This article appeared in the May 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
This is the second part of a two-part series. See Part 1.
Taking a business from its original form and guiding it to become a learning organization is a challenge. A lot of heavy lifting can be involved and, quite frankly, many people are so tied up in day-to-day operations that trying to find the time and information to work on the business can be difficult. Unless a company is blessed with a “people closet” to pull additional resources from, the efforts may fall short with regard to either resource or priority, causing the improvement initiatives to fail. Leveraging technology can help to reduce the resource drain on the leadership team and can not only result in quicker improvements, but ones that will be easier to sustain and build on.
Beginning in the reactive phase, an organization “does not know what they do not know,” meaning they are unaware of how their business is really performing. In order to progress and improve their operations, they must begin gathering data to gain more insight into the strengths and weaknesses of their current practices.
However, asking people who are already task-saturated to fill out additional paperwork is never a popular move — and it doesn’t stop there. That paperwork also must be collected, tracked, compiled, reported and shared before it can even be considered. This additional demand on resources can result in failures to collect data as well as delays in receiving it. Using sensors and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), the data collection process can be automated so that additional burden is not placed on team members. And, rather than keeping file cabinet after file cabinet of stored sheets, the data can be saved electronically on-site or in the cloud in a secure manner.
But as has been noted many times by many people; data is just data until it can be analyzed and turned into information. It is only then that the organization “knows what they don’t know.” They also learn that there are pockets of information existing which should be available to a larger number of team members. Using dashboards to provide real-time information and system integration, a greater number of resources can be used to understand the information and identify ways to prevent, and eventually predict, when a negative or unusual outcome is about to occur. Since the Big Data generates itself, the body of information available will be much larger and more accurate than before. As the team begins to identify Key Input Variables (also known as leading indicators), they can use the integrated systems and dashboards to communicate the likelihood of issues before they occur, allowing the team enough time to take appropriate actions. Again, technology allows us to achieve more with the resources we have, rather than asking more of already-taxed resources.
Once the business begins looking at ways to design all variation and waste out of their products, processes and services, technology should again be considered. Ask yourself, for example, if inspection failures are an issue, can the process be automated through cobotics/robotics to ensure 100 percent performance of the task or to reduce measurement inaccuracies? Can augmented reality be used to provide relevant data in real time or to assist team members in achieving a higher level of training? Through simulation and virtualization, can failure modes be better predicted and then eliminated? And finally, could your product be better made using additive technologies rather than subtractive? Leveraging technology at this level to support product, workforce and process improvements can ultimately help a company achieve and maintain autonomous manufacturing.
Manufacturers are often intimidated by technological implementations due to the high costs, time and labor they assume they will have to invest. But if effectively applied, technology can make the team members more effective by eliminating the time the team spends trying to define a situation, through the delivery of real-time information. This allows them not only the flexibility to not only respond to (and capitalize on) situations; but also provides them the available time to focus on ways to do things better.