium in a way. No doubt that there is enormous value in gathering accurate real-time data. IIoT along with Industry 4.0 principles bring this to the table. Becoming a data-driven company is also very important. However, becoming a data-driven company means that you are acting on the data, driving decisions based on this data. Becoming a data-driven company does not mean just extract as much information, data, and generate as many reports as you possibly can. Gather what you need to improve efficiency, and solve your business challenge, any data you aren’t acting on is useless.

How you can Take Initiative to Solve These Problems

These are common manufacturing problems, but that doesn’t mean that you have to just live with them. There are things you can do to minimize these issues in your factory.

The problem with a lack of skilled workers might be a job for the industry as a whole. However, becoming aware of everything happening on your plant floor, with your workers, and inside your machines is something that you can improve. Taking advantage of IIoT and Industry 4.0 can prove to be greatly beneficial. Equip yourself with the right system that meets your needs and solves your business challenge. Adjust your company culture to become a data-driven company. Your operators want to improve their process, they’re smart, allow them to benefit from accurate data. IIoT can deliver real-time data to operators and decision-makers instantly.

We established that awareness is also a very common problem in the manufacturing industry. Be aware of your specific problems, and use the tools available today to solve those problems. If you actively search for ways to get better and generate a solid plan of action, the results will be rewarding.

Downward trend chart representing the cost of planned downtime in manufacturing.

How Planned Downtime in Manufacturing is Killing Your Profits

Planned Downtime in Manufacturing Kills Efficiency

The truth is, planned downtime in manufacturing could be hurting your bottom line just as much as unplanned downtime in manufacturing. One thing is for sure, downtime in manufacturing is a serious problem that constantly needs to be addressed. A large number of manufacturers are dealing with this on a reactive basis. This is not the right approach for companies who want to continue to grow.

Being reactive with downtime occurrences and stoppages on the plant floor might work at times with unplanned downtime, in situations such as a machine going down, or an expected failure. However, how would a reactive approach assist you with planned downtime? When you are dealing with things such as slow changeover times, slow maintenance, upgrades, or unnecessarily slow machine testing, when would a reactive approach ever improve these inefficient processes, if there is nothing really standing out to react to?

The odds are if you are not tracking these processes, you likely do not even realize how slow and inefficient they might be. This is where you can find a lot of value in tracking everything that happens on the plant floor, as well as having a proactive mindset. When you are dealing with these processes that “aren’t broken” they simply will not get addressed with a reactive mindset, although there is always room for improvement.

The Importance of Tracking Data

In today’s world, analytics in the manufacturing sector is more important than ever. There are a few reasons for this. One reason is simply that IIoT and manufacturing analytics systems are much more widely available. The connected factory is not exactly a new idea anymore, and it is not out of reach for small-medium-sized manufacturers. The fact that manufacturing analytics solutions are more widely available today, means that it is slowly becoming more of a standard in the sector, rather than a luxury. Furthermore, the results that manufacturers are seeing from these systems make it just that much more enticing. It isn’t just a nice extra little bonus on the plant floor and across the company, it’s a complete game-changer.

Things that get tracked get improved. Unplanned downtime gets a lot more attention because it is very visibly costly, and hurting the overall production on the plant floor. However, inefficient planned downtime in manufacturing can be quietly eating into your revenue and profits.

A recent study shows that consultants believe that 80% of factories can’t accurately estimate their downtime (source). This is an astonishing number. 4 out of 5 factories are not able to accurately estimate their downtime. The keyword there is accurately. That does not mean 80% aren’t putting in any effort. But why might the numbers be so far off and inaccurate? It’s fair to say the method in which they are gathering data could very inefficient, and of course, inaccurate. How can you get the most efficient, most accurate data so that you can properly estimate your downtime (and start making the proper adjustments to improve)?

The Most Efficient and Accurate way of Gathering Data from the Plant Floor

The traditional way of gathering data on the plant floor is to have somebody manually walk around the plant floor with a notepad and a pencil recording basic information. Not too long ago, there was a time when this was the standard in the manufacturing sector. That time is up. Technology in recent years has advanced at a rapid pace. Everything we do throughout the day has gotten more convenient or more efficient from technology, likely both. We can order groceries with a few clicks delivered right to our front door, we can use FaceTime to check in on a family member across the world at any moment, in real-time. Why would it be any different in the manufacturing sector?

The answer is, it’s not. Still, many manufactures are willingly choosing to ignore it. IIoT solutions can extract data directly from the machines on your plant floor and deliver that information to anybody that needs it, in real-time. There is no room for human error and inaccurate data when the data is extracted directly from the source of truth. Furthermore, it is relevant data, real-time information. Whereas information that someone manually gathers on the plant floor likely will not get into any decision maker’s hands for at least a couple of days.

How to Put it all Together to Create the Most Efficient Planned Downtime in Manufacturing

Once you can accurately track your downtime so will see just how inefficient your planned downtime might be. With changeover times, you could start to notice too large of a gap where nothing is running. You could start making adjustments and shorten that gap of downtime and increase production. The data will start to show patterns and reveal tendencies you can work with.

With this new detailed information, you might see that your maintenance schedules are way off. This could go both ways. Either you are over maintaining, scheduling maintenance on machines and equipment prematurely. This adds up quickly to a lot of unnecessary downtime.  Or, you are under-maintaining, and your equipment is losing a lot of life from not getting the proper attention it needs. These are just a couple of scenarios, the overall point is that downtime gets expensive fast, and is a leading cause for lost revenue.

