Posted: March 4th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech
In a case study, Manufacturing Business Technology Magazine shows us how a company used lean manufacturing principles to achieve a 90 percent improvement in on-time delivery, 20 percent reduction in waste, and a 35 percent improvement in productivity. Starting in 2003, FLEXcon, which manufactures pressure-sensitive film and adhesive products, has saved 10 times the dollar amount as it invested to implement these principles and train their 1,000 employees.
FLEXcon has integrated lean manufacturing into all aspects of the company including its corporate culture. Through the steps outlined below, they have improved productivity, improved customer relations, and have grown their sales, earnings, and competitiveness.
In a kaizen, a multi-department team of production management employees are assigned to a specific problem and carefully map out and analyze processes, then recommend solutions. FLEXcon applied kaizens to many aspects of internal operations. FLEXcon’s Packaging Kaizen, for example, looked closely at how pressure sensitive film products were prepared for shipment to customers after rolls had been slit. A frequent issue employees ran up against was backlogs in packaging which were causing machine downtime, lost productivity and delayed order delivery.
The concept, which seeks to take advantage of the similarity between parts through standardization and common processing, allowed FLEXcon to reorganize plant layout so finishing machines were aligned directly next to the automated packaging line conveyer, and the conveyor was directly aligned to the packaging area, creating a seamless process in which products exiting the slitter could be ready for shipping in a mere four minutes.
5S Visual Workplace
The 5S visual approach, which focuses on providing clear visual cues to help identify and expedite processes, used color-coded cards and labels for quick identification of certain activities or materials and created neat and clutter-free work areas. In line with each of the five S’s, we sort (remove unnecessary items from each work area); set in order(such as installing shadow boards to indicate where co-workers could place tools after use); shine (set preventive cleaning schedules); standardize (put certain key procedures in our ISO documentation); and sustain (assign specific areas for regular cleaning by certain personnel).
Within lean manufacturing, visual records or signals are known as “kanbans.” They add precision to the work process. FLEXcon adopted this by introducing a system of color-coded labels to identify each operation within our plants. Adhesive coating, top-coating and laminating, for example, each have their own distinctive color. The colored labels on a product roll allow operators to see from a distance if all processes on that roll are complete or what remains to be done. Among other benefits, this eliminates the possibility of a roll being transferred to finishing prematurely.
“Waste,” as defined by lean principles, means more than just leftover materials on the shop floor. It includes overproduction and excess inventory, unneeded motions by workers and bottlenecks that cause excessive waiting. This expanded definition inspired the organization to find time and cost-saving opportunities which otherwise may have been missed.
Value Stream Mapping
When a kaizen team creates a map showing the step-by-step process by which a product is manufactured, finished and shipped, bottlenecks often become clear. A careful and thorough mapping process helps us identify, reduce or eliminate tasks that do not add value. By applying this process to our coating machine set-up process, for example, we identified ways to reduce waste and time required for set-up between product runs. Measures included shorter clean up times and a reduction in total footage of product in the start-up mode prior to the first “good” foot on a roll. Additional inspections helped us find and correct issues during the run rather than after it was completed, which reduced the need to re-run jobs and contributed to our ability to deliver orders more quickly.
By integrating these principles of lean manufacturing into their company and corporate culture, FLEXcon has been able to see improvements across the manufacturing process and even into other aspects of their business. Taking time to understand lean manufacturing and analyze the current processes within a manufacturing business can be well-worth the investment, whether it is time, energy, or money. And these efficiency improvements can be undertaken with the existing manufacturing infrastructure.
To read more, head over to mbtmag.com.
Posted: February 25th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech
Your company has undoubtedly developed a pool of knowledge over the years about what it does and how to best perform those tasks. Over the years, though, the details can become blurred. In automation, the lines can be blurred from the beginning.
Sometimes, your organization just needs to sit down and figure out where your niche is:
To define, quantify and develop your organizational knowledge, follow this outline:
- Determine how much it would cost you to replace your most knowledgeable employees. Not just their knowledge in “hard skills,” but the understanding of your business and corporate culture held by your top employees. They understand what makes your company unique. Sit them down with the NAICS codes and I would bet that your top employees can pick the top two codes that define what you do. These people are the backbone of your organizational knowledge. Without them your organizational IQ drops—a lot.
