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Seeing Shop-Floor Steps Clearly Helps Workers Quickly Learn on the Job

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media

Manufacturing Engineering: VKS [Visual Knowledge Share] develops an electronic work instruction solution designed to improve quality, productivity, and efficiency; tell us more about VKS.

Shannon Bennett: VKS software was made for manufacturers by manufacturers. We were born in a company called CMP; back in 1969, CMP opened under the name Chateauguay Machine Parts on Montreal’s south shore in Quebec, Canada. That’s where VKS was born. It wasn’t available to other manufacturers at that time, but through a couple of evolutions, in 2011 CMP created the company, Visual Knowledge Share. We started selling VKS to other manufacturers across the world.

Shannon Bennett
Implementation and Sales Engineer
Visual Knowledge Share Ltd.

ME: What was the main reason CMP created VKS?

Bennett: CMP was experiencing a lot of the same problems, the same gaps that a lot of manufacturers were facing then and today. They were having problems with standardization, variability in their processes, and they lacked visibility to the data that they were capturing. Either they weren’t capturing data, or they were and they just didn’t have access to leverage it in the right way. They were, of course, facing manpower issues. VKS was targeted to solve the problem of knowledge loss. You have best practices and tribal knowledge built up in an organization over time. When those people leave, if that information is not documented properly, the knowledge and the experience, all that viable information just kind of walks out the door with that person.

ME: What kind of results did CMP see from implementing VKS’ Visual Work Instructions?

Bennett: They saw improvements across the board, but it didn’t happen overnight. The evolution, as I mentioned, started back in 2005 with the creation of initial work instructions. As VKS matured, so did the results that CMP were experiencing. Today, the company has seen dramatic improvements in quality, productivity and a 90% reduction in defects over that period of time. That didn’t happen overnight. That is a culmination of years of work, years of improvements in the software, and then leveraging improvements in the manufacturing plant. From a productivity standpoint, CMP gained in excess of 20% in productivity across both facilities.

ME: What does a typical VKS customer look like?

Bennett: There’s really not a typical VKS customer. We have customers in just about every industry; in aerospace, automotive, defense, and over the last year or so, we’ve started penetrating pharmaceuticals. From small mom-and-pop shops that have a single plant and maybe 10–15 employees, to big multinational companies with tens of thousands of employees—all these companies find value in VKS. Part of that is because the kits are modular, so we’re able to deliver a tool that benefits or works for a company of a specific size, of a specific industry, that doesn’t give them a lot of stuff they don’t need. We have a presence and customers in over 30 countries and at least 15 languages.

ME: What are the key strengths of VKS?

Bennett: I think VKS offers a lot of different benefits over a lot of our competitors. I always tell customers about the flexibility and the usability of VKS, and use the analogy of a three-legged stool. On the author end, when we’re creating this documentation, taking that knowledge from a shop floor and documenting it using VKS, we’ve really made it super-simple to do that in lot of different ways. We’ve made author-mode mobile, so you can create work instructions on the fly, on the shop floor, while the author is standing there at the workstation where the work is happening.

The second leg of that stool is management. One of the major complaints or problems of creating this type of documentation is not necessarily the creation, but managing it. Creating the workflow to get these documents approved, managing the different versions, managing access to all of it; that is something that VKS makes very simple within the application. You don’t need a third-party application to do that. And deployment is really intuitive. It’s a browser-based application and we designed the interface, based on our manufacturing experience, to be intuitive for the end user.

Implementing the Visual Knowledge Share visual work instructions software has helped improve customer quality and productivity by more than 20% in its facilities. Image courtesy Visual Knowledge Share Ltd.

Another thing we do [really well] is traceability. You get 100% traceability with VKS. One example is our event wall, where basically everything every user does is tracked and recorded. If you want to know who did what and when, VKS is the right tool. And from a standpoint of process control, we take a different approach to work instructions. Some traditional work-instruction feeds [are based on] a PDF-type approach. We’ve taken a more process-controlled approach to it. We provide a step-by-step work guide, where the operator is really not allowed to skip steps or do things in a different sequence. VKS controls their progress through the activities, or through the specific tasks that make up the process. And I think, lastly, VKS provides an MES [manufacturing execution systems]-like experience. MES applications are extremely powerful, but they’re also extremely expensive. VKS attempts to package the most valuable components of an MES and provide it to manufacturers at a more affordable cost.

