Maximizing efficiency, reducing down times, improving quality, cutting down waste, crushing operational costs and assuring traceability sound familiar? Then you’re also familiar with sexy buzzwords like lean, IoT and Industry 4.0. And you’ve probably already heard that these are the things that will make it happen, so you just got to jump in and do it. Again, and by now you’ve seen it happen before, the question is not if these concepts are important. The real question is how can we use them and what we need to do to actually achieve a sustainable and unbeatable manufacturing operation. Well, you got to go disruptive. Read on.
It may strike you at first that I’m out to bash innovative concepts. Improvement comes from iteration and the use of new concepts, technologies and attitudes. So, everything that is new is just perfect. The problem is not being new, strange or sexy. The problem is making every new thing as the ultimate dream that is going to deliver whatever as not been delivered up until now, promising success without understanding neither the underlying problem nor the reality where that new concept needs to be applied. The real challenge lies in using new stuff so it actually delivers measurable results without compromising mission critical operations that drive your bottom line.
If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve seen this happen over and over again. Every new thing, from ERPs to RFId, from automation to lean manufacturing, have been publicized as the ultimate new thing, promising astonishing results. Over and over again, reality has proven expectations wrong, transforming in many cases the dream into nightmare. How many highly successful, fully implemented, sustainable, live up to the dream ERP implementations do you know of? Are ERPs that bad? Certainly not, they are a critical piece of governance, planning and control in any organization. It’s how you implement it, what you want it to do and what you expect of it that make the difference. Industry 4.0 and IoT risk going the same path, because everybody is pounding the dream drum and forget to tell you is that to take advantage of such strategy and technology, you need to understand it and you need to map it against your own reality.
How can we use these new technologies and approaches to drive a continuous improvement strategy, in such a way that we are able to mitigate risk and achieve sustainable return?
The first disruptive thing you need to do is engage in cooperative process design. This means that you need to understand and map your manufacturing process as a piece of a larger machine, that involves engineering, sales, logistics, purchasing, quality and maintenance. You have problems but those other guys have problems too. And you need to understand their limitations, help them with insight on your process and information about your own limitations in order to be able to design a process that takes the best out of everybody and delivers a sustainable, efficient piece of machinery. You can’t expect logistics to be able to be efficient and meet expectations if you force raw material supply to be performed in peaks, where 60% of the daily load is delivered in 5% of the available timespan. How can you engage in a cooperative process in order to smooth out raw material needs so that logistics is able to meet its service level? How can logistics improve its execution and planning in order to suppress stock outs in production lines when exceptions occur? A very simple example but one that yields amazing power if the underlying strategy that is applied consistently across the organization. Is this easy to do? Not at all. First, because organizations tend to close themselves in modular responsibilities and forget to look for the common benefit. So, not that much cooperation. Secondly, because there is a consistent lack of focus on the process when it comes at strategic and tactic definitions. Mostly, organizations rely in the business view and neglect the process view, when it’s the process that will make the business flow and not the other way around. Lastly, because organizations do not have consistent tools that help them map this process vision, let alone operate, monitor and evaluate it. You need to break the modular barriers imposed by the status quo and the IT platforms, engage in serious cooperation and keep a process-driven mindset to achieve a consistent, sustainable way of operating.
Another disruptive action is to implement real time process visibility. And I’m not talking about SCADA and PLC monitoring. I’m talking about visibility over the activities performed not only by manufacturing but also by other stakeholders in the global process flow. And has you have visibility over the process, so will other stakeholders, allowing for a consistent, accurate vision over it. This is a critical piece in your strategy because real time process visibility gives you on the spot, instant perception on how your process is behaving and where is the problem located. In turn, this allows you to anticipate disruptions and prevent failures from happening, dramatically increasing the chances of resolving critical exceptions before they become disasters, especially if you cooperate with other stakeholders to minimize impact. To achieve this level of visibility, you cannot conform to the standard modular, business oriented IT platforms. You need role-based, real time, event-driven, dashboard-oriented IT platforms to map, monitor and expose the real status of each process. And this where IoT starts to make sense. If you have a global, real time view of the process, then you start to realize that every single piece of information related to your process, regardless of it being specifically located in your activities, can be important to signal an exception condition or to assure the accurate detection of an activity completion or to report data that is relevant to your global activity chain. Conversely, what good is IoT for if you’re not ready to use the real time, massive amount of data it generates?
One major disruption you need to accomplish is to use rule-based process control. One of the most important cornerstones of sustainability is your ability to change and adapt to new process or business requirements. This means that you need to be ready to modify the way your process is configured in order to respond in the best way possible to a new challenge, may it be business imposed or process-driven. If you rely on hermetic, functional implementations that require customization and large scale projects to deliver change, you will lose the ability to be agile and adapt swiftly. This means that you’ll lose capacity, increase costs and destroy the ability to monitor the process consistently. You must focus on supporting your operation with highly flexible tools, that use rules to map your requirements and deliver through configuration a precise, unique process view that is perfectly suited to your operation.
Another strategic disruptive action is to engage in dynamic behavior. This means that your operations need to be able to respond to the real time conditions of the underlying process and activities, delivering the optimal response considering the actual status of each process stakeholder. This translates into having the ability to process vast amounts of real time data, take optimal decisions considering process and business rules and performing according to that decision, which can be different in every instance of the process execution. To be able to do this, you need to have a clear process mapping, use rules to map your requirements, deal with information in real time and use mobile and electronic interfaces to propagate that decision across your process landscape. This is about delivering the right information, to the right spot on the right time and relying on the accuracy of that information to take a swift, decisive action.
Finally, you must use predictive forecasting. It’s a really difficult thing to do to trust a guess. But well designed, rule-based, predictive forecast models do deliver highly confident scenarios that you can use to anticipate your planning or to detect deviations in behavior that require action. This isn’t a miracle, it’s a hard process of collecting, cleaning and maintaining historical data, build up rule sets that transcribe behavior and iterating those rule sets until reliable predictions can be trusted. Although difficult, the results yield a tremendous power and give you the ability to configure early warning capability in your processes, besides providing you with far more comfortable lead times. Predictive forecasting is only meaningful when you have a clear, integrated view about your process. Without that view, you are not able to identify the variables to involve in your model nor the precise points where accurate information is available to provide support for the model computation. So, without a combined process and rule-based approach, you cannot build accurate predictive models. One other very important thing is that predictive forecasting is not meant to be static, it must adapt as your process changes. So, it needs to be based on agile concepts and be driven by rules, so you can change it as fast as your operation changes.
There you have it. Think process, see it in real time, adapt quickly, be dynamic and anticipate what is going to happen. The five cornerstones of an unbeatable, sustainable operation, manufacturing or otherwise.
Processware builds manufacturing solutions for a wide range of industries taking these five cornerstones as the foundation for unmatched, efficient and sustainable operations that are true benchmarks. See what we can do for your manufacturing operation here.