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4 Steps to Digitize Your Manufacturing Operations

Have you been struggling with improving production, even if everything is manageable, knowing that there is much opportunity to improve? Is this struggle due to the risk of negatively impacting existing operations and product quality with a digitization effort?

Rest assured, there is a proven model to reduce this risk to near zero.  Our industry is awash with proclamations of digital transformation, manufacturing data intelligence, industry 4.0, artificial intelligence, and more.  What is lacking is clarity on the steps needed to implement this without reducing quality and the capabilities of your current operations during the transition.

Here are 4 critical steps proven to achieve your desired operational environment.

Step 1: Define The Vision - Keep It Conceptually Simple

Start with a vision of how you see your Operations being better managed.  For example: centralized dashboard reporting, driven by data captured automatically from digital devices and machines.

Step 2: Evaluate Existing Operations Against This Vision

Where to start this digitization effort requires an audit of your current operations. Analyzing the following three critical areas will help identify the right place to start on a digital transformation.

  • Culture - Are all key management and engineering areas ready to shift to a more data driven approach to production?  Does your engineering team have the skills and tools to analyze and extract value from improved process and quality data?  What would they do with this higher visibility data, what value do they feel they can bring to the table with more readily accessible and trustable data?  This last question is the key to getting buy in, as well as identifying a potential blocker.
  • Processes - A product line that best answers these questions is the candidate for initial digitization. Which product line would benefit most from a reduction in manual entry, removal of paper?  Where would you get the greatest return in terms of increased throughput, quality and planning visibility?  Which product line has very critical quality check points, which need expensive time consuming engineering oversight?  Which product line generates machine and/or tester data as part of these quality checks, which can be used to drive more automated stage gate decisions? The ROI will be immediately measured at each point of rollout.
  • Equipment and technology - Ask yourself questions that will help guide you on what equipment needs to be purchased, updated or configured to enable digitization. Do you have good network coverage on the production floor, can you connect a low cost tablet or PC to the network at manual work stations?  Do you have digital tablets or PCs, along with barcode scanners available?  Are your assembly machine and test system vendors allowing you access to the quality and performance data they are collecting on their equipment? Are you collecting and storing this data to your network, on accessible server storage? The answers will determine next steps towards automation.

Step 3: Identify The Right Technology Vendor

After reviewing and mapping your current operations processes, the underlying culture, and existing technology landscape, you will have the right information to identify the best technology solutions vendors to work with.

The vendor solution must allow for ease of implementation and adoption within the constraints you’ve identified.  The solution must support transition from older work flows to new digitized workflows, for near seamless cutover.  And it needs to be deployable at the speed needed by you - the customer.  Given the adaptability of today’s software and hardware technologies, there should be no need for fully customized solutions in order to meet your deployment and implementation needs.

Beware of vendors that claim to solve the problem without providing an actual working demonstration beforehand. This is most likely a services based company, with an outsourced workforce in the background, that will cost you more in time, money, energy and risk than you could ever plan for.  

Total cost of ownership should be clear and upfront.  With today’s powerful software and database technologies there is no longer the need for dedicated onsite IT support needs - you should not require a dedicated hire to support another company’s solution.  

The chosen technology solution should be scalable, with features you can add and use as you scale, for more enhanced data collection and decision automation.  A benefit would be tools allowing your existing engineering and technical staff to leverage this independently of the vendor.

Intraratio’s proven solutions meet this criteria, with rapid deployment and user adoption, near zero support requirements, and scalability to enable continued expansion into deeper automation such as AI/Machine Learning.

Step 4: Execute To Plan

A clear project plan should be delivered by the technology vendor.  This is your final and most important benchmark for ensuring they truly understand both your requirements and the existing landscape of your operations today.  Only with this can you truly reduce the risks and costs involved in a digitization project.  This should target a single product line, which can then be ported to all other product lines upon a successful deployment.  

Milestones, and stage gate reviews need to be plentiful, with clearly defined deliverables and resources assigned.  This way you can gauge progress and if needed, make any necessary incremental changes to ensure things are on track.  

Summary

A digitized production line immediately leads to incredible operational capabilities, with the tools to continuously improve through process tuning and expanded automation.  Everything from increased throughput, reduced inventory scrap, quality and yield improvement, to improved On-Time-Delivery is realizable once it is measured.

Utilizing the aforementioned steps will help to achieve Industry 4.0 for your operations.

Intraratio drives operational efficiencies in highly integrated manufacturing through affordable IT systems that leverage real-time data analytics and automation. Our rapid deployment solutions are designed for manufacturers who demand deep technical traceability, adaptability and data driven execution. We have solutions deployed globally and our platforms bring true visibility & scale to manufacturing operations all over the world. Learn more information by visiting us at  Intraratio.com or contact us.