Four Key Components to Manufacturing Optimization

Four Key Components to Manufacturing Optimization

Global auto sales are expected to exceed 85 million vehicles in 2014, according to IHS Automotive. If so, this will be the fifth straight year of record sales – a clearer sign than ever that the global recession is now behind the auto industry.

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This turnaround has improved the business of auto manufacturers around the world. At the same time, the sales boom is putting renewed pressure on plants to produce more vehicles in more variations, with downtime and disruptions kept to an absolute minimum.

Managers seeking to optimize their operations and equipment are feeling the pressure, with more challenges than ever on the plant floor. Production has been consolidated to the point where most auto plants now produce several vehicle makes and models. In addition, vehicle refreshes are happening much more frequently to meet continually changing customer demands.

You can address these challenges and drive continual improvement by focusing on four key areas of the plant floor.

1. Workforce

Whether you're launching a new plant or adding a new vehicle on an existing line, don't overlook worker preparedness.

Ensure workers are empowered with all the knowledge sets they will need for the machines, tools, procedures and processes they will be using. Your workforce should also be equipped with the latest technologies that can help them maximize their productivity.

On-site support services can help with start-ups, line commissioning, preventive maintenance and more. In many cases, support technicians and service providers no longer need to be on-site 24/7 and can remotely monitor your plant's systems and machines from an off-site location safely and securely.

2. Processes

The very nature of modern auto manufacturing is driving a tremendous amount of complexity into your processes. It begins on the plant floor, where a flexible, demand-driven manufacturing model means your production schedule varies not only day-by-day but minute-by-minute. On the business side, you're striving to gather data from dozens – if not hundreds – of systems, while also interpreting, sharing and reporting it across multiple levels.

You have the daunting challenge of trying to unify disparate processes and data to build a more cohesive and efficient operation.

On the plant floor, one solution is to incorporate model predictive control (MPC) technology. This technology can compare current and predicted operational data against desired results to provide new control targets, which helps reduce process variability and inefficiencies while also improving consistency and part quality.

Automating business systems as part of a manufacturing intelligence strategy can help you automate reporting and provide you with production data, KPIs and other critical analytics in easy-to-understand dashboards.

This data can also be shared through a scalable and flexible manufacturing execution system (MES), so you can integrate your plant-floor production systems with your enterprise resource planning system to optimize manufacturing across multiple facilities.

3. Equipment

Equipment is one of your largest capital investments and also one of your largest opportunities for continuous improvement throughout the manufacturing operations life cycle. During the design phase, consider how your equipment will support flexible manufacturing – and when in full production, identify opportunities for improvements.

There are several low-risk improvements you can make over the life cycle of your equipment to improve efficiencies and speed overall operation. Equipment improvements can be as simple as component migration to take advantage of features and functions at the right level of the architecture to deliver better performance. You can also apply a systematic, staged migration approach, allowing you to upgrade equipment over time thereby reducing your upfront investment and ultimately achieving a better ROI.

Embedded diagnostics can help reduce unexpected machine downtime and lower your mean time to repair. Today's machines often provide little detail as to what's wrong or what specifically needs to be repaired. Advanced diagnostics technology is changing that, so workers can diagnose problems more quickly and know exactly what to repair.

4. Safety

Safety is intrinsic to your workforce, processes and equipment. It shouldn't, however, be viewed as a single, separate element within each of these different components. Instead, safety should be viewed holistically across your operations.

Most plant operators associate safety with downtime, but recent research says otherwise. Best-in-class manufacturers (defined as the top 20 percent of aggregate performance scorers) have been able to achieve higher OEE, less unscheduled downtime, and significantly lower injury rates than average performers using a common set of best practices that fall into three categories:
• Culture (behavioral)
• Compliance (procedural)
• Capital (technical)

Automotive plants will continue to face greater pressures from both external and internal sources.

The key to managing these challenges is a devotion to continuous improvement – in your people, processes and equipment – while ensuring safety is addressed across the entirety of your operations to protect your people, your equipment and your uptime.

This post was excerpted from a white paper by Rockwell Automation. To learn more about how manufacturing optimization can help you unlock greater productivity in your automotive plant or to download the full paper, visit our website.

Timothy Foran
Posted September 24, 2014 By Timothy Foran, EMEA Marketing Operations Manager, Rockwell Automation
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