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Manufacturing Modernization: How to Get There

May 15, 2019
TOPIC: Technology
7 min read
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Introduction to Manufacturing Modernization

Most companies today are adopting smart factory principles, whether they are engaged in discrete or process manufacturing. A 2017 report by CapGemini1 found that early adopters have already realized production gains of 20 percent in their smart factories. The report predicts much-improved on-time delivery, productivity and labor rates from smart factories by 2022. “We estimate that smart factories can nearly double operating profit and margin for an average automotive OEM manufacturer,” the report states. Manufacturers are embracing the trend, CapGemini reports, with 76 percent either having a smart factory initiative in place or in the process of formulating one.

Regardless of where a company is on their smart factory journey, mobile technology is the key enabler of modernization. Smartphones and tablets are the conduits that connect staff to the applications that run the business and distribute intelligence and insights on the production floor. Cloud-based apps and analysis put the “smart” in smart factories, and mobile devices consolidate that intelligence in one platform that any employee can use with minimal training. This guide will help any manufacturer who is adopting smart factory principles understand how to accelerate their modernization with smartphones and tablets. It explains the different ways that mobility supports intelligent manufacturing and offers step-by-step instructions on how to choose the right devices and incorporate them in inventory management, predictive maintenance, task management and more.

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We estimate that smart factories can nearly double operating profit and margin for an average automotive OEM manufacturer. —CapGemini

Part 1: The Current Landscape

The smart factory running on an automated physical-digital-physical loop is the gold standard to which manufacturers aspire, but it is fully achievable only by the most digitally mature organizations. To fully leverage the best of Industry 4.0 for Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), companies must be outfitted with modern Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)-embedded machines, use cloud computing to process large volumes of data and develop proprietary machine learning algorithms that can keep production running without disruptive downtimes. What's more, the smart factory requires a complete digital transformation nurtured by a C-Suite that embraces this bold new vision.

While many manufacturers are embracing digital transformation, most are not yet running fully automated smart factories; instead, they are in an earlier stage of their journey. A 2018
Forrester survey reported that just 58 percent of decision makers at manufacturing companies said their companies had launched a digital transformation initiative, and a mere 19
percent have completed the journey.

Industry 4.0 and the Smart Factory
Industry 4.0 is the digital transformation of manufacturing that includes enhanced connectivity and convergence within the business, its partner ecosphere and the supply chain. The smart factory is a production facility that pursues optimization through the use of digitization and connectivity.

Smart factories typically embrace future-forward technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to achieve a connected, self-auditing and self-correcting cyber-physical loop that is several steps beyond traditional automation. Data from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors and other physical inputs feed cloud-based analytics that help drive continuous improvement in the physical world.

Companies looking for easy and early wins would be well advised to first make the switch to mobile devices for their task management needs.

Part 2: Mobility Makes Factories Smarter

To maintain a competitive edge, manufacturers need to concentrate on the customer. This is an especially important pivot for manufacturing companies, because compressed product development cycles leave very little tolerance for products that don't make the mark. One of the many advantages of the smart factory is that it makes manufacturing adaptable and agile enough to accommodate a thorough transformation.

Manufacturing companies get there by digitizing systems throughout the value chain, so that every key segment of the production process is driven by data. Data-driven processes yield greater transparencies, which in turn enable plant managers to root out inefficiencies more quickly. Working with data necessitates efficiencies in each of the three stages: collection, analysis and delivery of actionable results. Mobile devices help with every stage and across the manufacturing production process.

Here are some key areas in the PLM cycle where manufacturing companies can lean on mobile to make factories smarter and operations more customer-centric.

Inventory Management
Barcode scanning is commonplace in production facilities, but for many manufacturers it still requires a separate piece of hardware. To successfully record transactions, the scanner traditionally has to be connected to a desktop computer or other device to access the inventory management software. The biggest inefficiencies are latency and the unnecessary cost of the single-purpose device. Since it takes time to synchronize current inventory data with the software, employees might not always get an accurate window of inventory in real time.

Moving the barcode and QR code scanning process to a smartphone or tablet confers a number of benefits:

  1. Inventory updates in real time.
  2. GPS time-stamping.
  3. Beyond inventory management.
  4. Visual record-keeping.

Production Optimization and Preventive Maintenance
Every time an asset on the production floor breaks down or goes unused, production efficiency is compromised. Unplanned downtime takes a heavy toll on manufacturers — as much as $50 billion annually. To cut downtime and optimize asset ROI, companies must improve machine maintenance

On the one hand, they can choose to extract the most life from a machine (run-to-failure) so as to save on unwarranted interruptions in production. This frees up working capital that might otherwise be tied up in spare parts and decreases the number of times production has to be suspended to attend to machine maintenance. However, the approach carries a risk of catastrophic failure that could lead to days of stalled production and a scramble to find replacement parts.

