May 12 2015

Conveyor Belt Innovations [INFOGRAPHIC]

As the manufacturing shop floor continues to be impacted from today’s digital transformation, every system, process or equipment must ultimately be evaluated for continuous process improvement. As conveyor belts are an integrated part of the manufacturing process, they too should be considered when seeking opportunities to improve operational excellence (see this related Manufacturing Transformation blog post on the history of the conveyor belt).

Special thanks to the folks at Dorner Conveyors for creating the below Infographic that highlights some of the optimization strategies that can be applied to conveyor belts, as part of your journey towards achieving and sustaining operational excellence.

Here are some interesting points featured in the graphic below:

  • Sorting technologies increase packaging productivity by over 90% when used in tandem with conveyor solutions
  • Only 2% of belt conveyors have unplanned outages due to mechanical or electrical issues
  • Germany has the fastest conveyor belt system, which is used in the lignite mines and has a speed of 15 m/second
  • Backlit conveyors lower the rate of error by 66%
  • Scheduled maintenance is important to keep conveyor systems running at their full potential, and can decrease the chance of equipment failure, health and safety violations, and accidents



Source: Dorner Conveyors

Optimization For Todays Conveyors

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May 05 2015

How do You Measure Manufacturing Resource Productivity?

manufacturing intelligence will be available to all in 4th industrial revolutionManufacturers have done a good job in recent years of squeezing the inefficiencies out of their operations and improving productivity. Most large enterprises have a Lean manufacturing program in place to one degree or another. The competitive global marketplace now requires it.

But there’s one area of potential improvement that has received only minimal attention, and that’s resource productivity. Even the term sounds odd—resources like water, oil, and energy are just the cost of doing business, right? You use them and throw them away. This has been the traditional approach. But, a recent article from McKinsey & Company’s web site, “Manufacturing growth through resource productivity,” argues that manufacturers are being forced to change, due to rising resource costs on the one hand, and increasing customer demands on the other. The article proposes 5 key factors that enterprises need to consider in order to seriously improve their resource productivity:

  1. Apply Lean concepts and procedures to resource management
  2. Start with the goal of maximum resource efficiency instead of just improving existing processes
  3. Track profit per hour, in real-time, including energy and resource costs
  4. Think more holistically by changing process, culture, and organization
  5. Recycle resources instead of automatically consuming them

These are all interesting ideas, but the one I want to focus on is profit per hour. What’s striking, and challenging, is the idea of measuring and reporting this metric in real-time. How could this be done? Where would the data come from?

Is Profit per Hour a Metric You Track?

A lot of cost and some material data are in an ERP system. But, in order to know true profit per hour on a real-time basis, you need access to more information. You need to know everything that happens on every production line to a high degree of granularity – as it happens. And, you will need the ability to relate all activities to resource use and their related costs. This means answering questions like: How many products were just made in the last hour? What resources are being used, and at what cost for each production run? Does resource use vary over time and why? How do different plants compare?

This kind of data integration and detail is not possible in the traditional manufacturing environment of siloed operations and legacy systems. It is possible, however, with an enterprise solution for Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM). A platform-based approach, which some of the leading companies have been deploying for several years now, can address this challenge.

A MOM can provide a standardized platform across plants for manufacturing execution and visibility down to the plant floor, and across related operations including warehouse, production, labor, quality and suppliers. As enterprises expand their use of these platforms, the data for tracking resource productivity will become more readily available. This data can then be harvested with new Business Intelligence (BI) tools.

An enterprise MOM platform can also help address other changes proposed by the article, particularly #1 (Lean operations) and #4 (holistic thinking), because these platforms can help enforce best practices in people and machines.

There are many reasons for manufacturers to adopt a standardized MOM platform for use across their entire enterprise. Now resource productivity can be added to that list.

Given the obvious value of measuring profit per hour with resource costs included, and the fact that the MOM platforms needed to enable this are becoming widely adopted, it seems a safe bet that managing resource productivity in manufacturing will move from “a good idea” to “a must-have to compete” in the next few years.


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Apr 28 2015

Data’s Fifth Element

Visibility to big data is the fifth elementAt this point in the evolution of big data, most of us are familiar with its characteristics and potential to inform better decision-making. As far back as 2001, industry analyst Doug Laney listed the three Vs as integral to what made data ‘big’ – namely Volume, Velocity and Variety (see this recent Gartner report). In the intervening years, many others have attached additional characteristics, one of the most common being Value, to create the four Vs.

But as the size, speed and complexity of data has increased, it has often become harder and harder to derive value. As a result, the focus today in manufacturing and beyond has shifted to a fifth V – Visibility. With all the data accumulating in the cloud, in data centers and on the manufacturing floor, global visibility over what is useful and what is not has been obscured. Data in itself is worthless if it cannot be acted on, and the ability to do that can often be impeded by the sheer avalanche of information being collected. Visibility, data’s fifth element, will be the key to driving manufacturing intelligence and, ultimately, value for the bottom line.

