The road to digital transformation is often paved with false starts. To drive true business value, and to move from proof-of-value activities to scale, it helps to learn from others.
Since Rockwell Automation is both a manufacturer and a digital transformation services provider, we’re happy to share our experiences with a digital initiative focused on improving resource optimization on the shop floor.
In this article, we’ll detail a recent digital initiative in one of our own factories, including the five major lessons learned. In sharing these lessons with you, we hope to provide guidance that helps drive value and scale for your own digital transformation journey.
Rockwell Automation is an industry leader in technologies that facilitate process automation and digital transformation for our clients. Well known for high-quality products, Rockwell Automation has extensive manufacturing operations with 18 factories around the globe managed by Rockwell Automation internal experts.
This pilot project, which was part of a larger Smart Connected Operations (SCO) initiative, focused on resource optimization in the material kitting area of our printed circuit board assembly (PCBA) plant. This global and multi-year SCO transformation initiative was aimed at digitizing our entire manufacturing and supply chain network.
It began with the global deployments of our warehouse management, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES), which focused on core business processes. It then followed with an Internet of Things (IoT) platform implementation and the application of advanced analytics, which focused on other high-value opportunities. This project was designed to address specific challenges associated with the material kitting process.
In the Asia Pacific Business Center, Rockwell Automation’s Singapore manufacturing center manufactures more than 1200 SKUs and produces an average of 400,000 pieces of intelligent hardware each month, including PCBAs and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). With each production work order running for only a few hours in between changeovers, this high-mix/low-volume discrete manufacturing model creates various operational challenges, similar to that of our customers.
Here are two main challenges that this project was designed to address.
Challenge 1: Labor Efficiency Losses
Production planning teams commonly scheduled 2 to 3 days’ worth of work orders in advance to ensure appropriate staffing and material preparation. During the daily Gemba Walks on the shop floor, management often questioned the overwhelming amount of kitted material on the shop floor. “Do you know for how long these kits will last? How do you keep track of everything?” Too often, the answer was unclear.
Deeper investigation revealed that operators had been over-kitting just to make sure that manufacturing lines would not starve. There were at least 18-24 hours’ worth of materials sitting by the manufacturing line, while in theory, 6 hours’ worth was more than enough.
Furthermore, there was a problem with operator workload allocation due to over-kitting because it significantly limited operators’ availability to be redeployed to other stations when needed.
Overall, this not-just-in-time kitting strategy caused unnecessary overtime and opportunity cost. With limited space, this also led to tripping hazards, obstructed walkways, and misplaced material.
Challenge 2: Order and Changeover Delays
To manage this kitting process, the operations team initially deployed a traditional magnetic whiteboard for operators to understand, debrief, and manually shuffle order cards to track progress. But due to the subjective and laborious nature of this process, up to 20 minutes per kit (approximately 22% of the average kitting time) were spent on non-value-added tracking activities.
Miscommunication and incorrect placement of order cards would often result in 15-30 minutes of changeover delays, since operators had to manually double-confirm with various parties to ensure material readiness and sequence correctness. These combined challenges contributed to prolonged changeover times and lost output, which are detrimental for any manufacturer running at high capacity.
Solution and Results
With these challenges identified, Rockwell Automation rallied a cross-functional team of technical, operational and design professionals to solve the problem using digital strategies and technologies.
The team leveraged an agile methodology to shorten the time-to-value of the implementation process. This method allowed us to quickly identify requirements, and then develop, test and deploy functionality on the shop floor.
By integrating information from multiple data sources such as SAP, FactoryTalk® ProductionCentre® MES and third-party OEM Oracle’s databases into a unitized platform, the PTC ThingWorx Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform was deployed to provide real-time tracking and instructions to operators, giving them better visibility.
The team replaced the manual magnetic whiteboard with a smart connected scheduling dashboard built on the IIoT platform. This gave shop floor operators total visibility into production plans, order pipelines, materials availability, and kitting status. It was also integrated with barcode scanning to track the movement of physical goods.
Business rules were also summarized and embedded into the dashboard, giving the material preparation team easy-to-understand instructions and eliminating material over-delivery. With wearable devices assigned to the operators, order information and kitting agendas were accessible remotely. This, in turn, informed operators when to stop material delivery, when to stand by for changeover and when to deploy to other stations.