Industry TalkRegular Industry Development Updates, Opinions and Talking Points relating to Manufacturing, the Supply Chain and Logistics.
Smart Solutions in the Hands of Manufacturers: The ‘Remote’ Route to Zero Machine Downtime
Unplanned downtime is placing a greater burden on manufacturers than ever before. Research from Siemens highlights that the cost of unplanned downtime is – in every sector – at least 50% more per hour than it was two years ago. The total losses associated with unplanned downtime are also rising sharply, with the same report estimating that Fortune Global 500 industrial organisations lose almost USD 1.5tn a year through unplanned downtime. This is a 65% rise in two years and constitutes 11% of turnover.
Minimising unplanned downtime is a business imperative but doing so by incurring the extra cost of over-maintenance – e.g. regular line closures for routine maintenance or holding extra inventory in case of machine failure – is equally unappealing and goes against global sustainability efforts.
The solution lies within the ecosystem in which production machinery operates. The infrastructure available to support the use of equipment within a manufacturing setting – including training and development, machine monitoring, and service and support – must be a key consideration within any purchasing decision. As Kate Rattigan explains, an infrastructure built around real-time, remote support may hold the key to zero machine downtime…
In recent years, there has been increasing global recognition of the importance of sustainable productivity – maximising production line performance while minimising wastage – and the role that predictive maintenance and ‘servitisation’ play within this.
But to make real, long-term gains in sustainable productivity, businesses need to have the right people focused on processes that are critical to current manufacturing operations, as well as those focused on tomorrow’s innovation. They need the right processes to get the most from their production lines. And they need the right technology and infrastructure to optimise their equipment.
Moreover, with the cost of unexpected downtime increasing year on year, optimising this infrastructure relies upon the ability to deliver solutions to issues quickly. In today’s operating environment, ‘remote’ is the new ‘next to you’.
People have played and – as far as academics and industry experts envisage – will continue to play a fundamental role in production line optimisation. Forbes suggests that advances in technology and automation will enable workers to focus on more meaningful and high-value activities, including design and management tasks. In addition, both MIT and Statista suggest that human-automation collaborations will be the future of manufacturing. Preparing the workforce for this future is an ongoing process that carries greater emphasis than ever today.
Indeed, Professor Karl Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, in his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, called for leaders and citizens to work together to “shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”
What this means in real terms, is that manufacturers should ensure they have the support of an equipment supplier who can deliver remote services and is willing to invest in staff training and development. In this way manufacturers can ensure that employees receive and retain the skills and knowledge needed to use machines to their optimal capacity, including:
- starter training in how to use machines effectively;
- maintenance and servicing to ensure that machines can be kept running at optimal levels;
- training in software/monitoring solutions to look for opportunities to optimise product lines.
The ideal scenario is getting staff trained in advance so they can start work with machinery as soon as it is installed or before they are expected to start work on a production line. Remote will often be the easiest way to achieve this.
In addition, as staff recruitment and labour shortages remain one of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers; the prospect of remote training will therefore likely be very attractive, as it allows staff to learn without being away from the production line. Moreover, with changing consumer demands, growing sustainability pressures, and a transitory workforce, it’s worth considering whether the same people will be doing the same job in three, six, or nine months. Having experts on hand to support manufacturers through change will enable business agility and give manufacturers a competitive edge.
With people in the right places, fulfilling the right roles, and equipped with the right knowledge, the next step in mitigating unplanned downtime is to have best practice, remote machine monitoring processes in place to ensure that production lines are operating at optimal efficiency.
Automation, machine integration, and sensors monitoring production line and machine performance, combined with cloud connectivity, can allow manufacturers and their supplier partners to identify even the slightest changes in performance, irrespective of where the machinery might be in the world.
Data collected through automated and connected solutions can be used to baseline how a machine and/or production line is functioning optimally and send an alert in real-time when performance degradation is spotted. This information can be accessible on-site to workers who can implement fixes and improvements and also to equipment providers who can use the data to offer more customised services aligned to a manufacturer’s defined key performance indicators or preferred outcomes.
This type of proactive insight allows manufacturers and service providers to move from a reactive ‘break and fix’ model to one of predictive maintenance. A model that is, moreover, more closely aligned to the evolving role of people in production line optimisation, as the ‘engineer of the future’, achieves intellectual capital focused on data-driven decision-making and customer outcomes.
The final piece of the puzzle is – of course – technology. Through augmented reality, service providers can maximise the value of machinery to offer remote services and effectively be ‘by the manufacturer’s side’ in hours, even minutes – significantly faster than relying on a physical visit.
Advanced remote service solutions can not only speed up the time to fix machinery that requires support but can be used for predictive maintenance, addressing minor issues before they cause a production line to halt, or allowing for changeovers to maintain maximum levels of factory output.
Of course, this also requires machinery designed with ease of service in mind for both production line workers and engineers, and which allows for remote collaboration to ensure that customers can self-serve with minimal guidance. Today’s Industry 4.0-enabled machines should, for example, be designed with:
- QR codes to access instruction videos for maintenance, cleaning, and simple repairs;
- parts which can be easily replaced by staff on site;
- a service infrastructure that allows for remote assistance.
The final consideration should be the availability of resources: having a global supplier partner who can easily send consumables, machine parts, and spares to you quickly – wherever you are in the world – is key.
Reliability and peace of mind are imperative in manufacturing production lines today. Ensuring the overall integrity of not just individual pieces of machinery but the entire machine infrastructure is critical. It requires a partner who can provide agile solutions focused on helping businesses avoid unnecessary downtime and promote efficiency. The easiest way to do this is with remote tools and services that allow manufacturers to ensure staff are trained, technologies are integrated and optimised, and machinery is easily serviceable without relying on an on-site service engineer, empowering manufacturers to take control of their environment.