At Pioneer Service, we are committed to continuous improvement. Part of this stems from being AS9100D certified. We have rigorous controls in place to assess risks and potential problems and find solutions that produce better results. Also, one of our values is to be dedicated to learning so we work hard to feed that energy in our culture. This includes training, individual classes, books, conversations with colleagues and vendors, as well as attending and participating in technical conferences. However, we are not looking to be just a good contract precision machining service provider, but a leader in US manufacturing by harnessing the best ideas and practices from many industries. As part of this learning journey, we are actively looking at digital transformation options that are taking hold in the manufacturing sector, known broadly as the Industrial Internet of Things.
What is the Industrial Internet of Things:
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term coined to describe the extension of internet connectivity to everyday things. For example, using your cell phone to connect all the electronic items your home: your TV, your HVAC, your lighting, your fridge, your coffee pot and your home security system. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is about extending that connectivity to industrial sectors (with production facilities), and then using the data from those devices in making business decisions. A spin on IIoT terminology is the Internet of Manufacturing (IoM) which describes the connectivity of assets in a manufacturing setting.
This past week, Pioneer Service attended and participated in The Internet of Manufacturing Midwest conference in Chicago. Whether you call it the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Smart Manufacturing, Manufacturing 4.0 or just advanced manufacturing, there are companies in many industry sectors making great strides in the effort to:
- Integrate technologies like robots, sensors and 3D printing throughout their companies.
- Connect their technology assets, workforce and supply chain to provide live data.
- Leverage the data pulled from these connections to drive better and faster decisions.
- Transform their businesses into more efficient and successful organizations.
Some of the challenges of IoM:
While there are many stories of success, the conference also outlined some of the challenges that this kind of transformation can create:
- Developing new methodologies for workforce training (and retraining) and recruitment to be able to embrace the changes happening in the business.
- Analyzing the data quickly and efficiently to make appropriate decisions (a challenge caused by the latency of cloud technology and the challenge of managing the sheer amount of data that can be collected now).
- Building a business case that leadership will support.
- Assembling a transformation team across an organization so that your initiatives are likely to succeed.
Success in IoM:
Despite the challenges, every company presenting at the conference attested to the fact that the benefits outweighed the difficulties. They all agreed that the results created significant value to their customers and resulted in gains in revenue and profit. Organizations like Phillips 66, AGCO, thyssonkrup, and Boeing presented examples of how their businesses used technology to eliminate pain points in their companies.
Not surprisingly, these companies shared that not every project will succeed and many projects will not be easy. But the resounding message was to start small and you can build the momentum internally to start to make larger changes.
We were inspired by the use of HaloLinc at thyssenkrupp to take 9-11 weeks out of their production cycle by providing accurate measurements at the start of their customer life cycle. From AGCO, we saw another example of wearable technology, Google Glass, being used to inspect product in the field, and QA product on their production line. We heard Rockwell Automation discuss the use of cobots and robots on their production floor. While these are certainly large firms, we see the technology useful to organizations of any size. Even more important than that was developing your organization to see new possible solutions to problems that are holding your company back.
Where to start on the IoM journey:
Some of the easiest and earliest wins in IoM are in the areas of reducing safety risks, improving product quality, improving efficiency and reducing or eliminating mundane tasks. These changes reduce production lead times, improve product quality, reduce costs and produce safer and better working conditions.
There are many other examples of how to integrate technology into the manufacturing environment:
- Production flow monitoring.
- Condition based alerts on equipment.
- Remote equipment management.
- Vision technology for safety monitoring.
- Inventory control.
- Pick and pack monitoring for shipping departments.
- Creating better online and wearable training systems.
- Quality monitoring and checking technology.
- Eliminating hand finishing and assembling.
IIoT and precision machining
The precision machining industry is starting to incorporate various aspects of shop floor monitoring and automation into their organizations. Examples include:
- Sensors and controls providing data to monitor machines for needed maintenance and reduce downtime.
- Cobots for loading and unloading equipment, and in various finishing departments.
- ERP systems connecting to these devices provide excellent information for analysis of projects and planning for future requirements.
Understandably, many small machine shops have probably not started to undertake these types of projects, but the technology is offering some significant advantages to those that do.
What does this mean for Pioneer Service:
For Pioneer Service, the changes are already starting to happen. We are assessing and implementing machine monitoring systems and using that data to implement changes on the production floor. We have made changes to our production floor layout, retrained staff on new technology, and implemented new technology teams to look at improvements for quality and efficiency.
Lastly, we have a quote on our production floor wall, “The most dangerous phrase in business is we’ve always done it that way”. This attests to our commitment to continuous improvement. We are excited about the changes we see coming, how they are going to impact us as an organization and the increased value this will bring to our customers, employees and industry as a whole.