Smart Factory Insights: Clinging to Best Practices in Worst-case Scenarios

We develop best practices to ensure consistent and optimal operational performance, quality, and consistency. The nemesis of this activity is change, which prevents those best practices from becoming stale and shackling the operation. We must take a more modern approach to best practices, one that embraces the ability to change, and is flexible and adaptable to cope with the unexpected (which are actually expected) issues. Knowing how to create change-centric manufacturing best practices comes from experience.

Smart factory related projects tend to be driven from a technical perspective, by both internal teams and external solution suppliers, neither of which is ideal. Internally, projects tend to be driven by a narrowly focused utilization of Lean and Six-Sigma techniques in refining an operation or process and eliminating every form of waste. This is often done using simulation tools that create the very highest performance, and which result in operational best practices. Any change required in the operation, however, invalidates the optimization result. It is too expensive to repeat such projects every time something changes, so such practices are rarely updated. This is no longer acceptable in an environment that brings change on an almost daily basis. If you look around your shop floor and think that shaving off a fraction of a percent of operational time at any station through finite simulation is more important than simply managing to keep operations flowing as changes and challenges occur, then the rest of this article may not be for you.

Talking with external solution providers tends to be quite laborious. Most providers focus primarily on sales of their latest technologies, which represent slight iterations of what they had before, or they share lists of mostly irrelevant functions (described in aging presentations) with only a few new graphics. Both approaches have essentially the same problem: They were designed for a narrow paradigm of manufacturing which disappeared years ago. What is left is the need for extensive customization and adaptation. The largest, most established MES solutions seek to hide that significant customization of existing functions will be needed, almost ubiquitously, to make their paradigm fit yours. At the opposite end of the solutions spectrum, the most recent simple app-based platforms seek to defer or move the need for code outside their sales cycle. In each case, these providers are compromised in what they can offer: either an aging data-model or no data-model at all, both of which trigger the need for significant unexpected costs.

By contrast, some external solution providers that strongly engage with their customers understand change. As they visit manufacturing sites, they see that each has different needs and a desire to introduce change to create sustainable solutions. By listening and understanding evolving customer needs over time, these providers understand the market conditions and challenges and they take a different approach to creating and providing solutions. With the whole manufacturing world currently experiencing a wealth of challenges—a perfect storm that includes supply-chain unreliability, increased human resource turnover and skills shortages, energy shortages, inflation, and market-demand fluctuation—many companies are feeling helpless. They feel trapped in a seemingly never-ending vortex of one crisis after another. However, companies that have embraced the need to transform and adapt find there are opportunities to discover.

ford_column_filler_1122.jpgIt's the Way You Look at Opportunities
First, we need to stop thinking about challenges as being unexpected. These are just excuses. “Undesired” is probably a better description. I would be surprised if any of today’s challenges have not happened many times before. But when there has been a perceived low risk of a potential challenge, it gradually gets ignored—even when the consequences are potentially significant. Manufacturing has become too trusting of its environment, depending on things that cannot be controlled. Rather than going back to a world where everything needs to be manually checked and personally managed, there needs to be a new method to pick up on things that must never be forgotten, that may potentially put the business into a make-or-break situation.

Digital transformation should not be treated as just another buzzword. Businesses must make quick and accurate decisions to react effectively to change. The sheer complexity of issues routinely occurring with product information, materials, quality, and execution across any manufacturing floor, makes decision-making fraught with compromise and brings the risk of incurring losses in performance and opportunity. The role of modern, technology-based solutions should be to create an environment in which such key decision-making is supported, so that it becomes immediate and accurate. Digital best practices should be defined from semi-automation of top-down decision-making activities following the needs of the business. 

The essential action here is to take out manual data-gathering, modelling, and analysis processes that are error-prone, slow, and compromised when left to the unaided human, then move them into the digital domain. Let’s look at two examples.

The first example relates to new product introduction. The predominant practice today is also the worst, something that goes back 30 years or more. The exchange of product information between design and manufacturing uses diagrams, pictures, and lists that are often sent insecurely by email. Engineering is then relied upon to convert the information, create operational plans and work instructions, as well as costing out the manufacturing operation, confirming capabilities, timings, etc. However, there should not be any need for significant engineering involvement. Data needed by manufacturing, including 3D CAD, the layout of a PCB, and the bill of materials (BOM), can be securely and digitally transferred using a choice of standard digital formats. The data is converted through an automated system, creating electronic work instructions as well as machine ready data. But this is just the beginning, as meaningful manufacturing management in terms of quality, materials, test, inspection, governance, and traceability are all related back and set into context with the original product data.

