According to the CBI’s Industrial Trends Survey data, manufacturing output growth in the quarter to December 2021 accelerated to its fastest pace since July. With manufacturing order books having improved to their strongest on record (since 1977). But intense supply chain challenges continue to put pressure on firms’ capacity to meet demand.
If manufacturers are to keep pushing to meet these challenges, they must not only seize business opportunities, but look for new ways to improve competitiveness. The Internet of Things (IoT) remains a fundamental step that manufacturers can no longer afford to ignore if they want to stay ahead.
The IoT uses connected assets to create a complete data picture for improved processes. Manufacturers are realising the only way to be agile is to adopt modern technologies that allow for rapid deployment of applications for improved quality and productivity.
But many are unsure how to harness the benefits digitalisation provides. It helps to start by identifying specific business problems to apply it to otherwise you may risk wasting time, effort and money. Manufacturers need to prioritise the processes that will deliver maximum value.
For many firms, there is a huge amount of inefficiency to be found in paper processes – from audits to changeovers and machinery reporting that is impossible to analyse with any accuracy. If this is done digitally however, anyone from the worker, to the supervisor or auditor can see the characteristics of a check in real-time, the impact it has and provide digital evidence, such as pictures or data, to know it is done correctly - all in a fraction of the time.
Better, data-informed decisions
It’s not simply about efficiency alone, it’s about gaining a granular view into operations, digital technology provides access to better supporting information for better, data-informed decisions. By taking data from various sources, workers can analyse it to help predict failures based on historical trends which can make a huge difference when it comes to limiting downtime.
It means manufacturers can move away from having a periodic machine maintenance towards auto-scheduled maintenance when something concerning is detected from IoT sensors. The more data that is analysed, the smarter the decisions.
Digitisation can deliver more than improved maintenance strategies; it can help manufacturers to become more competitive by increasing visibility beyond an individual plant further along the value-chain as data is no longer siloed but is visible in ‘real-time’. Doing so can generate cost savings as operators can quickly react to fluctuating demand, plant shutdowns and even plan ‘what if’ scenarios as situations change.
A manufacturer that has begun its digitisation journey to improve both productivity and compliance for its parts assembly processes is the Carrio Cabling Corporation.
Case study: replacing paper at Carrio Cabling Corporation
Based in Colorado Springs, the Carrio Cabling Corporation designs, engineers and manufactures custom moulded cable assemblies for global medical and military markets. The firm had been looking for new ways to identify assembly line bottlenecks and deliver a clear audit trail to satisfy compliance. After some research it found digital work-instruction ‘tool’ WorkfloPlus from Intoware that combines smart workflows with tablets, for connected working on the factory floor.
The manufacturer agreed to a technology trial that would allow it to see how quickly it could digitise paper-based assembly processes to help track its productivity rates and deliver a thorough audit trail. It was estimated that it would take between 9-12 months to fully train its operators and deploy the software throughout the business.
With 28 assemblers working on several customer orders at any one time, it’s common for one assembler to change between multiple operations within a particular assembly several times a day, each with their own procedures. In fact, they found WorkfloPlus so quick and easy to use that half of the assemblers were trained and using the software platform in just six weeks.
Miles Carrio, senior manager at the Carrio Cabling Corporation, said:
“We quickly found that WorkfloPlus automatically compiles data faster and with greater accuracy, than if our assemblers were to manually log the data themselves. As we have thousands of lines that we can build, seeing how quickly we could digitise was key, depending on the complexity we can migrate and digitise an assembly in just 20 to 90 minutes.
“Initially our assemblers were hesitant to change their existing approach, but they quickly found using WorkfloPlus had major benefits over the paper-based processes. The great thing about it is that they can build a workflow in five minutes, upload it and try it out there and then. So, it’s incredibly easy to test, iterate and improve.”
WorkfloPlus replaced paper-based build procedures used on the factory floor with a tablet for each assembler. As previously there was one large, physical document for each assembly line, so it was at risk of being lost or subject to unauthorised modifications.
The custom-built data dashboard in WorkfloPlus offered a data feed that can be analysed in real-time, so managers are able to generate hourly data reports with a level of insight that was not previously possible. Individual assembler rates are easily compared and contrasted to improve efficiencies and crucially, prevent bottlenecks happening in the future.
It also ensured a thorough audit trail that satisfied customer and regulatory needs, as an ISO manufacturer, it needed to clearly demonstrate who built the assembly; when it was built and on what assembly line and finally, what revision it was built to? The manufacturer found all this data could be instantly accessed with improved accuracy compared to manually logged data.
Digitising the assembly process This just left the problem of how to measure success?
“We justified WorkfloPlus on how much it would cost to hire someone to collate this same data, before an individual employee would gather, track the rate of production and what assemblers had built. By automating this work in ‘real-time’ it simply pales in comparison to what we’d pay an operator to complete the same work, plus we wouldn’t get the data insights to quickly act on,” said Miles
By digitising its assembly processes, The Carrio Cabling Corporation is able to guarantee that its assemblers are always working off the correct documentation; it can automatically create audit trails on individual assembly lines and can quickly find out where production bottlenecks are for improved productivity, cost efficiency and competitiveness.