Manufacturers can bring agility to their organizations by adopting the right technologies.
To iterate faster, Agile manufacturers turn to technologies that help them collect data. To become flexible, tools and software that enable quick turnovers are essential. To follow a bottom-up approach, Agile manufacturers award their workers more trust and power. To augment their workers, they equip them with the proper tools and training.
Let’s look at some examples of enabling technologies in action.
Using Real-Time Data to Guide Iteration
Contract manufacturer Jabil supports a wide variety of customers and is subject to fast-changing requirements. Moreover, Jabil’s customers need to receive their products as fast as possible. This means Jabil also had to increase its speed.
Thus, non-value-add steps had to be identified and eliminated quickly. The only way to achieve this is to run processes again and again, and collect data on each iteration. Jabil started using IoT connected tools and sensors to collect real-time data on every iteration. This data, collected through the use of a manufacturing app platform, allowed process engineers to incorporate feedback after each process completion. This cycle of iterative improvements stripped processes of non-value-add steps. With such visibility into their processes, process engineers were able to take control over their operations, following a bottom-up approach. The result: cycle times were reduced, and production yield and throughput were significantly increased.
Using 3D Printing to Prototype Faster
3D printers have the potential to greatly accelerate designing and prototyping. Iterative cycles become shorter as new versions of products are tested in a fraction of the time. Indeed, new prototypes no longer need to be designed and manufactured in a process that can take months. Rather, they are simply printed and tried immediately. Products are thus tested early and often, and improvements are made with each version. The result: optimal end products that satisfy customer demands.
3D printing also makes mass customization realistic for manufacturers. For example, 3D printing is transforming the jewelry industry by allowing the rapid production of highly detailed, custom parts. 3D printing allows manufacturers to be much more flexible to changing customer demands.
Using Computer Vision to Augment Operators
Computer vision systems can assist operators through a production process. These systems track the operator’s movements and inspect the product as it is being made. Based on ongoing context analysis of the manufacturing environment, the computer provides assistance and performs the relevant quality checks.
With computer vision, manufacturers can deliver a much greater array of products without sacrificing productivity or quality. When used to assist operators in line, computer vision systems can help fatigued workers detect defects, and provide error proofing in complex assemblies where workers or prone to miss or mis-execute steps. With computer vision assisting with cognitively taxing tasks, operators have more attention and focus for problem-solving and innovation.
Using Manufacturing Apps to Amplify Training Programs
At Merck, a multinational pharmaceutical and life sciences company, the complex lab equipment requires highly skilled operators. Training used to be excruciating and expensive. The firm’s paper-based training instructions were difficult to follow, and training programs required taking experienced operators to supervise new hires through each step of the training process.
Interactive training apps with step-by-step work instructions were a game changer. The photos, videos and live stream sensor data transformed the training experience, making it more interactive and constructive. For Merck, the outcome was remarkable: training costs were reduced by 57%, and training times by 92%.
The new training program augmented workers’ capabilities: rather than using technology to automate workers’ tasks, Merck leveraged it to simplify re-skilling and close the skills gap.
Using Digital Work Instructions to Error-Proof High-Mix Assemblies
Dentsply is the world’s largest provider of dental solutions. Their implants division receives thousands of custom orders every day, and each requires a very specific kitting combination.
A senior process engineer at Dentsply created an app to simplify the kitting process. The app was connected to IoT devices like pick-to-lights and break beams that would guide workers to the bin with the right part from for each kit.
Process engineers were able to improve the process by building the apps themselves. They no longer needed to go through IT or get the change reapproved as part of their Quality Management System. Moreover, production became as flexible as Dentsply’s customized products required it to be.