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Improve Your Improvements by Digitizing Processes

Smart Manufacturing, State of Smart Manufacturing, Manufacturing Intelligence
February 20, 2024

In traditional manufacturing, continuous improvement was a misnomer. It wasn't that practitioners were insincere or wrong. But manual processes, data acquisition, and analysis, created hard limits to what the most zealous continuous improvement methodologies could achieve.

As improvement initiatives progressed, they were plagued by two manual walls that were impossible to overcome. One is that the depth and granularity of data needed for continuous improvement were not achievable past human capabilities. The second wall was that once improvements were made, auditing, maintenance, and correction were manually driven, allowing those corrected processes to veer again. Because of these realities, continuous improvement was aspirational at best.

The Limits of Traditional Improvement Initiatives

Manual data analysis has many limits, even when coupled with legacy software systems meant to improve performance. These include:

  • Human Error – People often enter data incorrectly or transpose numbers.
  • Omissions – Many operators may miss a recording window in a busy manufacturing environment.
  • Bias – One person's "jam" is another person's "fault,” creating ambiguity.
  • Siloed Data – Departments may use different software that delivers reports in other units of measure or terminology.
  • Time Lags – Even with accurate data collection, the time required to aggregate, cleanse, analyze, and disburse it means an opportunity to identify a root cause has passed.

This combination of variables meant that while traditional improvement methodologies could make a noticeable impact, they were always limited to "picking the low-hanging fruit" before reaching a point of diminishing returns.

Digitize to Improve

While improvement programs and methodologies have succeeded, the digitization of processes and utilizing smart manufacturing software allow companies to go further by digitizing their processes. Without it, companies will never be able to build on improvements or maintain the system without increasing labor.

With automated processes, data errors and omissions are virtually eliminated. Sensors at the machine level make data reliable for use in analytics at the edge and in the cloud. Automated acquisition frees staff from tedious collection tasks to focus more on productivity and value-added operations.

Smart manufacturing automation also eliminates bias. Sensor inputs monitor production, sending error codes to HMIs, PCs, and tablets. Operators and managers can know the exact reason a spindle or machine stops. Smart manufacturing automation allows you to categorize downtime to always know the machine's state.

Smart manufacturing platforms like Plex can seamlessly integrate with legacy enterprise software like MES, ERP, and more, or can provide that software as part of the platform. This tears down data silos so the enterprise operates under a single source of truth with all machine data.

Real-time data is critical to automation that improves safety and productivity across the factory. As data is collected, organized, and unified, advanced analytics deliver real-time insights that allow users to identify bottlenecks and deploy improvements.

Improve the Improvements

The digital foundation above provides companies with the tools to enable truly continuous improvement. Many insights will generate immediate changes once the root causes of bottlenecks are identified. But here is where the distinction between traditional aspirational continuous improvement and digital continuous improvement diverges. Once changes are made with automated processes and smart manufacturing software, those changes can be automated as well.

There is no need to plan tedious and time-consuming audits to ensure the new process doesn't veer. The same real-time analytics that drove the change can be used to keep the process on track with reports, alerts, and historical baselines. Smart manufacturing software doesn't stop there. Because the changes are now automated, you can dive deep to a more granular level to continue uncovering hidden trends and capacity for further improvements.

Digital Continuous Improvement for Your Enterprise

Continuous improvement doesn't have to be aspirational and tie up valuable resources. And it doesn't have to rely only on picking the low-hanging fruit. With a smart manufacturing platform like Plex, you can develop a digital continuous improvement strategy that drives change throughout the enterprise.

With real-time data and deep analytical insights, you can improve machine uptime and equipment availability to move from time-consuming tasks to value-added activity. And you can progress from reactive to predictive response across the factory.

Learn how smart manufacturing software enables continuous improvement in the real world by reading one of these quick success studies.

About the Author

Plex Team