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How to Leverage the IoT in Lean Manufacturing

 By Frederick L. Thomas
Director, Discrete Manufacturing Industries
Dassault Systemes

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is quickly descending upon us, significantly impacting how automotive manufacturing will be managed in the future. As smart devices establish themselves throughout the digital factory, we will gain greater access to real-time data for analysis and feedback that will further automate, manage and improve the entire manufacturing process. Moving beyond embedded systems, which are typically stand-alone devices, this revolution will comprise a network of interacting cyber-physical systems with computing intelligence capability—an Internet of Things (IoT)—that enables even greater performance from the smart production line and factory.

Engine lines can capture data today. The IoT can take that, combine it with other information and come up with analyses that increase both manufacturing performance and qualityWithin the context of Lean manufacturing, focused on elimination of waste and continual process improvement, the IoT can lead to huge efficiency gains. Some people see it as Lean on steroids. Tools and equipment will automatically collect, share and interact with other data and processes, opening up a whole new realm of achievements attainable under Lean initiatives.

By accessing and centralizing data from equipment and processes, the IoT can provide automotive manufacturers a new level of visibility and access to real-time performance data across global operations. During the production process, data can be used to balance and optimize scheduling on the fly, adapting to market variability. With the IoT, pull manufacturing, an effective Lean strategy, achieves a whole new level of usefulness. This moves beyond automating the typical Kanban process into Smart Pull, where data intelligence from multiple domains such as quality, production yield, equipment failure records, etc., can now be used to produce the best manufacturing scenario based upon current demand. And, this applies to the global operation, allowing shifts in manufacturing output to the facility best suited to handle the demand at any one time.

In addition to leaner production scenarios, smart equipment will be able to self-monitor and improve its own performance, such as energy usage, to avoid peak demand charges. Automated preventive maintenance becomes possible as the machine knows and communicates its own state of required corrective actions, keeping it running at optimum productivity. Automotive suppliers can better manage parts delivery into inventory, which will automatically be able to replenish itself based upon real-time data.

All of these actions have the potential to significantly contribute to improved quality processes and products. With a closed-loop system where quality data is constantly iterated back up the chain, equipment can automatically adjust its settings to produce less scrap and better products as a result of this feedback.

New Opportunities, New Challenges
Increased productivity, lower costs, faster time to market and the ability to quickly and profitably respond to consumer demand are the obvious benefits of this new industrial age. However, achieving this level of interconnectedness between myriad smart devices creates an immense level of complexity that seems counter to traditional Lean viewpoints, which focus more on simplifying processes.

The factory floor has a history of increasing the adoption of automation and sensors, including those that collect data from devices. However, these systems have traditionally been disconnected from the rest of the organization. To properly gain the advantages offered by the IoT within a Lean manufacturing strategy requires this device-level data to be integrated with business processes across the global enterprise. Adding intelligence to these devices such that they can pull required inputs will only further accelerate this efficiency potential.

This concept requires a reevaluation of value streams and an alignment of business performance targets with plant-floor activity as well as the development of new standards to establish best practices for this new paradigm.

Given current trends and challenges, the automotive industry is ripe for the benefits to be gained from a Smart Factory. Reduced time to market coupled with the increasingly global nature of automotive manufacturing are two drivers of complexity that can be addressed in an IoT world. Consumer demand for personalized mobility experiences requires a globally-connected infrastructure. This level of personalization necessitates greater visibility and agility throughout the manufacturing process.

Self-inspection stations check to see that workpieces meets specifications and collect data for analysis without the need for human interventionIndustry research suggests 70% of manufacturing executives are focused on plant-floor data initiatives to drive operational and business excellence, faster time to market and immediate access to data from machines on the factory floor. However, the huge installed base of legacy equipment and software is a barrier to these goals.

Where to Get Started?
Automotive manufacturers hoping to reap the rewards of IoT need to now plan to optimize their next five years of infrastructure investment. To start the process, first look for the low-hanging fruit. What parts of your business have the greatest variability? Where do forecasts tend to be wrong more often than not? What processes could benefit from earlier and improved visibility? Which supplier relationships could benefit from greater communication between order and ship schedules? Pilot programs based upon IoT components can be tested and validated within your Tier 1 or primary suppliers.

In an increasingly just-in-time customized order-of-one world, manufacturing processes can be run more efficiently when greater flexibility is possible. In these types of scenarios, an ability to perform near real-time execution could be a significant competitive advantage. This requires increased collaboration, connectivity and coordination from across the enterprise. If machinery and systems are connected within and across plants, automotive manufacturers can use this information to automate work flows to manage and maintain production systems with greater efficiency.

Fortunately, these enterprise manufacturing solutions now exist, and can be a real benefit when trying to improve efficiency across work flows while managing manufacturing operations as more of an enterprise endeavor. Vendor solutions that offer a process-based solution can be implemented in a phased approach to help minimize the risks involved in an IT system overhaul.

How a Platform-Based Manufacturing System, Lean and IoT Come Together
History has taught us that disparate systems are a hindrance to Lean, efficient operations. A focus on establishing a common platform, and not applications, is a great first step to streamlining processes and establishing a framework to automate device responses to the dynamic global environment automotive manufacturers operate. The digitization of event “triggers” can only help improve efficiency in this type of scenario. According to Simon Jacobson, Vice President of Manufacturing Research at Gartner, in his November 5, 2014, report titled, “Four Best Practices to Manage the Strategic Vision for the Internet of Things in Manufacturing”:

“The decision support needed for agile, intelligent and reliably demand-driven operations requires high-quality information that’s extracted and distilled from multiple data points and processes that can be proactively adjusted based on real-time market conditions and made visible to manufacturing.”

This necessitates an enterprise IT architecture based on a platform capable of managing and integrating each of the processes surrounding manufacturing events or activities. Look for a scalable and secure enterprise solution which provides the visibility to define, control and optimize manufacturing processes across multiple sites and functions, while still accommodating specific plant-level requirements for highly responsive, adaptive manufacturing in the automotive industry.

The IoT has the potential to bring a whole new level of automation and intelligence to Lean manufacturing. But gaining the potential benefits first calls for proper planning to manage the additional complexity that is part of this transformation. Putting the proper Lean processes and infrastructure in place can unleash the potential of the IoT, empowering it to act as Lean on steroids.

Key to achieving this vision is a process-based software platform with the ability to integrate and capture data from all domains of manufacturing operations management including quality, maintenance, time and attendance, material and production. And, it must have built-in capability to connect device-level data with business operations to generate real-time manufacturing intelligence that is actionable. Pulling all of these capabilities together can enable a Smart Pull strategy that significantly contributes to waste elimination and process improvement—the heart of any Lean initiative.

This article first appeared in Motorized Vehicle Manufacturing 2015

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