Smart Operations: Plant-Floor Improvements That Drive Competitiveness
Smart manufacturing doesn't mean much if it doesn't result in better manufacturing.
There's a fog of hype about potential gains available via the Internet of Things (IoT), smart devices, embedded intelligence, etc. Yet if upgraded production can't improve operations, what's the point?
A recent study on the IoT finds that the top three objectives for incorporating smart devices and embedded intelligence into plants and processes are improved quality, costs, and speed.
These are all possible, but they require a plan — a roadmap — that identifies why, where, what and how a company should automate. Without a strategy, smarter equipment will simply capture and share more data — overwhelming managers and perhaps even damaging operational performance.
So how can you get started with modernization that embeds intelligence and delivers ROI? Focus on production goals:
- Increase productivity: Identify production lines and cells where smarter equipment will enable jidoka (automation with human intelligence), reducing the number of operators needed for tasks (e.g., loading and unloading) so that they can be redeployed elsewhere. Look, too, for lines and cells bedeviled by reliability issues, where self-monitoring equipment could prevent downtime.
- Lower costs: Most companies struggle to control manufacturing costs; in fact, just 35 percent have been able to reduce per-unit manufacturing costs over the last three years. Explore how smart machines can lower energy costs, minimize scrap and rework (lower labor and material costs), and reduce cycle times (lower labor hours/overtime).
- Secure assets and networks: Cyber threats don't need to enter your organization through corporate headquarters. Increasingly plant-floor machines are a target for cyber threats — and offer hackers back-door access to corporate IT networks. Conduct a security audit of current equipment to identify vulnerabilities that could threaten financial documents, proprietary data, and customer records.
- Improve manufacturing performance: Where on the plant floor can you identify repetitive quality problems? Smarter machines can prevent quality problems or catch mistakes before they reach your customers. Even more important: Where on the plant floor do you have safety issues? Intelligent equipment doesn't just boost productivity — it saves lives.
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