Manufacturers operate in a dynamic environment. Order quantities rise and fall, customers’ taste change and older product lines decline as new ones come on stream. What almost no one expected though were the extraordinary economic circumstances and challenging shop floor operations that we have been living through these last few weeks.

For many manufacturers this has been the most difficult period in their history. For some, new opportunities have arisen. Others are struggling to cope with a dramatic downturn. Everyone is trying to find ways to adjust. Those with a machine monitoring system in place have a tool that will help.

The Storm Came Out of Nowhere

The National Association of Manufacturers, (NAM) conducts a quarterly survey of its members to identify their biggest challenges and concerns. At the end of 2019 sentiment was positive with two-thirds taking an optimistic view. Their biggest challenge was finding enough skilled workers.

At the beginning of March 2020 NAM carried out another survey, this time asking about the impact of COVID-19. (“Economic and Operational Impacts of COVID-19 to Manufacturers“)  The results were very different.

Of those who responded:

  • 78.3% expect a financial impact
  • 53.1% anticipate some change in operations
  • 35.5% face supply chain disruptions

We have been hearing the word, “unprecedented” a lot lately. As these numbers show, its use is justified: manufacturers are facing challenges that no one saw coming.

Challenges on the Shop Floor

Some manufacturers have closed their doors and are waiting for the storm to die down. Others are trying to keep going. For those struggling to maintain shop floor operations, issues may include:

  • Facilitating remote working for those who do not need to be on-site (or who cannot be on-site.)
  • Ensuring appropriate separation and/or use of PPE.
  • Material and component shortages.
  • Canceled orders and reduced order volumes
  • High priority orders requiring a rapid turnaround.

In time, closed factories will reopen. When they do they will be facing a much changed operating environment, and probably dealing with those same obstacles listed above.

Machine Monitoring Will Help

Adjusting to dramatic changes will not be easy, but accurate, granular, real-time information on the status of each piece of production equipment will help. This is where machine monitoring comes in.

A machine monitoring system captures data on what each machine is doing. Running, waiting for material, undergoing set up and waiting for maintenance for example. It can also generate production statistics such as the number of pieces produced in the last hour, shift or day and the feeds, speeds and cycle times actually achieved.

More sophisticated systems use Industry 4.0 technologies like MTConnect to automate data capture, apply advanced analytics and present information in the form of real-time manufacturing dashboards. These show managers performance against plan, OEE and utilization. They highlight where immediate action is needed and help find opportunities for improvement.

Improving Focus and Communication

Examples of how machine monitoring can help manufacturers adjust their shop floor operations include:

  • Maximizing bottleneck utilization
  • Facilitating working from home
  • Personnel deployment and utilization
  • Maintenance scheduling
  • Shift separation
  • Cycle time oversight

Here’s a brief discussion of each point.

Maximizing Bottleneck Utilization

Taking a page from the Lean manufacturing playbook, it’s more essential than ever to maximize bottleneck throughput while minimizing the resources used everywhere else. Machine monitoring enables OEE measurement for the bottleneck with a real-time dashboard highlighting losses/improvement opportunities via pareto charts. With this information in hand managers can prioritize waste reduction and improvement actions.

Facilitating Working from Home

With the ability to view performance data in real-time over the web, “keeping a finger on the pulse” no longer entails inspecting the shop floor. Instead, managers can respond quickly to events like unplanned stoppages and material shortages without being physically present.

Personnel Deployment and Utilization

Requirements for increased distance between employees may lead to more operators running multiple machines. In some setups this may result in lower productivity while elsewhere there could be improvements. Machine monitoring will reveal what each machine is doing throughout the shift and whether conflicting requirements for service are negatively impacting output.

Maintenance Scheduling

Machine monitoring reveals how each machine is being utilized and so helps managers take advantage of non-production time. Lower production levels create an opportunity to move planned maintenance work on non-bottleneck equipment from weekends to lower cost time slots. If bottleneck utilization permits, that too could be serviced during non-premium hours.

Shift Separation

Some manufacturing operations are in the process or will implement changeover procedures that preclude teams from meeting. Here machine monitoring helps in two ways.

First, the incoming shift can see how machines were running on the previous shift, noting issues such as breakdowns, changeovers and material or labor shortages. Second, managers can see at-a-glance the impact on OEE and utilization.

Cycle Time Oversight

Reduced levels of business make it more important than ever to ensure every machine runs at peak efficiency. A machine monitoring tool like Scytec’s DataXchange can report actual speeds, feeds and cycle times and provide comparisons with standards. This capability helps maximize bottleneck OEE while reducing consumption of energy and other resources.

The same applies when a manufacturer is rushing an order through the shop floor. Accurate, real-time data on machine performance helps minimize wasted seconds and minutes.

Information at Your Fingertips

Rapidly changing economic conditions have impacted almost every manufacturer. Many are experiencing lower levels of business while others have seen orders increase. A few are dealing with both problems in the same factory!

In these circumstances access to high-quality, granular information about the status of production equipment is more important than ever. A machine monitoring solution gives managers insight into shop floor activities and enables faster response to dynamic conditions. It’s an information and decision-making tool that helps manufacturers adjust to the new reality of changed conditions.

Sources

https://www.nam.org/coronasurvey/

https://www.nam.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/NAM-SPECIAL-CORONA-SURVEY.pdf

https://www.nam.org/2019-4th-quarter-manufacturers-outlook-survey/

https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/coronavirus-impacts-industrial-manufacturing.html

https://www.weforum.org/projects/reshaping-global-value http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GVC_the_impact_of_COVID_19_Report.pdf