By Girish Datar, Consulting Partner, Smart Manufacturing, Wipro Limited

Today’s manufacturing climate is turbulent indeed, with challenges and changes in technology, globalization, customer expectations, environmental concerns and regulatory compliances. To be successful today, manufacturers must work in tight collaboration with their ecosystem to exceed quality expectations, improve efficiency and develop competitive products.

Most manufacturers do this by embracing lean production philosophies. For example, the much revered Toyota Production system is based on two pillars – Just in Time (JIT) and Jidoka. The former focuses on producing parts in exact quantities and schedules, while the later arrests production defects as early as possible. While JIT is fairly well implemented by now, the concept of Jidoka deserves further study.

Jidoka specifically tackles the problem of Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ). When left unchecked, costs associated with off-spec and defective production can impact manufacturer’s bottom line by up to 15-25 percent.

These costs come in several forms. Poor quality products will need to be repaired or refurbished to meet expectations, and the material is wasted if the product has to be scrapped altogether. If defective products do make it into the marketplace, manufacturers will be weighed down by inspecting returns to identify the problem, redesign the product and retool the equipment to solve the issue. The manufacturer will also be responsible for fulfilling warranty claims and conducting a recall, which can add up quickly.

Perhaps most costly is the hit to the company’s reputation, leading to lost sales opportunities and even legal costs from lawsuits seeking damages as a result of the faulty product.

How Manufacturers Can Improve Production Quality

While many manufacturers have room to improve their implementation of JIT, new and exciting things are happening in the manufacturing process thanks to the increasing industrial embrace of the Internet of Things. This is where Jidoka comes into play.

Jidkoa is a concept that came about from an invention by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota. At the turn of the 20th century, automatic textile looms were prone to breaking threads and would churn out mounds of defective product if left unmonitored. His invention was a device that would stop such looms when a breakage was detected, saving material and preventing defective product from entering the rest of the line. Instead of each loom having to be monitored by an individual worker, a single supervisor could manage many machines with minimal waste. The word Jidoka comes from the Japanese meaning for “automation with a human touch.”

The addition of the Internet of Things (IoT), then, brings us to a sort of “Digital Jidoka” that can be applied to the production process, starting from small-scale prototyping and pilot runs and running through full-scale mass production.

Machines involved in manufacturing are increasingly equipped with various sensors and linked to a network. This network is managed by software, optimizing the manufacturing process by connecting the entire production operation, including both the machines and the human beings behind the operation. When a machine senses that something is wrong (the product is out of spec, there’s a feed issue, etc.), the equipment is able to stop the line, quarantine the defective product and alert supervisors to the specific problem in real time. Ideally these snags are identified and refined during the setup and pre-production runs, but it is also useful in troubleshooting rare anomalies during mass production.

The Benefits of Digital Jidoka

Manufacturers who pursue this new method will notice several benefits. The most obvious results will include overall equipment effectiveness. By taking the time to refine the production process early on and getting it right the first time, manufacturers will be rewarded with high first pass yield and enjoy smoother production runs.

With higher quality products hitting the market, manufacturers will not be burdened with high levels of returns, warranting more investigations and costly alterations mid-production. Customer satisfaction will go up, driving positive brand sentiment and increasing sales.

Implementing Digital Jidoka also makes manufacturers more agile when it comes to products with shorter lifecycles. By alerting supervisors directly to the problem, the system dramatically cuts down the amount of time in diagnostic mode. This enables rapid iterations for any necessary design changes.

Finally, having the production line linked via the IoT in real time provides transparency and coordination for all personnel involved in the supply chain. When everyone has access to the line’s status in real time, responsibility for troubleshooting issues is shared. This allows the most skilled staff in each situation to share high quality knowledge while also empowering the rest of the team to act on that knowledge.

Digital Jidoka is just one of the impending advents of cyber physical systems. As more organizations adopt such technologies, the competitive landscape will necessitate continued adoption of collaborative interface systems. The ability to solve complex problems using a synergy of the unique abilities of knowledgeable workers and advanced machine automation will revolutionize not just the manufacturing industry, but the way business is conducted globally.

About the Author
Girish V. Datar, Consulting Partner, Smart Manufacturing, Wipro Limited, has a global experience of about 20 years in the manufacturing industry and is currently responsible for helping clients shape their Digital/Industry 4.0 journey through thought leadership and solutions across contextual application of – IoT, predictive analytics, process mining and mobility. He has a M.S. in manufacturing systems engineering from NCSU. Additionally, he is certified in six Sigma Black Belt, PMP & CPIM.

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