Smart Machines & Factories
Bridging the gap between manufacturing & 4IR
Published:  03 October, 2017

To many UK Manufacturers, advanced manufacturing processes and technologies of the Smart Factory of the future including; digital integration of manufacturing plants; AI-led quality control; self-monitoring and evaluating machinery parts; machine to machine communications, may well seem like unobtainable theoretical concepts. Smart Machines & Factories reports.

Historically, UK organisations have been very slow to embrace automation and manufacturing technologies. When meeting with potential new customers, we have found that a sizeable number of UK manufacturing SMEs have what can only be described as a coping mechanism built of scraps of paper at worst, and wheezing, overloaded spreadsheets at best for their maintenance management and overall equipment effectiveness systems.

The MHA’s 2016/2017 Manufacturing and Engineering Annual Report found that “74% (of UK manufacturers) don’t understand the principles underlying ‘Industry 4.0’, which suggests that we need more work to be done on educating the sector if it is to remain competitive.”

Despite this stark warning, it would be impossible to make the leap from paper and manual spreadsheet systems to a smart manufacturing plant with simply the introduction of a new piece of equipment or software; it has to be a journey where equipment, employees, methods and processes are gradually transformed by both technologies and root and branch cultural change.

Idhammar Systems told Smart Machines & Factories that one of its customers, a UK company of around 150 employees, manufacturing technical injection moulded products, has benefited from the implementation of its computerised Maintenance Management System (CMMS), which at the start of the project the moulding company had some basic, disparate records on equipment maintenance.

Current benefits include:

• Improved asset performance from minimised unscheduled equipment down-time

• Operating and inventory cost management and control, and the elimination of unnecessary capital expenditure

• Reduced risk from timely management reporting and audit trails

• Effective management of personnel and workloads,

• Enhanced communication from rich data and configurable reports

Rather than rely solely on the functions and benefits provided by Idhammar’s MMS, the company also needed to gather downtime data automatically to show all inefficiencies in their manufacturing operation, not only those due to maintenance-related stoppages. Human curiosity and problem-solving skills are therefore just as important as the software.

The way that the moulding company’s management implement and introduce any new technology to the workforce is crucial to its success. Engaged management can make the technology work for both the company and the employees; the key here is not to just install new software, leaders should imbue the company with a new mindset of embracing change.

Human element

To ensure buy-in, Idhammar says that the moulding company’s leaders need to consider the human element amidst the technology, and communicate clearly that automation, improved communication and wider availability of information is a benefit to the operator and the technician. The journey/process will improve the competitive edge of the business, make the working day easier and is not a threat to job security.

Employees may fear they could lose their job to a robot, but the key is to communicate that automation is best deployed when it does jobs that are dull, dangerous and dirty. This is therefore not a threat, but an opportunity for employees to focus on work that is more interesting and rewarding.

Once the workforce at the company has accepted the new CMMS technology, Idhammar says that it can help them move further along the path to IR4. With its Mobile MMS, the moulding company will have tablet and Smartphone connectivity between machines and people, synchronising engineers’ work orders wirelessly with the central CMMS.

The hardware, software and communications technology required to link an unplanned stoppage or inefficient process to a technical export, to a materials availability status, to a Root Cause Analysis algorithm, then on to a specific countermeasure to prevent recurrence was already in place at the oraganisation. It just needed Idhammar’s suitably configured MMS to realise the interconnected benefits.

This connectivity brings a range of benefits, including:

• Key staff are always available, whether at their desk, working in operational areas or off-site

• Paperwork is eliminated and efficiency is improved through real-time information visibility

• Improves safety compliance and reduces risk

• Accelerates response time to critical failures

• Improves workflow planning and productivity

• Improves accuracy and reliability of data

• Increases manufacturing velocity

The improved quality of data that Idhammar says the company will now be able to gather will kick-start a cyclical process of data driving knowledge, in turn driving profitability and reinvestment in data technologies.

As well as the threat from lack of future technology knowledge, UK industry is currently experiencing a skill-shortage. In response, many UK manufacturing businesses are investing large sums into automation technologies and efficiency software to streamline and improve production line performance, in conjunction with adopting lean strategies to cut costs, and improve productivity, sustainability and profitability, generating income to further invest in technology.

An investment in a CMMS system is not just about maximising efficiency or minimising downtime: technology frees companies to maximise the human potential of their employees: curiosity, collaboration, creativity, and other traits that software and robots will not be able to replicate.