Article October 5th, 2023
by Ergin Tuganay, Head of Data & IoT
Ensuring success in a digital manufacturing environment by real-time, actionable data flow
Wearing protective clothing is no longer needed to understand the status of your manufacturing plants.
When something went wrong onsite, a typical reaction from a manufacturing plant manager used to be to jump in her car, drive to the factory, get dressed in a white coat or protective gear, and wear the appropriate headwear. Previously, information about production, processes, and malfunctions was stored in isolated factory data systems and could only be accessed using tools not commonly known to typical office workers. Thanks to digital manufacturing environments, modern IoT technologies for collecting real-time industrial data, and the rise of user-friendly digital tools that help turn data into action, this no longer has to be the situation.
Thousands of euros in annual savings due to enhanced product quality and reduced waste
Let’s look at a real-life example involving one of our customers in the livestock industry. The machinery wasn’t working correctly at their new production site, resulting in unexpected waste levels. This had a significant impact on their profits and the environment. What made matters worse was that it took a lot of work to figure out why this waste was even happening. The problem was that this department had various automation systems from different companies and eras, and these systems kept data to themselves. Each system had its own tools and interfaces for viewing data. Understanding what was happening on the production line was a real challenge for the engineers and supervisors in charge of processes and maintenance. Every day, a lot of time and effort went into collecting data from different sources and manually creating reports in spreadsheets.
That is no longer the case. We’ve made a significant change by employing up-to-date digital tools, specifically Microsoft’s tools in this instance, allowing us to place the customer’s data at the heart of their operations. Plant management can now effortlessly access a range of data related to production lines, including trend analyses and anomalies, using a user-friendly interface accessible through everyday tools such as Microsoft Power BI and Teams. Plus, it’s all in real-time.
With this data readily available and responding quickly to any deviations, the organization achieved nearly a one-percentage-point increase in yield within just one year. Although this may not seem like a significant percentage, it translated into hundreds of thousands of euros in annual savings due to enhanced product quality and reduced waste. When collaborating with our industrial clients, we often encounter this “power of one” effect: their operations are so vast that even minor adjustments can substantially impact their overall profitability.
Data feedback loops empower action and foster innovation
Ensuring the smooth and immediate flow of useful data in a digital manufacturing environment is one of the numerous issues manufacturing companies aim to address. The handling of this data is equally important. Modern cloud-based solutions come into play in both aspects. With these versatile and adaptable toolkits, it becomes possible to construct reports, dashboards, desktop and mobile apps, as well as automated workflows. This facilitates the creation of swift feedback loops, allowing insights from the backend to drive actions in the field in a timely manner.
An example of such an action-bound solution is an interactive app we’ve developed for a manufacturing industry customer as a practical solution. This app is designed for sending out maintenance service requests, which are generated automatically based on factors like production speed or product quality issues. Operators can also request assistance using the app, often as simple as pressing a button. Furthermore, the app enables maintenance personnel to communicate with the back office, update the status of maintenance calls, and, if necessary, ask for additional support, tools, or spare parts.
A modern app can play a significant role in ensuring consistent work quality, particularly in situations where some field service operators outperform others. By providing electronic manuals, guides, or Electronic Standard Operating Procedures (eSOPs) directly to the field worker’s mobile app, it offers step-by-step guidance that helps each operator reach their highest level of performance.
Modern, cloud-based solutions apply lean principles to light field service solutions
A modern, cloud-based app can also facilitate the implementation of lean management practices in factories, such as daily pulse meetings that assist production teams in achieving their daily objectives. Within this kind of app, a dashboard provides all factory workers with a current overview of the production status. It answers questions like: How are we performing? What’s the next step? Who’s responsible for it? These decisions are all based on real-time data from various parts of the operations.
Utilizing agile software development for optimizing production lines can involve predictive actions. For instance, when a batch of products reaches 80% completion on an upstream production line, the system automatically generates an order for the forklift driver’s task list to pick it up. This order is relayed through a mobile application like Uber on the forklift driver’s phone, ensuring that the forklift is ready for pickup precisely when the batch is completed. These straightforward automation measures often substantially reduce production downtime and waiting time.
A “light field service solution” powered by modern cloud technology can incorporate an AI-driven predictive maintenance system. When this Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) model, based on real-time process data, anticipates an increased risk of equipment failure in the near future, it triggers automation. This automation then sends detailed instructions to the service engineer for addressing the issue, including a sequence of steps, re-evaluation, and electronic signature confirmation. If the problem persists, the system automatically generates a maintenance visit request for the equipment manufacturer. Soon, we’re looking to further enhance this, where maintenance engineers may receive instructions generated by ChatGPT within their app to assist them in resolving the issue.
Thanks to contemporary tools designed for user interface (UI) development, application, data management, and security, all the systems and applications mentioned above can offer a consistent user experience. This will simplify the daily routines of both workers and management. These applications can seamlessly connect to backend systems using more than 900 pre-built connectors and feed data into the same analytics tools. As a result, production leadership can liberate themselves from unfamiliar tools, specific locations, and time limitations.
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