Field Intelligence guest column
Smart Manufacturing is a smart choice no matter who you are or what you make. But, if you’re running a high mix/low volume operation and competing with products produced in so-called low-cost countries, it’s not only smart, it’s almost certainly essential to your survival.
So, why am I having to point this out when the big boys who probably are your customers have been embracing smart manufacturing for a couple of decades? And why isn’t every firm in the high-mix/low-volume arena already taking advantage of this proven technology?
Those are good questions, and I’m going to focus the answers on smart manufacturing systems based on smart servo press technology for a couple of reasons: First, because my firm pioneered that tech and I’ve spent my career developing and implementing it. And, second, because that technology is an excellent analog for all of the other smart devices and systems out there today.
In the high-volume sector, and particularly in transportation, the use of smart servo presses has been growing steadily for longer than 20 years because they improve quality and productivity. Smart systems deliver precise control, low maintenance, high uptime, lower energy costs and consistent quality. They also provide valuable post-process data that can be used to track, analyze and improve the processes they’re performing.
All of these benefits are available in the high-mix/low-volume arena—along with the ability to shorten process development and changeover times that are even more critical in that environment. But until recently those benefits have come with a cost that has tended to limit the adoption of smart systems outside the high-volume transportation sector.
The key issue is tech support. An automaker has access to full departments dedicated to mechanical, electrical and controls engineering. A smaller manufacturer in the high-mix/low-volume sector is more likely to have a few individuals skilled in hydraulic and pneumatic systems and not much else.
The bottom line: New technologies tend to be complex when they are introduced because the innovators are pushing the limits and are tightly focused on just making their ideas work. Ease of use, ease of integration and simplicity are not part of the program at that point.
That comes later, and that’s where servo-press tech is today. The next generational jump is harnessing today’s computer processing power and process knowledge to build systems that are as easy to set up and manage as a new monitor or printer for a home office. It’s well underway and ready to go to work for smaller, non-automotive manufacturers who have to compete in the global market.
The only realistic way to survive in that market is to leverage tech to become more productive, and smart devices are the key to making that happen. They can make your processes more reliable, predictable and efficient—without a department staffed with engineers.
Smart systems also deliver another advantage, albeit an intangible one: When customers see that you are using better technology to produce the parts, they’re buying it creates a positive perception and gives you an advantage over your competitors, particularly those selling on the basis of production in “low cost” countries.
A final thought. You’ve probably been told that trying to “keep up with the Joneses” is a bad idea. But in a high-mix/low-volume environment, it’s not good enough to simply be part of the pack today. Today you need to be out front and pulling away, powered by the best smart tech available.