Accurate Data

Don’t get stuck in the past. Take advantage of the technology available today. IIoT, and manufacturing analytics systems provide the quickest, most accurate data available for you. Utilize this data to decrease planned and unplanned downtime, improve manufacturing processes, lead times, and overall production.

Proactive Continuous Improvement Mindset

Create a strong company culture, include your employees. Your operators want to be efficient and improve their process, give them access to the data so that they can be involved and get better. Make sure you have a continuous improvement mindset. Don’t wait for something to go wrong to make a change, actively look for areas to improve. No process is ever completely optimal, you never stop improving.

Become Data-Driven

You have the right data, and you have the right mindset. Now you need to make sure that you are actually using the data. If you have the mindset to continually improve, and you have the data to make the right decisions, you are positioning yourself to become an industry leader. Numbers don’t lie. Pull the data, get it to the right people efficiently, and the results will come.

Concluding Thoughts on Planned Downtime in Manufacturing

Don’t let the unforeseen, unplanned downtime overshadow the money that planned downtime in manufacturing is costing you. Planned events have lots of room for improvement. Set yourself up with the right tools, and you will be on your way to running the most efficient factory possible. Don’t get stuck in the past using old and outdated methods. Take advantage of the technology available today and climb past the competition.

 

Take advantage of modern manufacturing intelligence technology by using electronic devices instead of recording data manually with pen and paper.

Why You Need to Prioritize Manufacturing Intelligence

Why You Need to Prioritize Manufacturing Intelligence

Manufacturing Intelligence can be what makes or breaks the future of your company. Industry 4.0 is bringing a digital revolution to the manufacturing sector. IIoT and digital transformation are some common terms you might hear often that headline this revolution. Manufacturers today need to be proactive and buy into the industry 4.0 ideas and principles. Otherwise, they will see their competition closing the gap and moving past them. You need to be taking advantage of the technological advances the world has made, and improve your factory’s manufacturing intelligence.

What is Manufacturing Intelligence?

Manufacturing Intelligence is software used to bring data together from multiple sources on the plant floor. This data is used for reporting and analysis. Utilizing a manufacturing intelligence system helps manufacturers gather data, manage the data in a simple format, and use the data to improve operations around the plant floor.

Why You Need Better Manufacturing Intelligence

Earlier I briefly mentioned that manufacturers need to utilize manufacturing intelligence in order to remain competitive in the industry. The structured data that you can acquire in an efficient and simple format with these systems can benefit you in more ways than you might think. Here’s a few examples-

  • Real-time Accurate Reporting

Without manufacturing intelligence software, how are you recording data on the plant floor? If you still have somebody incrementally walking around the factory floor and manually recording data from your machines then it’s time to implement a new system. This worked in the past, but it’s simply an outdated system. On top of that, inevitable human error makes it less accurate information. 

Manufacturing Intelligence systems today are able to pull data directly from the source of truth (the machine or equipment). Then, deliver that information to the operators in real-time. These systems also have the ability to gather large amounts of data. Data sets so large that it would never be possible for a person to manually record, this is referred to as big data.

Think about how much more efficient an operator would be able to make his process if he had structured, accurate, and detailed machine data delivered in real-time. Opposed to hunting down whoever manually recorded basic machine data from a few days ago, or the last week. Manufacturing intelligence gives everybody on the plant floor the ability to make adjustments and improvements much more frequently. This equates to a more efficient and constantly improving process.

  • Better Customer Relationships/Satisfaction

We have established that real-time data analytics is useful for machine operators and people inside the company. Your customers will also benefit from this data. Essentially, you will be able to eliminate all guessing. Having access to accurate real-time data gives you the ability to base your decisions and your estimates on that data. This is part of becoming a data-driven company.

If you are guessing based on incomplete data, or just on a gut feeling, your estimates inevitably will not be as accurate as they could be. This can damage credibility with a customer. On the other hand, if you can provide your customers with accurate data-based lead times, you will have more happy customers. In turn, these customers are likely to return in the future.

When a customer calls for an update on their order you won’t have to make up a number in your head to let them know how far along the process you are. Let your customers know how many units have been produced, how long machines have been running, and when the product will be delivered.  All in real-time right there on the spot.

The next benefit is that if something does unexpectedly go wrong during the manufacturing process, you can share your data with the customer so that they can see exactly what happened. Giving the customer some real substance to back up what you tell them creates trust and they will appreciate the insight. 

  • Data Readily Available for Everyone

Data readily available for everyone to consume. This point ties the first two together. We know what we can do with all of the data that you now have available to you. Earlier we established that manufacturing intelligence software is much more efficient and detailed than manually recording data on the shop floor. Let’s touch on that point a little more.

Here at Ectobox, we have helped a lot of clients with manufacturing intelligence solutions. We have heard from some clients before we set up a system, that they have people recording data manually. This alone is already inefficient. Then they also have other people aside from the operators that need this data running around the shop floor half of the day trying to find the information they need.

With manufacturing intelligence software this would be a non-issue. More detailed and more accurate data can be readily available instantly in real-time. Available for everyone who needs it at the exact time they need it, delivered in a simple easy-to-read format.

Concluding thoughts on Manufacturing Intelligence 

What might have worked in the past, is simply outdated today. The best part about manufacturing intelligence is that you don’t need to reinvent your factory or get all new equipment. Even machines made 40 years ago or more can be equipped with modern technology to pull data out. It is already becoming standard to have a good manufacturing intelligence setup for manufacturers that want to grow. Mixing that with the fact that you can implement this technology within your current factory almost makes it a no-brainer.