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Large enterprise manufacturers are reaping the benefits of Industry 4.0 and the IIoT. In contrast, most small and medium-sized enterprises are closer to the beginning of their Industry 4.0 journey. However this is starting to change, says Roland Thomas.
Despite Industry 4.0 and the IIoT becoming ubiquitous terms in manufacturing, LNS Research shows that only 43% of manufacturing professionals understand these concepts – even with studies showing that manufacturers utilising these technologies gain a significant competitive advantage.
According to Kersten et al, increasing awareness and use of Industry 4.0 should start with educating SMEs, who play an important role in value creation and comprise more than 63% of production in Australia.
This education would serve to eliminate the notion that Industry 4.0 is inaccessible to SMEs due to cost and complexity and instead promote infrastructure-light cloud-based solutions, flexible billing models and software that is easy to understand and implement – giving smaller enterprises the confidence they need to begin their Industry 4.0 journey.
If you’re an SME manufacturer and want to start your Industry 4.0 journey, here are three key solutions you should start thinking about incorporating in order to transform your factory.
Collect and analyse real-time data from production lines
According to CBInsights, measuring manufacturing efficiency metrics in real time enables operators and management to engage in timely and effective decision making, which can take production performance from 60% OEE to 80% OEE.
Software solutions, like OFS-X, use IIoT technology and machine sensors to capture real-time information from machine lines (such as downtime, uptime and performance speed), which is enriched with additional operator input.
This blending of human engagement with machines is critical in developing a true smart factory, encouraging the development of a solid productivity strategy and culture.
Create timely calls to action with notifications and alerts
Relaying information between crossfunctional teams on the production floor has proved to be difficult, with critical information too often lost. However, sending alerts to portable devices (laptops, mobile phones, wearables etc) that are triggered by real-time machine data, can be used to prompt action in a timely matter – significantly increasing staff productivity.
In a module aptly titled ‘Alerts’, OFS has created a system that is able to notify individuals or specific teams via email, SMS or even Twitter when and where they are required. Alerts can be used to inform operators when they need to complete an important check, tell maintenance when they need to attend to downtime or inform QA that they need to complete a quality check.
Digitise manufacturing checks and forms to save time and improve accuracy
Digitisation is the clear way forward for manufacturers, with a KfW study showing that four out of five SMEs have invested in a digital project aimed at boosting operational efficiency in the past three years.
In fact, a key element of ‘The Digital Factory’ that is so often talked about in reference to Industry 4.0, is the concept of going ‘paperless’. This is the idea that manufacturers can replace all of their paper-based forms and checks with a digital version, accessible on their laptops, phones or shop floor computers.
Thriemer et al argue that digitising forms from the beginning reduces what is usually a two-step process (writing on a paper based form and transferring it into a digital form) into a one step process, saving time and increasing the accuracy of the information. This highlights the importance for SMEs to think about investing into the digitisation of their factory now rather than later.
As you can see, Industry 4.0 solutions that provide real-time data, trigger alerts and incorporate digital platforms are becoming increasingly accessible to SME manufacturers.
And, it’s predicted this will only get better, as we move into the world of cloud based solutions and flexible pricing models.
Roland Thomas is the CEO of Operations Feedback Systems and has spent 35+ years providing software solutions for faster, better, and cheaper manufacturing.
Roland believes that a true ‘smart factory’ is a combination of people and technology working harmoniously to make better decisions, leading to improved overall operational efficiency, reduced waste and increased profits.
Beyond OFS, Roland works with PHM technology, specialising in model-based failure and the reliability of engineering systems -- a prerequisite to condition based maintenance.