Rather than having a wealth of reports with very little value, using digital automation provides a fully accurate contextualization of every aspect of production. Decisions related to cost, timing, capacity, quality, yield, delivery, alternate materials, etc., are now qualified digitally. People then make the final decisions quickly, based on an accurate, holistic understanding of the situation. The result of this digital best practice reduces the time taken for new product introduction, which then increases the accuracy of job quotations and eliminates the unexpected challenges of expertise needed to resolve an issue relating to capability, capacity, or quality. Changes in product designs (including variants) can be quickly and easily managed. This allows operations to be more flexible and without losses.

The second example relates to an unexpected material shortage. It takes things to the next level, meaning that it avoids the need to make decisions at all. ERP says “yes” to material availability and allocation when the work order is created and production starts, but then materials needed later cannot be located. The warehouse and the shop floor are scoured for materials. They must be “somewhere,” maybe in discarded, part-used carriers, perhaps taken for test or inspection, or even allocated to another work order. Instead, consider recovering and re-working spoilage or even scrapped parts, find alternatives or substitutions. In the physical world, many of these actions become tiresome and expensive fool’s errands, as there simply isn’t time to do all these things without affecting operational or quality performance. In the end, a solution is not likely to be found. With MES-based digital transformation, all these actions are accelerated by the intrinsic knowledge because they detail the precise location and status. This would obviously help, and in many cases the day could be saved, but this is hardly the very best practice that we can create with these tools.

The above scenario, with a Smart MES in place, would never have happened. Knowledge of individual materials based on IDs allows automation of data collection related to precise instances of consumption and spoilage of materials (whether from machines or human operations), logistics (which includes warehouse management), assignments to production stations, part-used material returns, test, and inspection. This is set into context with the production requirements, including the product data, allocations of work to production stations, and the intended schedule. Any materials shortage is then predicted, in most cases long before commitment is made to start the work order. This provides time to find alternate materials, including ordering replacements through the connected ERP, and becomes an event that is invisible to the operation itself, which is not disturbed. Accurate inventory data shared with ERP creates more opportunity to source materials so as not to constrain planned output for the customer, even where materials are in short supply. We now have our new, digital best practice.

These are just two examples where manual practices based unrealistically on optimized operations are replaced with digitally based best practices that address consequence of change. I was told recently that the modern, single-platform IIoT-based MES solution has around 60,000 functions, all of which are working together to represent a mature ontology and enable such improvements and best practices.

Digital transformation, with the modern MES solution at the heart, contains a mature data model and ontology that enables the complete re-writing of existing best practices to deal with challenges driven by undesired changes, even before they become issues. This illustrates the key difference between companies showing real-world business-enhancing solutions, as opposed to solutions that focus only on technologies.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any such examples that you may have or seek to discuss. No one will ever be the final expert here, as we learn more, and see more changes, every day.

This column originally appears in the November 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine.

Back

2022

Smart Factory Insights: Clinging to Best Practices in Worst-case Scenarios

11-22-2022

We develop best practices to ensure consistent and optimal operational performance, quality, and consistency. The nemesis of this activity is change, which leads to those best practices becoming stale and eventually becoming shackles to the operation. We must take a more modern approach to best practices, one that embraces the ability to change, and is flexible and adaptable to cope with the unexpected (which are actually expected) issues. Knowing how to create change-centric manufacturing best practices comes from experience.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: The Progress of Machine Intelligence

09-27-2022

Adversity drives focus, realization, and then innovation. This is especially true in manufacturing, which has felt the effects of recent challenges. For decades, manufacturing has been overly focused on short-term business objectives, with little regard for risk and adaptability. This oversight has persisted into automation projects and digital transformation initiatives. Innovators today realize that there is no way back, that we must embrace the intelligence—the silver linings—that we must have learned.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: Zombie Cars: The Next Pandemic Is Digital

07-20-2022

In the manufacturing world, we increasingly rely on internal and outsourced security partners to keep our IT networks safe. One report stated that as many as 50% of manufacturing companies have already been the target of ransomware attempts. Therefore, there is more work to do, especially on the neglected OT network. Industry requirements, such as CMMC, invoke costs and difficulties. But like traceability in the past, with the right preparation, this “burden” can be turned around to become a near zero cost, or even a benefit.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: Fractional Materials and High-Mix Manufacturing

05-25-2022

We used to discuss manufacturing paradigms in terms of high- or low-mix, coupled with high- or low-volume, with many shades of grey in between. Now, we have a new dimension, that of high-volatility, as key dependencies on labour, materials and logistics contribute challenges to production, which in turn, is subject to the volatility of customer demand. Material management more than ever before, is being either the key enabler for business success, or your nemesis in not being able to achieve the necessary recovery plan if not thought out properly.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: Has the Industry 4.0 Gold Rush Ended?