To prevent such extreme measures, factories can rely on preventive maintenance, studying historical data and leaning on knowledge from floor workers to predict when a part might fail — and to plan for contingencies by ordering and replacing spares on a fixed schedule.

Employee Productivity
Frost & Sullivan study shows that using mobile devices can increase employee productivity by an impressive 34 percent per day. Mobility delivers these advantages in two ways: enabling companies to go paperless and cutting down on the movement required to complete tasks. Production workers can punch in and out using a mobile tablet, request time off and perform other administrative functions more conveniently. Plant managers can sign off on work orders using a device pen and access task lists. Paperless task management is one of the cornerstones of smart factories, because it eliminates clutter and repeat data entry.

Going paperless is also a more reliable, rugged and secure solution. Gone are the worries of paper copies getting damaged on the plant floor and the potential for human error during manual data entry.

Mobile devices help employees attend to work on the go — a key factor in improving productivity. Managers need not travel to a desktop in the main office just to file a maintenance report; they can dock a smartphone to a hot desk and access a complete desktop experience, file reports and answer emails. Essentially, mobile devices come to where the work is, instead of the other way around with stationary devices. Such a solution increases speed and decreases data latency, both of which are key performance indicators in the smart factory.

Quality Control
Customer-centric production in smart factories often focuses on specialty products with shorter lead times that leave very little tolerance for defects. Quality control is a critical aspect of all production processes but is especially so in Industry 4.0. A versatile mobile device can enable manufacturing personnel to layer augmented reality (AR) images of the ideal against a test sample from the production lot to conduct a visual quality check. When mobile tablets are dedicated to individual machines, they can house videos and processes that employees can access and train on, further increasing the chances of a high-quality final product.

Part 3: Mobility Strengthens Hybrid Computing Environments

In manufacturing companies that are further along the path to a smart factory, mobile devices present a radical opportunity as edge computers that make powerful processing portable and local. Since data powers Industry 4.0, manufacturing companies need robust computing resources to
analyze it all and deliver meaningful insights. Adding servers onsite might not always be the most agile solution. The alternative: cloud computing for much of the data, which occurs on a remote server and allows results to be accessed by employees anywhere through robust and secure connectivity. The problem with relying on cloud computing alone is that it increases latency in data processing — the data has to be routed to the cloud and the results delivered back. Every microsecond matters when a machine is about to fail.

Hybrid computing — a mix of cloud and on-premise data processing centers — solves this problem elegantly. Machine learning algorithms that need a high level of computing power reside on the cloud; meanwhile, mobile devices increasingly take up the on-premise aspect of the hybrid computing equation. Today's powerful smartphones, which have 4GB to 8GB of RAM and up to 1TB of storage support, can function as capable edge computing processors.

A tablet reading the pulse of IIoT data from a machine can have the company manufacturing execution system (MES) and all relevant machine learning algorithms pre-installed and periodically updated.

Such devices deliver predictive maintenance alerts through their edge computing abilities by crunching all the numbers close to the source. Experts forecast that the demand for edge computing is only going to increase. According to IDC, edge computing will comprise over 40 percent of cloud deployments by 2022, and a quarter of all edge processing units will be executing AI algorithms. With their capacity to deliver multiple improvements to production environments, mobile devices are essential allies in every company's digital transformation, regardless of the company's current level of digital maturity.

Part 4: Getting There

Once a company chooses to increase mobility, what does that process look like and where does one begin? The first step to launching a digital transformation is ensuring a buy-in from all stakeholders involved, including the C-Suite and employees who will need to be trained to work with new technology and a potential reshuffling of responsibilities.

A blueprint must outline SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based) against which to measure progress. Key performance indicators (KPIs) must be outlined, and companies need to establish realistic timelines against which to achieve progress. Companies also need to anticipate speed bumps and unforeseen circumstances along the way. Strategic partnerships can enable better optimization of mobile deployments while making the transition more seamless.

A Blueprint for the Switch to Mobile
Making the switch to mobile will require that companies adhere to a basic checklist:

  1. Ensure Corporate Buy-in
  2. Conduct an Inventory of Existing Devices
  3. Inventory of Existing Applications
  4. Capacity Considerations
  5. Implement an EMM Protocol
  6. Organize the Device Rollout
  7. Define and Measure Metrics

Conclusion: Building Toward the Future

Today and in the smart factories of tomorrow, mobile devices grease the wheels of manufacturing by delivering efficiencies across the board: improving employee productivity, decreasing downtime, tightening the digital supply network, and improving inventory and asset management. Mobile devices create a robust platform for companies to leverage the many advantages of future-forward technologies such as AI, robotics, IIoT and machine learning. They are essential for companies looking to adopt the principles of Industry 4.0 and gain a new competitive edge in the landscape. Factories can begin the path to mobility no matter their stage of digital maturity. They can implement the blueprint to mobility one step at a time, and realize greater efficiencies the further along they are in the journey to becoming a completely smart factory.

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