Working with customers in Upstate NY, Western Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, we don’t often get to see new, greenfield manufacturing facilities being built. Many of our manufacturing customers have a long-standing history in the area and have a mix of legacy and modern production equipment. Many of these manufacturers are private companies, where their manufacturing facility is also their corporate headquarters. These companies have been providing much needed and desired products for generations. We are proud to continue to serve and partner with these businesses.
After working with our regional manufacturers, we find that although they tend to have local authority for capital expenditures, their capital budget might be limited compared to a larger corporation. Sometimes, without a push from corporate headquarters to move forward with a digital transformation strategy, making no decision is the local decision.
"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice” Rush – Freewill
If any of the above applies to you, I offer five reasons to start your digital transformation. Your local decision should be to start or continue your journey even though you may be working with an operations budget or have limited capital.
You have probably heard that term. In the 18th century, oil was a somewhat untapped resource. In our digital economy today, data is more valuable than ever. Is data an untapped resource in your manufacturing process? If so, investing in data collection might be a good early step as you start your digital transformation.
If you looked at our blueprint referenced above, you will know that “Think Big” is our first step. When investing in data collection consider what data would be valuable for enhancing productivity and profitability. It’s OK to “Start Small” (Step 2) but be sure your system is scalable. Data collection with only rudimentary abilities to use the data can be an inexpensive way to start your journey.
Both are more valuable when they have been refined. Contextualized data—or information—can be extremely valuable. If you thought through your data collection strategy as you start your digital transformation, contextualizing that data should reveal some insightful information. Perhaps you’ll learn line one has higher uptime than line two. Or maybe you’ll find that downtime events take longer to resolve on the second shift than the first. Another possible discovery is that the reject rate when making product A is 35% higher than when making product B. Like above, consider investing in analytics or reporting solutions that can scale as you add more data points and users.
Many industries have been following required regulations for their manufacturing operations for years. Some are just now seeing new requirements, like the Food Safety Modernization Act. Each of these regulations have different requirements, but it is safe to say that all require some sort of data collection and reporting capability. Your investment in the infrastructure in items one and two above will have you much better positioned to be prepared for compliance and traceability in the future.
Collecting data and understanding equipment efficiency and uptime/downtime is all good information. But it is rearview mirror information. As our industry deals with an aging workforce and a growing skills gap, we need smarter production equipment. We won’t always have the 25-year veteran maintenance person to keep our equipment running or get it running quickly when it is down. Many modern manufacturers are utilizing production data to employ predictive or even prescriptive analytics.
Think about it this way. Before collecting data, your view of a production issue might just be “Line one is down”. This observation is called descriptive analytics (What happened?). With basic data collection and reporting, you can get diagnostic analytics (Why did it happen?). Diagnostic analytics would be “Line one is down due to conveyor drive fault.” The next level is predictive analytics (What will happen?). This example would be “Line one will be down in ten minutes due to conveyor drive overcurrent.” Lastly, prescriptive analytics would provide something like this, “The line one conveyor drive current is high, check for product jam or belt tension.”
We may never be able to replace the tribal knowledge of our seasoned maintenance team, but we can utilize previous diagnostic analytics to create prescriptive actions for our less-skilled workforce to enhance productivity. As you start your digital transformation journey, you can narrow skill gaps while growing new skillsets.
As mentioned above, we don’t frequently see new manufacturing facilities built. Unfortunately, it is with a higher frequency that we see manufacturing facilities close. With increasing market volatility, shorter product lifecycles, and global competition, manufacturers must strive to increase productivity, efficiency, and profitability. Smarter machines, analytics, and modern technology may lead to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce. Tighter control of the manufacturing process leads to less product variability which helps with customer retention. Integrating operations with the back office allows for more intelligent and flexible production. This allows manufacturers to react faster to ever-changing market demands.
We would be honored to help you start your digital transformation journey. Or—if you took a break during Covid—we can help you get back on track. Contact us today!