04-06-2022

Industry 4.0, though only five years old, already has a checkered history. With buzzwords flying, existing technologies—re-branded as Industry 4.0 solutions—have been in demand. Manufacturers embarked on the Industry 4.0 “gold rush” to gather as much data as possible, and by whatever means necessary, to get those nuggets of smart manufacturing credibility. Today, the more mature approach of Industry 4.0 is emerging with consideration of a real return on investment (ROI) as well as sustainability. Taking advantage of such maturity may have been the smartest option all along.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: CFX IIoT Open-Source Hardware

03-09-2022

The IPC Connected Factory Exchange standard, CFX, has triggered a revolution in the way that industrial machines communicate in a secure, IIoT-based, plug and play environment. Attention now is on how CFX can be connected to older, “dumber” machines, bringing 100% visibility and control across the whole manufacturing floor, thereby avoiding the numerous technical and financial pitfalls historically experienced.

View Story
Back

2021

Smart Factory Insights: Digital Transcendence—Fear of The Unknown

12-22-2021

The first three industrial revolutions have brought us automation of physical tasks through adoption of mechanical and electrical machines, the benefit of which has been quite easy to appreciate. Industry 4.0 automation, however, is driven almost exclusively from the digital realm, representing a whole new world of intangibility. With manufacturing being rather averse to unplanned change or risk, unless there are very compelling reasons, how do we get to fully trust digital technology needed for our businesses today, taking us toward manufacturing digital transcendence?

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: The Costs of Legacy Thinking

12-01-2021

As humans, we learn facts, gain impressions, create solutions, put practices into place, and move onto our next challenge. Over time, our intent is to create a legacy of value, but in many cases, we are creating legacies in a different sense. Our knowledge, experience, and creations age or become superseded, but there is resistance to replace or update. An increasing gap develops between perception and reality. Younger, more agile peers take advantage, get ahead, and we look away, thinking that they don’t know what they are doing. Though a natural human phenomenon, decision-makers in manufacturing today need to bear this mind more than ever.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: Hands-off Manufacturing

07-12-2021

The use of automation has not eliminated causes of unreliability, nor defects, which ironically continues to drive the need for humans to be hands-on, even as part of SMT operations. There is clearly something missing, so cue our digital twin.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: Me and My Digital Twin

04-12-2021

A fully functional digital twin involves more than it may initially seem. At first we tend to think about access to information. There is a great deal of trust to be taken into account when creating a digital twin, as there is scope for its use both for good and evil.

View Story
Back

2020

Smart Factory Insights: Changing Roles in the Digital Factory

12-01-2020

Experts once required to have a knowledge of specialized materials and processes are giving way to those experienced in the application of automated and computerized solutions. Michael Ford describes how it is time to reinvent the expectations and qualifications that we seek in managers, engineers, and production operators to attract and support a different kind of manufacturing innovation.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: Smart Factories—Indirectly the Death of Test and Inspection

11-04-2020

In the smart factory, test and inspection are reinvented, contributing direct added value, playing a new and critically important role where defects are avoided through the use of data, and creating a completely different value proposition. Michael Ford explains how the digitalized Deming Theory can be explained to those managing budgets and investments to ensure that we move our operations forward digitally in the best way possible.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: Trust in Time

08-05-2020

We’ve all heard of “just in time” as applied to the supply chain, but with ongoing disruption due to COVID-19, increasing risk motivates us to return to the bad habit of hoarding excess inventory. Michael Ford introduces the concept of "trust in time"—a concept that any operation, regardless of size or location, can utilize today.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: It’s Not What You Have—It’s How You Use It

06-03-2020

According to the reports, all the machines in the factory are performing well, but the factory itself appears to be in a coma, unable to fulfill critical delivery requirements. Is this a nightmare scenario, or is it happening every day? Trying to help, some managers are requesting further investment in automation, while others are demanding better machine data that explains where it all went wrong. Digital technology to the rescue, or is it making the problem worse?