ME: What do VKS customers typically see as the most valuable component of the application?

Bennett: It really depends on the user, but generally speaking, I think engineers appreciate the quick and easy authoring that VKS provides. One of the things I hear from engineers is that it’s just so difficult to create effective work instructions that are actually going to be used with traditional tools, like Microsoft Word or Excel. VKS makes it simple for the engineers to do that, and they appreciate the ability to integrate VKS with other applications, like ERP applications, so that important data can be fed over automatically.

From an operator and technician standpoint, the intuitive interface is easy to learn and that simplifies the change management component that so many users like in VKS. They also appreciate our ‘tool connect’ capability. [With this capability,] an operator [doesn’t] need to tell the application what to do; the application can see in units the operator’s activities by receiving signals from a tool or a piece of machinery. Operators don’t want to have tasks and time added to their existing work. If we can inform them without adding non-value added tasks, they definitely appreciate that.

The access to data, whether it is quality data that is gathered and processed right from the shop floor, or TPIs, where managers are monitoring production, efficiency and productivity in real time, is vital; [using that data] to make decisions is extremely powerful.

ME: Where does VKS go from here, specifically regarding Industry 4.0? What changes do you see for VKS’ solution?

Bennett: We’re really focused on the connected worker—using advanced technology like augmented reality to deliver work instructions directly to a different interface, not necessarily a touchscreen on the shelf, as we are today, but something more realistic. This includes connecting the system to smart tools so that we can do things like auto advance work instructions, receive and send live data to and from the tool, and collect things like torque values in real time from the tool. You let the operator do what he needs to do without having to [perform] the data-collection piece. VKS can bring all of those different components together to work in unison instead of as separate components.

New Releases

Siemens AG (Berlin and Munich) announced the latest update of its NX CAD/CAM/CAE design software with the release of NX 12, which features integration of its electrical design technology acquired in the Mentor Graphics acquisition.

The average car today contains 100 million lines of code, meaning that cars are increasingly complex systems comprised of mechanical and electrical components. NX 12 provides connectivity between the disciplines, giving engineers visibility into both systems and helping drive their design decisions early on.
Image courtesy Siemens AG

This latest release unites electrical, mechanical and control systems through integration with Mentor Graphics Capital and Xpedition portfolios for electrical systems, harness and PCB design, in a multidisciplinary platform. The NX 12 update also features generative design tools enabling optimized organic designs, combining facet modeling with traditional models using Siemens’ Convergent Modeling technology. It also adds new additive manufacturing capabilities introduced for product development and 3D printing for industrial production.

With technology from Mentor Graphics, the new version of NX provides a direct connection between the design of electrical and mechanical systems. Linking the electrical tools and the 3D model enables co-design, including cross-probing, allowing designers of wiring diagrams and harnesses to work more closely together, preventing rework due to electromechanical issues.

Multidisciplinary work is not limited to electrical design. Applications involving large amounts of piping, such as ship building, will benefit from integration between instrumentation diagrams and 2D schematic layouts. New tools in NX allow engineers to lay out piping and instrumentation diagrams in 2D, while maintaining the design tied to the 3D space model. This synchronization can help eliminate errors and save time as teams work more closely than ever before.

“As embedded technology continues to increase in complexity, it is critical for product design tools to stay ahead of the multidisciplinary technology needed to effectively create and innovate these advanced products,” said Bob Haubrock, senior vice president, product engineering software, Siemens PLM Software. “With the latest version of NX, Siemens is providing a true multi-disciplinary platform, combining mechanical, electrical and control systems. Close collaboration between each of these design facets will eliminate errors, provide savings in time and cost, and ultimately enable our customers to drive more innovative designs.”

Sight Machine (San Francisco), developer of data collection systems for digital manufacturing, announced a next generation of self-serve capabilities that enable its customers, integrators and partners to take production data from factory floors and generate browser-based visibility into enterprise operations—within minutes.

Manufacturing plants vary widely in their digital readiness and project objectives. While some are already systematically collecting data and want to develop advanced analytics, many are looking to get more basic, real-time visibility into factory performance and machine data. Sight Machine’s platform now offers two tiers, Enterprise Manufacturing Visibility (EMV) and Enterprise Manufacturing Analytics (EMA), to provide manufacturers with the means to achieve ROI regardless of their digital objectives.

