This article appeared in the 2019 MFG Forum event program.
Much has been written about the relevance and application of implementing technology, highlighting the advantages that such innovations can bring to manufacturers of all sizes. But what does it actually look like when these technologies are leveraged to improve a business? For a more detailed picture, let’s take a quick walk through the stages of business maturity (read the second half of this two-part review).
There are several different maturity models for business development, but the one we will use is outlined below:
Some say the journey is the most important part, but having a destination is the only way to know when you “get there.” Let’s propose that the goal of an organization is to achieve autonomous manufacturing. This is an environment of flexibility within the business. While this flexibility can manifest itself in different ways, it can be fundamentally defined as the ability to have real-time identification and reaction to variation in a product, process or service. In an autonomous environment these deviations would be detected and responded to (correctly) by the appropriate (lowest possible) level of the organization.
How can an organization reach this level of flexibility and autonomy?
- As seen in the figure above, a business starts out as a reactive organization, where a centralized group of decision-makers attempt to resolve issues with little to no advanced warning in a ritual we affectionately call “firefighting.”
- To escape the constant chaos of their reactionary existence, the organization takes specific steps to improve their management to the cognitive level. The introduction of metrics and measurements provides the first clear glimpse of performance, allowing workers to locate sources of variation.
- Standard systems and procedures are then put in place and serve to stabilize the environment, as well as enable the business to operate in a preventive manner. Soon it becomes obvious which issues are resulting in poor performance. Reaction plans are implemented to ensure effective and timely responses to minimize the impact of variation. Additionally, focused projects are improved to empower the organization to predict situations that cause variation.
- Now a predictive organization, the business begins to foresee these situations and is able to identify and implement improvements in processes, products and services to eliminate occurrences of variation.
- Each step moves the process closer to the desired level of flexibility until the organization performs more like an organism, with each part reacting autonomously to support the well-being of the whole.
What comes next? While taking a business from its original form and guiding it to become a learning organization is a challenge, technology can help you get where you want to go. From additive manufacturing, robotics & cobotics, augmented reality, big data, sensors, the Industrial Internet of Things and more, those companies that utilize new tech to its peak potential will lead the next generation manufacturing industry.
Learn more on how your company can lead the way in new technology innovation in part two of this series available in the May issue of MiMfg Magazine coming soon.