Here’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. These are the concrete ways you can apply digital technology in your operations.
1. Machine monitoring – Machine monitoring is the foundation of the digital machine shop. This is because the baseline of data collected by bringing machines online is the foundation for dozens of other improvements.
Machine monitoring can be as straightforward as creating an objective measurement of uptime. You can also track feeds and speeds, throughput, vibration–any metric that will help you improve.
A quick story helps outline why objective measurements are critical.
We worked with one machine shop that prided themselves on good data. While scoping a machine monitoring project, they provided us an impressive baseline number for availability in their shop.
After getting machine monitoring up and running, their number was off by nearly 25%. As in: machines were available 25% less than they had measured.
This isn’t to knock on anyone. It’s just an indication that manual data collection is inherently prone to error.
2. On-machine applications – Many modern machine tools have interfaces on them. For older machines, it’s possible to adapt platforms and mobile devices to run machine-specific applications.
The point is, it’s now possible to run machine-centric applications on or near machines.
- These could be defect reporting or root cause analysis forms
- Maintenance and diagnosis instructions
- Machine terminals for viewing current and historical machine performance information.
3. Production visibility – Machine monitoring is a key piece of production visibility, but it doesn’t stop there.
Full visibility includes tracking which stations are hitting their quotas and which are falling behind. It’s tracking how WiP is moving across a line. It’s measuring human activity around machines. It’s moving from OEE to OPE.
4. Tool Tracking – Tool tracking is a specific form of process visibility. Tool tracking applications help you log the location of every tool, as well as keep a history of the jobs, programs, and hours a specific tool has run.
5. Inventory tracking and materials replenishment – Perhaps another extension of production visibility. Inventory tracking applications help you see exactly where and when inventory is consumed across your operations. It can be useful for optimizing schedules, locating sources of waste, and ensuring materials are where they need to be.
6. Predictive maintenance – Predictive maintenance is one of the end-goals of many digital manufacturers. PdM is a means of predicting when a machine or tool will degrade before showing signs of wear. It offers opportunities to reduce downtime, increase asset life, and locate inefficient processes.
The problem is it requires a huge amount of data to start. If you’re interested in PdM, the sooner you can start collecting good data, the better.
Why digitize your machine shop now?
Many of the manufacturers we work with know exactly why they need to get started with digital now.
It could be a business goal, growth that’s exceeding production capacity, or simply a solid manufacturing question (e.g. How long were machines really down last month?
The real hurdle isn’t justification. It’s getting started.
For others, it’s less clear why now is the right time to get started. Here are a few reasons to consider.
The market is volatile
Irrespective of the causes, volatility is a fact.
A recent McKinsey report captured this trend well, leading with, “The industrial sectors will see more disruption in the next five years than in the past 20 combined.”
Other research has confirmed that organizations that embrace digital technology are better able to absorb market shocks as they happen. (In addition to having higher revenues and profits).
Digital technologies help organizations of all sizes adapt, move faster, and increase resilience in the face of adversity.
Digital can be self-serve
In the past, implementing new technologies has been an arduous, expensive process.
The process could take months (or longer). From research to RFPs and RFQs to purchases to implementation and integration to maintenance, technology projects could easily exceed their scope and budget.
With the maturation of software-as-a-service, the cloud, manufacturing platforms, getting started with new technologies is easier than ever. Projects that previously took months can be done in weeks, and return value just as fast. System upkeep and maintenance that took weeks now takes days. And it can all be done by citizen technologists in-house.
The skills gap isn’t going anywhere soon
I had a conversation with a process engineer recently that nicely summarizes the challenge posed by the skills gap.
His operation, which machined parts for a variety of aerospace clients, was doing great.
Orders going out on time. Low scrap. Minimal unexpected downtime. All key metrics up.
The reason for the success, in his eyes, was simple. The seasoned machinists who’d spent their careers learning the ins and outs of their machines and processes knew exactly how to spot when things weren’t quite right. If there was a problem, they could diagnose it quickly and knew just how to solve it.
But in reality, this was a problem. Why? Because two of the three core machinists planned to retire in the next year. The other was looking to relocate.
The engineer was already worried about finding replacements, about what would happen to production when they left.
This is a story we see repeat over and over again in machine shops. Stalwart employees are retiring, and it’s hard to fill their positions.
The good news is that digital technologies can help capture existing best practices, train new workers, and turn tacit knowledge into institutional knowledge before it’s too late.