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: Seeing Around Corners

04-20-2020

Each of us has limitations, strengths, and weaknesses. Our associations with social groups—including our friends, family, teams, schools, companies, towns, counties, countries, etc.—enable us to combine our strengths into a collective, such that we all contribute to an overall measure of excellence. There is strength in numbers. Michael Ford explains how this most human of principles needs to apply to IIoT, smart manufacturing, and AI if we are to reach the next step of smart manufacturing achievement.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: Size Matters—The Digital Twin

02-01-2020

In the electronics manufacturing space, at least, less is more. Michael Ford considers what the true digital twin is really all about—including the components, uses, and benefits—and emphasizes that it is not just an excuse to show some cool 3D graphics.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: What You No Longer Need to Learn

01-14-2020

Naturally evolving layers of technological applications allow us to build and make progress, layer by layer, rather than staying relatively stagnant with only incremental improvement. To gain ground in manufacturing, Michael Ford explains how we need to embrace next-layer hardware and software technologies now so that we can focus on applying these solutions as part of a digital factory.

View Story
Back

2019

Smart Factory Insights: Dromology—Time-space Compression in Manufacturing

11-25-2019

Dromology is a new word for many, including Microsoft Word. Dromology resonates as an interesting way to describe changes in the manufacturing process due to technical and business innovation over the last few years, leading us towards Industry 4.0. Michael Ford explores dromology in the assembly factory today.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: Trends and Opportunities at SMTAI 2019

10-14-2019

SMTAI is more than just a simple trade show. For me, it is an opportunity to meet face to face with colleagues and friends in the industry to talk about and discuss exciting new industry trends, needs, technologies, and ideas.

View Story

Smart Factory Insights: Recognizing the Need for Change

09-24-2019

We are reminded many times in manufacturing, that "you cannot fix what you cannot see" and "you cannot improve what you cannot measure." These annoying aphorisms are all very well as a motivational quip for gaining better visibility of the operation. However, the reality is that there is a lot going on that no-one is seeing.

View Story

Accelerating Tech: Standards-driven, Digital Design Flow for Industry 4.0

04-24-2019

The term “fragmented manufacturing” is a good way to describe current assembly manufacturing challenges in an Industry 4.0 environment. Even in Germany, productivity reportedly continues to decline. To reach the upside of Industry 4.0, data flows relating to design play a major role—one that brings significant opportunity to the overall assembly business.

View Story

The Truth Behind AI

02-28-2019

The term "artificial intelligence" or "AI" has become a source of confusion for many—heralded as part of Industry 4.0, yet associated with the threat of automation replacing human workers. AI is software rather than hardware, and it's time to put these elements of AI into context, enabling us as an industry to embrace the opportunities that so-called AI represents without being drawn in, or pushed away, by the hype.

View Story
Back

2018

Resolving the Productivity Paradox

12-22-2018

The productivity paradox continues to thrive. To a growing number of people and companies, this does not come as a surprise because investment in automation alone is still just an extension of Industry 3.0. There has been a failure to understand and execute what Industry 4.0 really is, which represents fundamental changes to factory operation before any of the clever automation and AI tools can begin to work effectively.

View Story

The Truth About CFX

10-23-2018

A great milestone in digital assembly manufacturing has been reached by having the IPC Connected Factory Exchange (CFX) industrial internet of things (IIoT) standard in place with an established, compelling commitment of adoption. What's the next step?

View Story

Advanced Digitalization Makes Best Practice, Part 2: Adaptive Planning

08-27-2018

For Industry 4.0 operations, Adaptive Planning has the capability of replacing both legacy APS tools, simulations, and even Excel solutions. As time goes on, with increases in the scope, quality and reliability of live data coming from the shop-floor, using for example the CFX, it is expected that Adaptive Planning solutions will become progressively smarter, offering greater guidance while managing constraints as well as optimization.

View Story

Advanced Digitalization Makes Best Practice Part 1: Digital Remastering

07-02-2018

As digitalization and the use of IoT in the manufacturing environment continues to pick up speed, critical changes are enabled, which are needed to achieve the levels of performance and flexibility expected with Industry 4.0. This first part of a series on new digital best practices looks at examples of the traditional barriers to flexibility and value creation, and suggests new digital best practices to see how these barriers can be avoided, or even eliminated.

View Story

Configure to Order: Different by Design

01-15-2018

Perhaps in the future, sentient robots looking back at humans today will consider that we were a somewhat random bunch of people as no two of us are the same. Human actions and choices cannot be predicted reliably, worse even than the weather. As with any team however, our ability to rationalize in many different ways in parallel is, in fact, our strength, creating a kind of biological “fuzzy logic.”

View Story
Back

2017

Counterfeit: A Quality Conundrum

10-01-2017

There is an imminent, critical challenge facing every manufacturer in the industry. The rise in the ingress of counterfeit materials into the supply chain has made them prolific, though yet, the extent is understated. What needs to be faced now is the need for incoming inspection, but at what cost to industry, and does anyone remember how to do it?

View Story
Copyright © 2022 I-Connect007 | IPC Publishing Group Inc. All rights reserved.