Published on 2019-03-18

Industries that have had fixed manufacturing processes over the last few decades need to make changes to enjoy next generation manufacturing.

March 12, 2019

Manufacturing processes running for decades have a rigid way of working on the shop floor. Typical industries like milling, plastics, aerospace, steel etc are used to a way of working and have streamlined processes based on people knowledge for a long time. Lean manufacturing principles and six sigma tools have brought improvements but disruptive change is less visible.

Typical focus being on sales, marketing or supply chain leaves manufacturing function a weak area even in core manufacturing companies. Lack of investments to produce better, weak processes which are seldom tweaked and organizational rigidity being the challenges from making this more agile.

Operational Technology and Information Technology have a lot of overlap but the goals and targets are different. The end customer is different and the expectation is also different. Traditionally they were quite disconnected but these days the function and responsibilities are now shared between Production and IT departments.

MES systems is another big area and can be classified in two ways. The niche MES predesigned for a specific industry which can be implemented quickly. They look like a boon and have a few preset functionality which might be the good option. They have agreements and arrangements with most of the OEM equipment manufacturers in that LOB and might be the quick win. On the other hand we have the bigger MES systems that are only partially pre-configured and need more inputs and a longer initial setup to get them to work but they can work with various disconnected processes as well. They can be more aligned to the business, have more functionalities, aligned with the future but are also costlier and having a longer turnaround time. The world can change in a few years, and what was a template process when the implementation started, might not be the way ahead after a few years of implementation.

Multiple MES systems (different versions or models or configurations), old equipment, control panels and PLCs which might be different in different factories based on location, purchasing power, KPI or other factors. Standardization of this might either mean removing all this hardware (which might not be financially viable) or connecting it to a system integrator. Introduction of the IO-Link or hardware controllers or translators, can standardize the extraction and significantly reduced the cost of extraction. A standardized central data lake can be used with standardized KPI and then a centralized data analytics is a much lower hanging fruit.

Niche ERP or a Generic ERP as well as on premise or cloud ERP is another question. With the advancement of technology, we get the new technology easier and faster to implement. Newer niche ERPs are more nimble and push harder to align with these new technologies but the behemoths are left behind building larger platforms with standard APIs that can be connected to all this new equipment albeit with some development. Low code platforms as a service are a new player on the block which helps reduce this development but then fundamentally it is another platform that the organization needs. Quality and Maintenance platforms are another area of recent growth. Specialized platforms with ‘knowledge’ of behavior of equipment of a specific industry for faster realization of benefits. We also have different or centralized historians that can be used for Big Data Analytics. All these platforms add up and then finally the organization has a dozen OT and a dozen IT platforms.

There are potential benefits with disruptive technologies in getting skilled resources. Last few years, the focus of technology, has been to make it easier and faster to implement. There is also focus on standard connectors to make it easy to talk to different systems. These newer technologies are easier to understand and upskill teams so even a lesser experienced team can get the job done. Automation has also increased with the newer technologies.

Additive manufacturing is a disruptive technology that has really grown in the last few years. It is still less used in core industrial environments but the technology has improved a lot recently. Reduction in scrap, inventory, JIT development are some of the quick wins. Costs of 3D printers has also reduced and speeds of production increased. Usability of existing polymers makes the procurement easier and the acceptability of the end product go up. Size of 3D prints can be tens of feet and precision high. Manual labor reduction, lesser experienced personnel and lower process complexity helps. For manufacturing enterprises to survive the next decades, this is the future.

Achint Saran Bhatnagar is Process Owner for Manufacturing and Supply Chain, Europe (Technological Innovation), Mexichem, a provider of products and solutions across multiple sectors of industry and commerce, from construction and infrastructure to agriculture, healthcare, transportation, telecommunications, energy and more. He has a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from Dayalbagh, Agra and a Masters in Operations Management from SIBM, Bangalore. He has more than 1.5 decades of experience in Engineering, Supply Chain and Manufacturing across industries like Aerospace, Medical Electronics, Consumer Products, Hi-Tech and Manufacturing across various geographies in North America, Europe and Asia.

He will be happy to discuss or answer your questions sent on: asbhatnagar@gmail.com.