Connected Assets Accelerate the Journey to Lean Manufacturing

The Seduction of Data

Industry 4.0 promises to bring our factories to the 21st century. Thanks to the pervasive digitalization of manufacturing assets, we can now collect and track detailed manufacturing operations data. Lots of it, in real time, all the time. We can analyze it, trend it, and share it across the extended enterprise, again, in real time if we wish to.

But does having more data promise better decisions? Not necessarily.

In the introduction to their article On the Pursuit and Misuse of Useless Information, the authors, Princeton and Stanford University psychologists, write:

Decision makers often pursue noninstrumental information—information that appears relevant but, if simply available, would have no impact on choice. Once they pursue such information, people then use it to make their decision. Consequently, the pursuit of information that would have had no impact on choice leads people to make choices they would not otherwise have made.

The aspirations of Industry 4.0 believers and the onslaught by vendors of complex data visualization and analytics tools show just how fascinated we are with collecting and displaying information. But many manufacturing organizations are having trouble delivering manufacturing operations data to machine operators and their managers in a useful form. They struggle to convert torrents of data into action-driving information.

My Manufacturing Line is Talking to Me

Turbine Jet is a leading manufacturer of jet turbine blades. Owned by Pratt & Whitney, Turbine Jet is a subsidiary of Blades Technology International (BTI)—a manufacturer of precision forged and machined blades and vanes for the aerospace and industrial gas turbine industries.

While some of Turbine Jet’s manufacturing equipment was connected and collecting oodles of data, Ran Metzer, Turbine Jet’s Plant Operations Manager, felt the information wasn’t complete and timely enough to be useful and went mostly underutilized. In his opinion, the data was “good for PowerPoint presentations and reports,” but was not sufficiently granular and real-time to help shop floor workers make immediate decisions. “I wanted to live the line,” he adds.

Turbine Jet implemented Visual-Factories’ Performance Improvement Management software to connect all its manufacturing line assets and deliver real-time machine performance information to operators and management.

This information, coupled with workflow and resource optimization recommendations, is available directly at the machines and via mobile devices. It gives manufacturing line managers insight and decision-making capacity they didn’t have previously. Now, Mr. Metzer says, “my manufacturing line is talking to me.”

TAV Medical

also uses Visual-Factories’ PIM for real-time manufacturing visibility. TAV Medical provides contract manufacturing services for medical and dental devices. The company specializes in injection molding technologies, including plastic injection molding as well as metal and ceramic injection. TAV Medical services range from prototypes to full-scale production, including complex molds, injection, and assembly of disposable medical and dental products.

Gilad Belisha, the company’s COO, is equally adamant about the need for detailed manufacturing operations information that creates detailed real-time decision-making context: “before PIM, I was able to report on ‘what’ and ‘where’. Now I can ask ‘why’?”

Accurate Data, Actionable Data

Mul-T-Lock manufactures a range of high-precision locking and access control solutions. A subsidiary of ASSA ABLOY, the company is known for its four-way door lock system and telescoping pins cylinder design with “dimple” keys.

Each CNC machine on the Mul-T-Lock manufacturing line is a self-contained production unit. It uses Visual-Factories software to collect and present all the information a machine operator needs to control the quality of the machine’s production, and provide immediate feedback to the operator and to plant management.

Eliyahu Dvela is the Production Manager of Mul-T-Lock’s Yavne Plant. He underscores the criticality of giving machine operators comprehensive real-time view that alerts and promotes immediate action: “Within 3 or 4 months, we saw significant reduction in setup time and improved quality of output.”  Presumably, the real-time visibility by management to each machine’s setup and idle times was an added incentive…

In Data We Trust

Edward Deming, the father of modern quality management, once famously quipped “in God we trust, all others bring data.” Indeed, all industrial companies use data to measure performance and improve operations at all ranks of the enterprise. And Industry 4.0 advocates and big data fans continue to flaunt incomprehensible numbers to show just how much data smart factories of the future will amass.

But is generating data, even relevant, high quality data, enough? Do the data dashboards with multiple colorful gauges and waveforms displays offer a compelling value to shop floor operators and encourage them to use the data? Will more data help managers make better long-term decisions?

Unless employees trust the data enough to incorporate it into day-to-day operations and in complex long-term decision-making, even good data will go underutilized. In fact, distrust in corporate-endorsed data frequently results in employees ignoring useful information and using unauthorized resources and questionable “best practices.”

Turbine Jet’s Metzer believes it is “more important to connect with manufacturing line workers than managers,” as it helps employees understand the direction relationship between their daily work and the company’s bottom line, and encourages them to self-manage and strive for higher performance, especially by the staff who is directly affected by the metrics tracked by the system.

To be clear, the challenge of building trust in data that encourages consistent use for better decisions is not unique to machine operators. A KPMG study of more than 2,000 companies from around the world reveals a meager 34% confidence in data and analytics used by the organization to make business operations decisions.

Faster Time to Lean

Manufacturing companies in all industrial sectors are on an ongoing quest to accelerate manufacturing ramp up time, improve product quality, and lean all aspect of their manufacturing operations.

Manufacturing companies cannot rely on disparate disconnected systems that offer an incomplete view, and subjecting available information to biases of opinions. They must adopt a company-wide manufacturing operations management strategy driven by accurate, real-time production data directly from the shop floor. Industry 4.0 mindset and pervasive asset connectivity help manufacturing organizations shift the conversation from firefighting to evidence-based decisions and remedial actions.

In Tav Medical’s Belisha’s words: “Precise information used by all decision makers improves lean.”


Image: Instruments Du Dessinateur (Jean-Jacques Lequeu, 1782)