Data Must be Visible to be Valuable

In reality, there is more than one type of data visibility across the manufacturing process. When thinking about data, we need to examine its flow. Acquisition takes place in analog measurements. Then, data will leave this point of origin, and become in motion. At this point it may or may not be analyzed in real time, providing instant visibility over critical operations. Situations where this may be advantageous are quality functions, where real-time information can be used to prevent a small, out-of-spec occurrence to becoming a large recall. Another example might be information about the temperature of an equipment component, which could be acted upon to prevent a motor from catching fire and leading to downtime.

Beyond real-time visibility, when data comes to rest on a server or at a workstation, deeper analysis can take place. It can be merged with historical data from the archives to examine trends over time. This information can then be linked into higher-level systems to help drive business decisions. It’s this type of high-level visibility – with data integrated across the enterprise – which will shape the future of manufacturing intelligence, and predictive intelligence. This has been the goal of Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) since the mid-90s.

Greater Visibility Means better Responsiveness

Today’s global Manufacturing Operations Management solutions now have access to this level of data. Users can combine production efficiency with quality and visibility. The result is decreased time to production or time to global market, for new product introduction. Ultimately, this level of data visibility can help to deliver better manufacturing agility across the entire production process, beyond the plant floor to inventory, quality, maintenance and labor activities.

In the end, it all comes down to using the right data to make the right decisions. In an increasingly globalized market place, the differentiators that allow the best to stand out from the rest can be minute. Every possible advantage needs to be exploited. Providing the right information to people at the right time means better decisions get made about every aspect of manufacturing, including advanced planning, production capacity analysis, Work-in-Process (WIP), inventory turns and standard lead times. Though the individual gains made from big data visibility may be small, when added up they can be the difference between a business ready for the future, and one that’s stuck in the past.


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Apr 22 2015

Happy Earth Day 2015! Lean Manufacturing is Green Manufacturing [INFOGRAPHIC]

As we recognize Earth Day 2015, amid the various climate gyrations experienced throughout the world, the importance of seeing the big picture has never been more important. Take a moment today to think about what you can do to use fewer natural resources, streamline a manufacturing process or improve a Green Manufacturing initiative!

As food for thought, here is an Infographic from the folks at Bishop-Wisecarver Group. They are a WBENC certified woman-owned family of companies who works with manufacturers to engineer, produce, and build custom complex assemblies, linear motion solutions and optimal embedded intelligence systems. Learn more about them here. Thanks BWG!



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Apr 16 2015

The Compliance Quagmire and Medical Device Manufacturing

regulatory-compliance-medical-device-manufacturingThe pace of technological change today means that opportunity for gains in operational efficiency in the manufacturing process are ever-present. For most industries, this is good news. When innovation can be assimilated into the production process with ease, end users benefit from incremental product improvement. When it comes to medical devices, however, the upward curve of technology is a double-edged sword.

Compliance processes for medical device manufacturing are strict, and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out why. When people’s lives are on the line, the proper checks and balances need to be in place. In particular, when a brand new product is undergoing tests, the strictest of measures should be taken to ensure that the device is up to par, and that it doesn’t pose a danger to the health of future users.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Many now believe that medical device regulation might have reached the point where innovation and new product introduction is now being impeded, with compliance making up 25-35 per cent of the cost of goods. The more established players in the industry have traditionally relied upon startups and smaller companies to drive innovation. But economies of scale, combined with the financial burden of testing and validation, mean smaller and more agile companies simply no longer have the means to lead the innovation push given today’s regulatory compliance burden.

Recent figures from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) serve to highlight just how onerous the burden is on smaller companies. The average US Company pays $9,991 per employee per year to comply with federal regulations. The average manufacturer pays almost double, at $19,564 per employee per year. Worse again, small manufacturers, or those with fewer than 50 employees, incur a regulatory cost of $34,671 per employee every year – more than three times the cost borne by the average US company. When we take into consideration the increased regulatory burden that comes with operating in the medical sector, it’s no wonder that small players are being marginalised and innovation is being stifled.

The amount of time and money absorbed by the process means that once verification is achieved, there is a disincentive to seek further innovation. The investment required to alter the process and maintain validation can be substantial. Companies become risk averse to rocking the boat and exploring new methods in the production process. So although the technology these companies are developing is at the cutting edge of science, the approach to compliance is often still stuck in the 20th century.

A New Approach is Needed

The above referenced aversion to innovation extends to the processes used for compliance. Medical Device manufacturers still predominantly rely on paper-based processes. Although the benefits of more refined solutions are commonly known, there is an underlying reluctance to change, stemming largely from the culture that now exists at these organizations – as a shadow that overregulation has cast across the industry. For the most part, the attitude is ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ While this old adage certainly has its place, should that place be at the cutting edge of medical science?

To add to the woes outlined above, in the US, 2013 saw the introduction of an incremental 2.3 per cent medical device excise tax, part of the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. Excise taxes are generally levied on harmful activities such as alcohol consumption and smoking, not innovation with the potential to save lives. Some might argue that 2.3 per cent is not a big amount. But, when you are a startup and not yet profitable, every margin point counts.

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