- If you have been in business for any length of time, you have developed processes and procedures that help you do what you do efficiently and profitably. These processes probably have been developed through lots of trial and error. Your processes and procedures also constitute organizational knowledge as they help make you unique and have value. How much are these processes and procedures worth to you? Can you buy them? Can you survive without them? I doubt it.
- Plan to develop your organizational knowledge. In your strategic planning, are you looking at those in your organization who are the most knowledgeable and valuable to the company? Are you planning on transitioning and capturing this knowledge for those who are not as seasoned?
By investing time into understanding, or re-understanding, what your organization knows, all of your organization’s resources can be better, and more efficiently, used for doing its best at what your organization does.
Read more about understanding your organization’s knowledge at Automation World.
Posted: February 18th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech
It’s no surprise that in discussing sustainability, a discussion about cost will most likely arise. The argument usually involves the costs of implementing green technologies being more than the overall savings of “going green”. The problem with this is that there are steps that can be taken to be more green, and there are also costs associated with not going green.
It’s also important for companies to understand the underlying principles that allow green logistics and savings to coincide. In a post for Environmental Leader, Madico Window Films Senior Vice President of Operations Shawn Kitchell discussed the overlap between sustainability and lean manufacturing.
- Avoiding overproduction: Kitchell noted by producing the least amount of goods necessary to meet demand – a foundational concept of the “lean” movement – energy use and raw materials consumption can decrease.
- Managing transportation: Keeping shipments to a minimum helps to reduce fuel costs as well as carbon emissions.
- Using fewer materials: Avoiding over-processing cuts expenditures and limits environmental impact.
Taking stock of the different aspects of your business can help you find more efficient ways to get things done. Also, by making green changes to your company’s processes can help your business’s reputation with the end-user, who is more concerned today about the impact products have on the environment.
Visit The Strategic Sorcerer to learn more about why going green makes sense.
Posted: February 11th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech
As manufacturers expand their automated technologies, more and more of them will be “connected,” taking advantage of wireless and bluetooth technologies. While this brings manufacturing well into the 21st century, it does bring the question of cyber security onto the manufacturing floor.
Potential vulnerabilities exist everywhere, from printers and HVAC systems to unused ports in automation control systems. The effect of an intrusion can range from an annoyance to theft of intellectual property to a system shutdown.
There are numerous steps that can be taken to make sure that a connected factory is kept secure, but C. Kenna Amos points out three major areas to pay attention to when thinking about cyber security on the factory floor:
Layers of Protection
A “defense-in-depth” approach uses multiple layers of defense—physical, procedural and electronic—at different system levels. That policy-and-procedures scheme helps protect networked assets such as data and end points, while multi-layered physical security helps protect high-value assets, explains Wilcox, Rockwell Automation business development manager.
Firewalls provide the most basic protection from external threats—and are not optional if your company has an Internet connection. “The firewall is the nightclub bouncer,” says Moxa field applications engineer Nick Sandoval. To bounce undesirables, it looks at Internet protocol (IP) and media access control (MAC) addresses and demands authentication before a message may pass.
Firewalls for individual devices are not generally being done, Toepper says. But if a company wants to protect against internal intellectual-property thieves, he suggests putting in front of each critical device a firewall that’s capable of deep-pocket inspection.
Perhaps 80 percent of cyber incidents that cause downtime come from insiders, estimates Phoenix Contact’s Austin—and 75-80 percent of those incidents are non-malicious. For example, a bad network card floods the network with a broadcast storm. Or an IT department does a ping sweep to check IP addresses. Austin says a Big Three automaker client had a laboratory network shut down because of such a sweep, because the lab and IT network were connected.
And while Toepper agrees that accidental hacking isn’t malicious, he thinks it’s still best practice to use simple subnet segmentation using routers to prevent it.
As with any new technology, staying aware of the potential problems and taking a proactive stance toward them can keep you from falling victim. To read more about how to stay ahead of cyber security threats, head read the article at Automation World.
Posted: February 4th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech
It’s no secret that automation technologies like robots have eliminated the need for humans to perform dirty, dangerous, or repetitive tasks in factories. But as the dirty and dangerous jobs are being taken up by robots, there are questions about whether the continued inclusion of robotics and automation technologies will replace even the high skilled jobs in manufacturing.
Over at The Switch blog from the Washington Post, James Bessen takes a look at this from a historical point of view in his article, Will robots steal our jobs? The humble loom suggests not.:
Marx observed this automation and predicted that it would result in mass unemployment. But that’s not what happened. In fact, by the end of the century, there were four times as many factory weavers as in 1830. What Marx missed was that the new technology also increased demand. The greater output per weaver reduced the price of cloth. Consumers reacted by buying more cloth. Greater demand for cloth meant more jobs for weavers despite the automation.
While the idea that robots will replace workers conjures fear and headlines that grab people’s attention, it doesn’t tell the whole story about automation and what this means for labor.
In a traditional hand loom, a long set of threads is stretched lengthwise and alternate sets of threads are raised or lowered. The weaver propels a shuttle carrying another thread across the loom, through the opening created by the raised threads, and then lowers the raised threads so they lock the alternate thread into the cloth.
The power loom automated these basic steps, but weavers still needed to perform tasks such as filling the shuttle when it ran out of yarn, monitoring the cloth for defects and fixing breaks in threads. This partial automation meant that a single weaver could tend two looms, increasing the output per worker.
For example, it takes fewer bank tellers to operate a bank branch, thanks to the ATMs. This makes it less costly to operate a bank branch, allowing banks to open more of them. With more branches, banks can expand their markets. But more branches mean greater demand for tellers, offsetting the loss in the number of tellers per branch. Bank tellers today perform different tasks than in the past – they do fewer simple jobs like counting cash and more of the customer interaction of “relationship banking.” These tasks require different skills, but ATMs have not eliminated teller jobs.
There is no way to tell what the future holds for manufacturing jobs as we continue to add and update automation technology in factories. One thing we do know is that while certain positions may be replaced with technology, there will still be a need for a skilled workforce to continue working and new positions being developed as these changes take place. By looking at the past, we can see what is likely to come in the future.
Posted: January 28th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech
With all of the new automation and data collection technologies emerging today, its hard to know what will be a good, long-term investment and what will become obsolete and inevitably need to be replaced. Because budgets are a little bit tighter than they once were, there is more thought going into how to best spend the money your company has to invest in technology.
In many cases, the risks posed by continuing to use obsolete technologies outweigh the costs of replace equipment. However, this becomes much more difficult to do if there is no plan in place for how to manage the operation of these end-of-life aged technologies.
- Supply chain fragility. A number of control systems that were designed and launched in the 1970’s and 1980’s are still in use today. Technology shifts, diminishing demand, and economic impacts have made some vital components and subassemblies used in these systems hard to come by. Some are in short supply and others are completely extinct.
- Support challenges. Difficulties locating legacy products can be further compounded by maintenance challenges. Not only is maintenance expensive, but attrition among subject matter experts brings an added layer of complexity.
- Regulatory restrictions. Safety regulations and rules regarding hazardous substances (e.g. the Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive) have expanded significantly in recent years, leaving many older products at risk for compliance.
Because budgets aren’t as ample as they used to be, there are a few simple ways to mitigate the issues that come along with aging and obsolescence:
Conducting consistent preventive maintenance
As equipment reaches the end of its useful life, age and wear take their toll. Failure rates drastically increase, as do maintenance costs. Plants are perpetually one major part break or machine failure away from a shut down, and legacy equipment is more susceptible to these sorts of hiccups. As a result, preventive maintenance becomes absolutely essential.
To drive consistent preventive maintenance of discontinued products, maintenance engineers need to be constantly asking questions, such as:
- Are the filters replaced regularly?
- Is the current operating environment within OEM specifications?
- Are cooling fans operational and clear of obstruction?
- Does the equipment possess the latest firmware update?
- Is there an updated logbook documenting inspections of obsolete equipment?
- When is the last time grounding was checked?
