Visualising plant floor excellence

13 June 2014

An IDC Manufacturing Insights whitepaper has identified some recent trends for manufacturing operations management across Europe. Control Engineering Europe looks at the main points to come out of the research.

A key finding of the whitepaper is the fact that fostering operational excellence is back at the top of manufacturers’ agendas. This demonstrates a profound mindset change and rethinking of some recent priorities, which over the last 10-15 years, were essentially focused on production outsourcing to low-cost countries.

Other findings show that manufacturers believe the most compelling approach to achieving operational excellence is by achieving higher levels of plant floor visibility and that around 65% of European manufacturers believe that the importance of plant floor visibility will increase over the next three years and they are ready to launch initiatives to achieve this.

IT and operation technology (OT) were also identified as having a fundamental role - supporting companies to achieve operational excellence in manufacturing through a higher level of plant floor visibility.

Survey results show that not only are governments realising the importance of the manufacturing industry but that the mindset of manufacturers are also changing regarding the importance of making products.

Critical business initiatives that manufacturers in Europe are prioritising over the next three years include ‘fostering operational excellence in manufacturing’, along with more business oriented initiatives such as exploiting new markets, increasing customer experience and product innovation. Manufacturers are going back to basics and putting a renewed premium on production knowledge, driven by the need to protect and enhance their product and production technology. They understand that direct involvement in production operations can foster innovation and improve customer service.

Addressing challenges
Manufacturers are preparing to launch a number of initiatives aimed at addressing the most critical plant floor challenges. Although significant investments have been made in the past to improve and automate plant floor processes, all plant floor areas are still considered to be a challenge.

The three major areas of challenge on the plant floor are:
Inbound/Outbound: Manufacturers have a growing awareness of the importance of
inbound and outbound processes which have, traditionally, been considered of marginal
importance. Poor management of these processes may lead to excess inventory and poor
customer fulfillment.

Manufacturing: The excess of work-in-process resulting from suboptimal and disconnected operational processes – particularly material flow and production¬ – is of notable concern.
Maintenance management and quality control: Ancillary processes such as maintenance and quality are considered a challenge in the modern manufacturing enterprise, as they are typically poorly coordinated with manufacturing operations processes. 

To achieve operational excellence manufacturers will need to undertake a number of plant floor initiatives aimed at solving the above plant floor challenges. These will include:
Gaining better plant floor visibility – European manufacturers believe that the most compelling approach to achieving operational excellence is through gaining better plant floor visibility. This means enabling plant floor personnel to have a better understanding of the status and performance of plant floor operations in an optimal timeframe.
Investing in factory automation – Manufacturers will continue investing in factory automation to standardise production, increase quality, and reduce operational costs. Automation will also enable enterprises to gather essential data from their plant floors in real-time.
Improving manufacturing flexibility – Making the plant floor more flexible will require
manufacturers to completely rethink their plant floor in a way that it can be quickly
reconfigured to fulfill frequently changing customer needs.
Investing in plant floor IT – Manufacturers are realising that investing in modern IT, which can create a real-time decision making environment for plant floor employees, will play an essential role in achieving better levels of operational excellence.  It is also believed that IT/OT will play a fundamental role in supporting companies to achieve operational excellence in manufacturing through a higher level of plant floor visibility. 

The following were among the technologies that manufacturers believe will change the way their operations are managed in three years from now:
2D barcodes – This simple, inexpensive technology will be the most likely to change the way manufacturing operations are managed three years from now. Users will substitute traditional barcodes with the more flexible, and information richer, 2D barcodes.
Intelligent automation and robotics – Of particular interest in this area is the emergence of ‘intelligent robots’ that are able to perform tasks learning from experience and have sensors that make them aware of the environment.
Internet of Things – Manufacturers will be instrumenting their plant floor to create a network of intelligent sensors, robots, equipment, and machines that can share plant-specific information on a wireless network, in real-time. 
RFID – Some of the traditional barriers to the adoption of RFID, such as cost and poor sensitivity and precision, are no longer seen as a challenge. RFID is among the technologies expected to change the way manufacturing operations will be managed three years from now.

The original whitepaper is available from download. Go to:

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