How Mid-Sized Manufacturers Can Create Business Value with Minimal Technology Investment

| March 17, 2020 | 

If you consider all of the ways technology has infiltrated your personal life, it’s pretty amazing. Online banking and shopping. Smart phones and smart watches. Smart TVs and game consoles. Voice assistants and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and devices in homes and cars. And much more. Today, there are almost endless opportunities for you to streamline or automate common tasks, find entertainment, better understand your health, finances or key metrics in hobbies, and optimize decisions about things that matter in your personal life. Best of all, decisions about which technology to buy for personal needs are mostly easy. You can select based on priorities or goals, personal preferences and easy-to-find customer reviews.

Now consider your manufacturing operations.

If they are like many small and mid-sized manufacturing operations, newer technologies may be scarce or even non-existent. And often for good reason; operations are complex, technology budgets are limited, and figuring out what you need and getting everything installed and up to speed can seem daunting.

But the beauty of today’s technology marketplace is that even if you only have a small technology budget, it’s still possible to find solutions that will help you realize meaningful business value without big implementation and training challenges. The key is knowing where to look for opportunities and then being smart about execution.

First, focus on value sweet spots

Before even starting to consider types of technology solutions, the first question you need to ask yourself is, where are you most likely to uncover real value in your operations? From a Six Sigma or Lean perspective, the key is to look for constraints or bottlenecks and how you might address them. In many cases, if you can accelerate or improve essential processes, you will create value through the ability to either sell more product, charge more or improve yield.

In process-driven operations, this ties back to what’s happening from minute to minute, hour to hour and day to day on key pieces of equipment, such as ovens, dispensers, lathes and milling machines or whatever the common machines are in your industry. Once you’ve pinpointed a potential issue, then you can quickly start to focus your efforts. For example, a home construction products manufacturer we work with is adding sensors to their dryers and ovens because they control the quality of the wood and final product grade, so that’s where the value is. They know that adding sensors to saws and other tools simply wouldn’t have a significant impact on value and isn’t worth pursuing.

In food manufacturing, there are often great opportunities in reducing waste. Just consider a line producing frozen pizzas that is losing 15 – 20 percent of olives or other ingredients as they’re manually dispersed. Switching to an automated topping line could help with more efficient, even application of ingredients. Sensors could even be used to monitor preset waste parameters and provide real-time alerts for issues, helping you to tightly control costs while running significantly more productive operations.

Next, eliminate bottlenecks and drive speed and efficiencies

Once you’ve identified a bottleneck or other problem in a key area of your business, then it’s time to consider what capabilities might help you drive greater speed or efficiency. And as you do this, it’s important to remember that it may pay to get creative in how you employ technology for your specific challenge. For example, inexpensive inspection technology can confirm whether or not people are doing standard work and provide data on variation over time, which is great for an assembly environment. But why couldn’t you use that technology to monitor a piece of equipment for jams, misfeeds and other issues impacting your OEE as well? If you combined it with an IoT sensor, you could not only get alerts about jams or other issues but you could analyze what caused them. The overall cost of this type of manufacturing software solution is minimal versus the potential value it could create.

Of course, many opportunities are also very straightforward. If you’re having trouble finding new employees, you can offload non-value-added activities with proven solutions. Packing and stacking solutions are a great example. They’re a proven, mature solution that can be quite cost effective for many types of operations and enable you to move people to value-added activities.

Cloud-based and manufacturing software as a service (SaaS) solutions are another great way to drive value with minimal investments or disruptions to operations. They enable you to eliminate staffing and maintenance challenges associated with many types of technology solutions while also letting you take advantage of economies of scale (both from the perspective of more rapid changes in new capabilities that drive faster time to benefit as well as from a security perspective).

Dploy Solutions is a great example of how a cloud solution can help you find bottlenecks in manufacturing and factory operations to drive business value. It provides a central location for collecting and visualizing data from multiple sources, including the factory floor, IT and operations technology (OT) systems and external sources so you can have a holistic view of how different areas of the business are performing. Dploy Solutions also includes embedded analytics capabilities that you can use to uncover performance issues in the business and understand why they happened to you can take steps to prevent reoccurrences.

While it will take work to figure out the “silver bullet” budget friendly technology solution that’s going to deliver the most business value to your operations, it’s well worth the effort. The solutions are out there and if you aren’t pursuing them, you’re essentially throwing away money and opportunity. The manufacturing operations experts at Dploy Solutions can help guide you through the process. Contact us to get started.