The pace of technology today is rapid, with the potential to transform manufacturing. Digitization, automation, and connectivity are opening many new doors on the production floor. What are some of the technologies with the highest potential being used right now in industrial settings? Below are five that I believe can take an operation to a new level of excellence.
Mobile Devices: Putting mobile devices in the hands of technicians can impact the operation massively. It’s an enabler that allows for increased responsiveness, communication, and understanding about production. With a smartphone or tablet, a technician can see trends or dynamically communicate with other team members. In fact, the next examples require mobile devices for efficient implementation.
Predictive Maintenance: Another technology seeing more recent adoption is predictive maintenance. This is the strategy of using live feedback from machines to predict when failures will occur. With the knowledge of an upcoming equipment issue, the production team can adjust the schedule beforehand and repair the machine before it breaks down.
This strategy looks to maximize uptime, and it works—a 2018 CXP Group report found that 91 percent of companies using predictive maintenance see a reduction of repair time and unplanned downtime, and 93 percent see improvement of aging assets. Furthermore, in a 2017 article, McKinsey & Co. stated that predictive maintenance typically reduces downtime by 30-50 percent and increases machine life by 20-40 percent.
With mobile devices on the floor, maintenance workflows are most efficient. Using a mobile computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) enables many advantages: better communication, improved data quality, greater accountability, and increased overall maintenance efficiency. It is a huge positive when you give technicians the power to access detailed information while they are at the machine, allowing them to take notes immediately or collaborate quickly with others.
Augmented Reality: As mobile devices have proliferated, augmented reality (AR) is becoming more mainstream. AR uses digital technology to add graphics or text to a real-world display. By overlaying virtual information on the current environment, AR allows users to enjoy an improved experience. AR allows experts to assist the operation remotely—saving both time and money. AR can also be used to provide detailed work instructions, ensuring that the technician or operator is throwing the correct switch or turning the correct valve. AR is growing in industrial markets, with heavyweights like Bosch, Boeing and Airbus all adopting the technology.
AI / Machine Learning: Another hot topic is that of artificial intelligence (AI) with machine learning (ML). The potential of these tools is enormous, so operations should be thinking about how they can start working with them. ML algorithms are fed real data from the process floor and “taught” what is ideal. From this basis, the model can generate deep insights about the production process and how to optimize it.
3D Printing: This technology helps maintenance staffs reduce downtime by increasing the availability of replacement parts, often at a lower cost. Technicians can create custom pieces on demand to fit the needs of the operation. The benefits are real—80 percent of 3D printing users say it is enabling them to innovate faster.
These five technologies are somewhat new, but they are all being used in manufacturing today to improve the production process. The question is how rapidly can they be employed and how each manufacturer can best employ them for their own benefit.