A More Flexible Facility through Digitalization

Resource Type: Newsletters | May 31, 2019

In many ways and for many reasons, facilities are being asked to become nimbler and adapt to change more quickly.

Digitalization has given us much more flexibility in our personal lives.  Do you remember when meeting a friend somewhere meant that you had to be at that exact place at that exact time and you had to plan it well in advance?  What if the place was too crowded to find them or the hours changed and it was closed? Do you remember how much stress unexpected traffic caused? Remember getting lost? Now, your GPS tells you about traffic so you can plan for it.  You can send a text.  We all have maps in our pockets with a little blue “you are here” dot.  We have the flexibility to change our plans at a moment’s notice and without much hassle.

Similarly, there are many ways in which digital upgrades can give managers the flexibility they are looking for in different areas of a facility.

Flexibility in Improvement Planning

Manufacturing engineers walk around plants and have ideas about improvements all day long.  One thing that can box them in is the feasibility of trying those ideas.  By creating a digital twin of the equipment or by using Plant Sim, theories can be tested with no disruption to production whatsoever.

  • What would happen if we moved this station a few feet closer?
  • If we added another operator at station 2, would that create a bottleneck down the line?
  • Can we make the programming more efficient to shave off a few seconds of cycle time?

These questions can be answered with a few clicks instead of moving tons of equipment, hassling operators, or taking the system offline.

Flexibility in Project Scheduling

Scheduling in an upgrade with an estimated 6-week commissioning time is nearly impossible.  Who has time to shut down for 6 weeks?  That was the estimate a recent customer received for a line upgrade.  But with virtual commissioning, we were able to get the onsite time down to 7 days.  Using a digital twin to complete most debugging offsite, it was much easier for plant managers to find a 7 day window to make desperately needed improvements.

Flexibility in Production

Using RFID tags or barcodes to attach information to objects, we can provide more flexibility in the way items move through a production line.

One way is to scan an item as it moves through the line and send it to the right operator station based on station availability and/or operator skill.  This flexibility of item movement could also reduce bottlenecks and improve quality by matching the part to the operator.

On the other hand, you could have the part carry the assembly instructions on an RFID tag and display the instructions on an HMI or other screen.  This keeps gives the operator more flexibility in what they are able to work on because they don’t have to remember or find instructions for every customized item.

We’ll be discussing in detail a project where we incorporated both of these ideas in an upcoming webinar.

Flexibility in Maintenance

Maintenance is expected.  Surprise maintenance is a hassle.

Our cars have gas lights.  Our laptops have low power notifications.  Our pharmacies send prescription refill reminders.  These warnings monitor our usage or behaviors and allow us a window of time to attend to the task at our convenience.

By collecting data from equipment, we can create algorithms that provide advance warning for maintenance tasks.  That way, maintenance supervisors have the flexibility to schedule the maintenance at a time that’s convenient, like between shifts, instead of mid-production.

In one recent project, we created a CNC predictive maintenance app, which collects data on the CNC equipment and sends warnings when maintenance is needed.  This gives that facility the flexibility around scheduling maintenance.  It also gives them flexibility around staffing, as they are not relying on the one operator, nearing retirement, who senses maintenance by feel or by “that noise.”

There are lots of ways that we can add flexibility into a facility to reduce stress and put you in control of changes.  These are just some examples, but we’d love to brainstorm with you about ways that work for your facility.

Related categories: Asset TrackingIndustry 4.0 / Digitalization
Terrance Brinkley

Terrance Brinkley's Bio

Michigan Director of Operations

With a natural affinity for control systems integration, Terrance Brinkley has been an asset to Patti Engineering since 2004 and now leads his team as the Director of Michigan Operations. A native of Pontiac, Michigan, Terrance graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in both Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering.