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To Get on Industry 4.0 Path, Focus on the Here and Now

David Wang
By David Wang CEO, Beet LLC

Industry 4.0 is inevitable, and everyone is looking to find a way forward. But manufacturing leaders who focus only on the technology involved will be frustrated—because the new industrial revolution is just as much a culture and people thing as it is a technology thing.

The only way to speedily change culture and people is to bring immediate and positive results to those who live in the manufacturing process every day.

Instead of focusing the Industry 4.0 discussion on “connected devices” and “digital twins,” manufacturers need to help people struggling to meet production goals and improve throughput with reduced and limited resources.

The Grand Canyon-size gap between the lofty aim of Industry 4.0 and today’s factory reality is the biggest hindrance to moving down the path of the new industrial revolution.

One solution focused on bridging this gap is enVision, a proprietary software application from Beet that uses all the existing sensors in a manufacturing system, along with a unique data-capturing, processing and visualization capability, to digitize the manufacturing process down to every motion and device. Similar to how EKG technology digitizes and visualizes the human heartbeat, Beet’s patented “heartbeat and sequence of operation view” digitizes and visualizes the manufacturing process.

When American Axle Manufacturing undertook its search for an Industry 4.0 solution in 2016, it had a very realistic goal. Its executives asked these four questions:

1) What’s the investment?

2) What’s the payback?

3) When will I see the return?

4) Are you willing to put your name on it?

With this simple framework, Lincoln Hughes, American Axle Manufacturing’s manufacturing engineering director, decided to conduct a pilot project at its Three Rivers, MI, facility with enVision.

American Axle Manufacturing targeted an assembly line. The issue was with throughput and unplanned downtime. The company had been running weekend shifts to make up for the production shortfall.

After trying enVision for two weeks, the company found the software application helped people on its shop floor connect and understand all the parts of their line with much better clarity.

Under the leadership of Scott Herford, a senior manufacturing engineering manager, American Axle Manufacturing was able to find out what was truly wrong, what might go wrong (predictive maintenance) and where hidden capacity existed in its five-year-old axle assembly line process.

American Axle Manufacturing leveraged the new insight on its system and started to improve the performance of the line. Within four months, the company consistently met its daily target with an average increase of at least 20% over daily production numbers recorded prior to using enVision. Today, the line is performing at or over design capacity daily.

To be sure, the long-term dream of Industry 4.0 is American Axle Manufacturing’s guiding star. But the company has demonstrated a clear understanding that the path to a future in which unplanned downtime is significantly reduced starts with bringing positive returns now.

Manufacturers can get a bead on what matters most today to partners and customers by surveying them.

A large programmable logic controller (PLC) maker with which Beet is familiar recently did just that—after one of its customers asked it to spell out its plans for Industry 4.0.

The PLC maker took the time to visit all of the customers’ plants in North America. In doing so, it found that the management and production personnel at the plants didn’t care about Industry 4.0; they needed tools to help them run their factory better and improve throughput.

To be sure, the work the PLC maker undertakes to make life easier on the shop floor today will go a long way toward achieving the Industry 4.0 envisioned by technologists.


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