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FABTECH Panel Tackles How to Implement New Manufacturing Technologies

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

What is Industry 4.0 and why should we care about it? That was one of the questions that a Leadership Exchange on Emerging and Advanced Technologies attempted to answer. Among many other topics, the panel, held on Monday, Nov. 11, offered great practical ideas on Industry 4.0. Moderated by Dave O’Neil, vice president of SME Media, the panel included Chandra Brown, CEO of MxD, Chicago, one of the 14 Manufacturing USA institutes; Jason Ray, co-founder and CEO of Paperless Parts Inc., Boston, and Michael Walton, industry solutions executive (manufacturing) at Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash.

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(Left to right) Moderator Dave O’Neil, SME; Chandra Brown, MxD; Jason Ray, Paperless Parts Inc.; Boston, and Michael Walton, Microsoft Corp.

O’Neil led off the panel with this question the panelists: “For small to medium shops, what is Industry 4.0, what products are necessary to implement it, and what data should be captured?”

Brown led off the responses with this reply: “Start with an assessment of where you are at in this digital journey. You don’t have to transform everything immediately. Pick one area [to start digitizing] and do it well.”

She encouraged the audience to think about the ROI of a few specific things, because there are “a million things you can do with digital thread and all these technologies. You need to see where the best bang for your buck is. Sensors are cheap and collect a lot of data, so you need to determine your pain points” and attack them first.

Ray of Paperless Parts encouraged attendees to focus on connecting their most important asset: people. When you walk into a shop today, there’s paper everywhere. All that is tribal knowledge. [Use digitization] to capture the tribal knowledge of your most skilled people” so it can be passed on to new machinists. “When I talk to shops, their biggest problem is finding people. They can’t get a second shift up, so the question becomes how you enable your people and get them to work for you? Focus on that,” and use digitization technology to make things easier for new employees to access knowledge and get up to speed.

Walton of Microsoft agreed that digitizing tribal knowledge is vital, but that using sensors to monitor machining processes can start the process of identifying knowledge no one—including experienced machinists—knows is there. “Move from your business running on tribal knowledge and artisans to capturing people’s actual knowledge, then use sensors to capture the hidden knowledge [in your machining processes],” he said. “We can take a $49 sensor on a machine” and analyze that data to coach people on what process changes are needed. You can visualize on a dashboard, parts, components and geometries; you can visualize the process inside the factory. It’s not that hard. It’s as simple as a few sensors feeding a dashboard.

I was working with a $40 million job shop that galvanized parts, and the owner couldn’t hire enough people,” Walton continued. “He felt that they were in an artisan situation, not a science situation, but he wasn’t capturing all the knowledge in those aging machinists. [We worked with him and] he took one of those experienced people [to identify what information needed to be monitored], came up with a simple dashboard from a simple data feed, and was able to visualize the process from the begin to when the part was galvanized. The CEO told me, ‘Before this, we had never been able to get true Takt time. After what I saw on the dashboard, I realized that we could split into two shifts with just the existing staff and increase our capacity.”

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