Sight Machine’s Enterprise Manufacturing Visibility (EMV) offers manufacturers three applications—the Global Operations View (shown here) plus a KPI Dashboard, and Streaming Data Visualization.
Image courtesy Sight Machine

The EMV was developed from visibility tools and software automation used by Sight Machine to deliver its artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled analytics for users. The new offering enables users to rapidly collect and visualize manufacturing data. With EMV’s self-service functionality, IT teams and systems integrators are equipped to deploy and scale real-time visibility into factory and machine throughput within minutes, allowing companies to quickly gain visibility across all plants.

EMV offers manufacturers three applications: Global Operations View, KPI Dashboard, and Streaming Data Visualization. Combined, these tools provide real-time, cross-enterprise insights into machine and factory operations including output, availability and downtime. Additionally, they deliver multi-factory performance monitoring by facility, machine type and machine; charting of historical data; and tracking of machine availability.

EMV also adds the Digital Twin Builder, an easy-to-use, browser-based tool to create data models of facilities, machines and machine types; secure cloud storage and retrieval of machine data, optimized to work with a customer’s desired cloud provider; and Factory TX, intelligent edge software to secure, optimize and normalize machine and factory data for streaming to the cloud.

“As industry adopts digital technology and starts identifying early successes, there is a hunger for fast, accurate visualization across enterprise operations; companies want to scale quickly and extend opportunities for analyzing data,” noted Jon Sobel, Sight Machine cofounder and CEO. “To respond to this need, we took tools and products developed over six years of working with manufacturers and developed self-serve capabilities for immediate and cohesive visualization of raw factory data.”


Networking giant Cisco (San Jose, CA) and cloud solutions developer BroadSoft Inc. (Gaithersburg, MD) have announced a definitive agreement for Cisco to acquire publicly held BroadSoft for $55 per share, in cash, in exchange for each share of BroadSoft, or an aggregate purchase price of approximately $1.9 billion net of cash, assuming fully diluted shares including conversion of debt. The acquisition has been approved by the board of directors of each company.

“Together, Cisco and BroadSoft will deliver a robust suite of collaboration capabilities across every market segment,” said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s applications business group. “We believe that our combined offers, from Cisco’s collaboration technology for enterprises to BroadSoft’s suite for small and medium businesses delivered through service providers will give customers more choice and flexibility.”

Cisco said its acquisition of BroadSoft reinforces its commitment to Unified Communications and enhances its ability to address the millions of aging TDM lines poised to transition to IP technology and cloud native solutions over the coming years. The acquisition is expected to close during the first quarter of 2018, subject to customary closing conditions and regulatory review. Prior to the close, Cisco and BroadSoft will continue to operate as separate companies.

Upon completion of the transaction, BroadSoft employees will join Cisco’s unified communications technology group, led by Vice President and General Manager Tom Puorro under the applications group led by Trollope.


Machine tool builder Mazak Corp. (Florence, KY) and MachiningCloud Inc. (Camarillo, CA, and Stans, Switzerland) jointly announce a new partnership to collaborate on systems combining Mazak machines with MachiningCloud’s technology that provides machinists with product data for cutting tools, CNC machines and workholding equipment.

Under the agreement, Mazak customers will have direct access to complete and up-to-date cutting tool product data from leading cutting tool and workholding manufacturers, providing a simpler way to find the right cutting tools.

Petasense Inc. (San Jose, CA), a predictive maintenance system supplier, announced it has entered into a strategic partnership with OSIsoft LLC (Emeryville, CA), a developer real-time data management software, to help drive adoption of IIoT technology in process and manufacturing plants.

Petasense offers an end-to-end IIoT-based predictive maintenance system to predict the health of critical machines like motors, pumps and compressors. The partnership will enable industrial customers to retrofit their machinery with wireless sensors and perform predictive maintenance using both asset and process control data. “The first step in IIoT for many industrial companies and utilities is capturing data from their legacy equipment,” said OSIsoft CEO Pat Kennedy. “Many of these systems—while they work fine—are years, if not decades, old and weren’t created with digital in mind. Our partnership with Petasense will help lay the foundation for digital transformation.”

Software Update is edited by Senior Editor Patrick Waurzyniak.


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