Training to support legacy equipment
Preventive maintenance activities will only be productive if performed by personnel with the know-how to handle the machines they are maintaining. It’s not uncommon for a production facility to be running equipment that’s more than 20 years old, and most of the people that designed and installed it have moved on from the department or organization. Oftentimes, these experts have been replaced by younger engineers who simply can’t be expected to hold the same level of knowledge on legacy equipment.
Developing a training program to address these gaps is critical, but 58 percent of companies have faced difficulties in training young engineers and technicians to operate and maintain older control systems, according to a survey conducted by the ARC Advisory Group. Effectively training staff to maintain legacy products can be even more challenging because it requires a great breadth of knowledge. Employees need to know how to maintain all legacy products – this includes installation, configuration, programming, maintenance, diagnosis, troubleshooting and repair.
Planning for spare replacement and legacy repair support
A spare part-replacement strategy should involve more than just stockpiling parts, it involves a process of:
- Calculating the optimal amount of spare parts
- Determining the condition and supply of the spares
- Identifying spares of legacy equipment
- Identifying a trustworthy and timely supplier of legacy spares
Because of the complexity that can be involved in effectively managing spares for legacy equipment, companies sometimes choose to leverage a third-party to manage the process. Parts management programs can help reduce inventory and carrying costs, and can help provide more immediate spare parts availability.
Managing Obsolescence Status
Within a year or two of conducting a comprehensive audit of the installed base, production facilities often start to discover products that were once active have become discontinued. If risk isn’t being continually assessed, it’s much more likely status changes and threats associated with them will be missed.
To prevent this, companies need to establish a process for monitoring lifecycle stages of equipment. This should include developing a database and assigning subject matter experts within the organization to collect and maintain all lifecycle information. Vendors also can help provide additional information around lifecycle statuses, parts and service availability, and migration recommendations that align with business goals.
These steps are not all-inclusive, but they are a great place to start to make sure that you and your manufacturing process don’t get taken by surprise when a machine at the end of it’s useful life begins having problems.
To read more on mitigating obsolescence and creating and obsolescence plan, read the article at mbtmag.com.
Posted: January 21st, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech
One of the areas that manufacturers may not take into account when looking at their manufacturing costs is energy usage. This can happen for many reasons, but most often this happens because it is hard to measure exactly how much energy is used for any given task since the cost of energy can differ depending on the time of day, day of the week, etc.
Nevertheless, most companies allocate energy costs on a product in retrospect, basing the allocation on some algorithm or percentage of measurements made during the installation of the machines. This is done with a very gross level of approximation, despite values that affect the total cost of production by several tens of percentage points, and are therefore critical to the profitability of the company.
Today, the amount of energy needed to produce a certain good deserves to be treated as any other ingredient or component. Energy use should be included in the processes of planning, procurement and financial statements just as any other item needed for production.
Through automation, though, more exact information can be gathered about the energy it takes to perform different activities. This, tied with energy rate and demand information, can help manufacturers better gauge the most cost-effective times to operate or perform tasks. Energy use, and automation, are a simple way to cut overhead for a manufacturer.
Read more about how energy use can be used as part of a overhead cutting calculation.
Posted: January 14th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech
Over the last few decades the manufacturing industry has been undergoing constant change in an effort to keep up with technology and economic conditions. Some recent changes on this front have been “Smart Manufacturing” and advanced sensor robots that can “see” and “feel”.
The technologies used for the implementation of “smart manufacturing” or “smart production” span a wide spectrum of domains. They are often referred to as Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, i.e., the combination of a sensing/actuating device with a communication network (wired or wireless) and a software application to move, read and interpret data.
The causality between IoT and the transformation of manufacturing was underlined in a recent roundtable between executives at Robert Bosch and McKinsey experts on the Internet of Things and the Future of Manufacturing. According to McKinsey Partner Dr. Markus Löffler, “the Internet of Things has already set in motion the idea of a fourth industrial revolution—a new wave of technological changes that will decentralize production control and trigger a paradigm shift in manufacturing.”
The increase in technology involved in automation and robotics is making them more flexible and versatile. Today, robotics technology allows humans to work alongside robots that can pick parts based on what they look like rather than whether it has been set up properly for the robot.
These two technologies — machine vision/3D laser scanning and tactile/force control — integrated with robot workcells demonstrate that there are many opportunities for operational improvement that can directly impact a manufacturer’s bottom line through improved efficiency, reduced waste, improved safety and lower maintenance.
