How Industry 4.0 is supporting continuous improvement across the production process.
For decades, lean manufacturing has been a hallmark of production excellence. The principles behind it, which focus on reducing waste and continuous improvement, have helped businesses improve their processes at nearly every manufacturing stage. When a production process is operating at peak efficiency, businesses not only cut costs, they also improve product quality, which in turn improves brand reputation.
While the concept of lean manufacturing is nothing new, modern technology is providing new ways for manufacturers to assess their production processes and discover new lean ways to operate. The suite of new technologies transforming manufacturing are collectively known as “Industry 4.0,” and all have ramifications for reducing waste and enabling continuous improvement.
5 Industry 4.0 technologies:
- Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Interconnected wireless devices make it easier to monitor production, control equipment remotely, and ensure everything is working in unison.
- Big Data Analytics. Tracking processes at every level gives manufacturers deeper insights into how to optimize supply chain efficiency.
- Advanced simulations allow manufacturers to fine-tune their assemblies before implementation.
- Augmented Reality (AR). Visors equipped with AR technology allow operators to better interact with robots and provide assistance during assembly.
- 3D Printing (Additive Prototyping). Additive prototyping gives manufacturers a cost-effective way to check their manufacturing processes against a physical model.
One of the concepts of lean manufacturing is that there are seven kinds of waste that businesses should examine if they want to improve their processes. Here’s how Industry 4.0 can be applied to each area.
It can be difficult to predict the supply and demand cycles of a market. However, when a manufacturer produces too much of a product, it can leave them with too much stock that they then must find a way to offload—either by storing it and selling it at a slower rate or by selling it at a lower profit margin than desirable.
Big data can help businesses track supply and demand trends so that manufacturers can be more responsive to market needs. IIoT can better connect the production line, so that the manufacture of certain components can be automatically halted once enough have been produced, and then automatically restarted when more is required.
Moving components around a factory floor can increase inefficiency and introduce opportunities for bottlenecks. Lean manufacturing has traditionally looked for ways to minimize the transport of components, by storing parts close to the point of assembly.
Simulations can show how moving a supply of parts from one position on the factory floor to another might save resources. Big data can provide more in-depth analytics, including how much time it takes to transport parts, or how many components need to be on hand to meet production needs.
Increased movement of robotic arms or automated parts can add wear and unnecessary tear to machinery. Even worse, if an assembly requires for excess worker movements, it can lead to increased fatigue and the risk of repetitive strain injuries. Fatigued workers are also more likely to make production errors, or to make some other mistake that could result in injury.
Advanced assembly simulations can help identify and eliminate needless movements, while augmented reality can help guide workers through assembly steps, minimizing the risk of injury.
Whether it’s bottlenecks in the production line, excess downtime, or assembly sequences that require operators to “hurry up and wait,” unbalanced operations mean that your assets aren’t operating as efficiently as they could be.
Simulation technology can identify spaces in the production process where there’s too much downtime, and identify ways to fill those gaps with more efficient assemblies.
Many assembly processes change over time as businesses update a subassembly, or introduce new technology into the system. When these changes occur, it is possible for there to be redundant steps in the process, such as parts being counted or verified multiple times. In other cases, a part may be over-engineered, adding to the expense of a product without enhancing its overall value.
Advanced data systems give businesses more insight into their assembly methods so that they can identify areas where they may be over-analyzing work. Assembly simulations can also work to identify and eliminate redundancies so that the overall workflow runs more efficiently.
Product flaws are the most obvious source of waste in manufacturing, and one which every business owner wants to eliminate as much as possible. The further downstream a production flaw gets before it is identified, the more resources are lost in fixing it.
Various Industry 4.0 technologies can work together to reduce waste from product defects. As we’ve covered, Augmented Reality can prevent errors by support workers. IIoT devices can transmit production data to a central console to facilitate easy monitoring. Finally, Big Data can keep track of all components during production and trace any errors back to the point of origin.
Last but not least, inventory management comes with its own challenges, both in overstocking resources which must then be stored, and in the risk of under-stocking a component and running into a shortage. To ensure the correct inventory supply is always on hand, businesses must know both what they have available, and what they will need for their manufacturing needs in the near future.
Big data can obviously help with inventory management, but IIoT can also play a role by helping businesses track where their inventory is at any time. It can even track incoming arrivals, send notifications when stock is running low, or automatically order materials under certain conditions.
Eagle Technologies are experts in lean manufacturing and Industry 4.0.
At Eagle Technologies, we have over seven decades of experience in continuously improving our processes. Part of our strategy has always been to keep track of emerging technologies and consider new and innovative ways to apply them when designing our assembly processes. If you are interested in learning about how Industry 4.0 can be used to help your business achieve digital lean manufacturing standards, contact us today. We would be happy to speak with you about your needs.
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Eagle Technologies, headquarters in Bridgman, MI
Eagle builds the machines that automate manufacturing. From high-tech robotics to advanced product testing capabilities, Eagle offers end-to-end manufacturing solutions for every industry.