The question that arises from talk of flexible and versatile robots is, what does this mean for jobs? The answer is in the difference between onshoring and offshoring. In the early 1990s, there was a rush of manufacturing business leaving the US for countries with lower wage rates while other manufacturers began adding automation technologies as a way to increase productivity and lower costs. As time moved on, and wages began to rise overseas, automating the manufacturing processes at home became a better solution.
While the changes in automation technology and “Smart Manufacturing” might seem like they are replacing labor in some ways, these technologies and techniques are helping to keep manufacturing, and jobs, in the US and also brings different jobs to the manufacturing industry than had traditionally existed before.
Posted: January 7th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech
As reported on IndustryWeek.com, the manufacturing industry ended 2013 on a high note, registering 57% on the PMI index from the Institute for Supply Management. In addition to this, December marked the seventh consecutive month of growth on the PMI.
The reading was just 0.3% below November’s reading, slightly exceeding analysts’ consensus forecast for the month. Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, noted the “manufacturing PMI measures averaged 56.3 in the second half of 2013, a nice improvement from the 51.5 average seen in the first half of the year.”
The growth in manufacturing was paired with a slight gain in the employment index, moving from 56.5% in November to 56.9% in December.
ISM’s Bradley Holcomb said purchasing executives comments “reflect a solid final month of the year, capping off the second half of 2013, which was characterized by continuous growth and momentum in manufacturing.”
Of the 18 industry sectors, 13 reported growth in December, led by furniture and plastics & rubber products. Four manufacturing industries reported contraction in the last month of 2013: nonmetallic mineral products; machinery; chemicals; and electrical equipment and appliances.
With the strong growth that we’ve seen in the second half of 2013, it is expected that we will see more of the same in the new year.
Posted: December 31st, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
For decades, manufacturing processes have been the target of increasing efficiency and automation, saving time, money, and energy. However, there is one aspect of the manufacturing process that automation has not been able to address – the human element. One example of this is in manufacturing alarm response.
[E]xperts throughout the industry ecosystem are still scratching their heads about how to get through to the plants that just aren’t managing their alarms effectively. Folks at Honeywell Process Solutions (HPS) are so confounded they thought it might be a good idea to gather a few industry journalists recently for a video chat, to find out what we’ve heard in our travels; what people are telling us about why they’re not following through with alarm management tasks.
As Kevin Brown, global best practice lead for HPS, noted, there are some $10 billion in losses caused by alarm management issues every year, according to the ASM Consortium. Plants are hit with as many as 4,000 alarms a day. And in a three-phase approach to alarm management, operations “get success, have results, but long term, we’re not seeing it,” he said.
The problem comes in as the practice of alarm management. While there are plans that can, and are, put in place, they aren’t being followed.
Brown is concerned that manufacturers aren’t seeing the forest for the trees. “They’re looking for a silver bullet,” he said. They want to put alarm plans in place and then never have to think about them again. And he agrees with comments that they’re concerned about “the cost of people they have to get involved in rationalization.”
As a case in point, Brown mentioned one HPS customer that was experiencing some 350 alarms per operator each day. They got the total down to 10-11 alarms per hour, and then 4.5 alarms. “But they were back up to 28 alarms an hour in five months,” he said. It’s as if they completed their alarm management program, “and then they put it on the shelf.
One problem with alarm management is the cost, in both time and money. It is easy to skip a five to ten minute meeting to discuss an alarm and how to fix the problem. It gets an employee to their next task more quickly. The problem is that time and money are also lost when an alarm goes off and the alarm isn’t managed. This is an annoyance for Honeywell Process Solutions, which has been working on this very problem.
Although Honeywell could keep selling the same services over and over again to manufacturers that fail to follow up on alarm management the first time around, that’s certainly less than ideal. “I don’t want to be, 10 years down the road, having the same conversations,” Brown said. “But some of the biggest companies out there are still not taking that next step.”
Hopefully, if alarm management becomes more advanced and the benefits are more well-defined, the human element can begin to be brought in line with the overall goal of automation.
Read more about the human element in automation over at Automation World.