Practical Uses of Digital Transformation in Manufacturing Operations
What Is Digital Transformation?
Despite having the word “digital” in the name, your team, not your computer, is the most important vehicle for allowing digital transformation to succeed. Specifically, you must first identify the real-world challenges and opportunities.
In concept, digital transformation (DX) is what the name sounds like: using software and other digital technology to solve real-world problems. For manufacturers, there are many forms of DX that cross over into all aspects of operations — production, safety, engineering, quality, and others. Computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) are a key tool to helping with DX. This includes recording asset information, sending and receiving digital work orders, and using sensors to capture data such as pressure, temperature, and vibration from the equipment. In today’s changing (and often challenging) marketplace, digital transformation is vital to stay ahead of the competition, cut costs, and increase quantity and quality of output.
Let's go through some practical examples of how digital transformation can be used to solve challenging situations and opportunities…
Example 1: Solving for challenges identified during a “Gemba Walk”
A Gemba Walk is a management best-practice tool that involves walking around the workplace, observing your team, asking how their work is going, checking for safety and productivity, and taking note of any challenges and problems your teammates report. There is a defined process to a Gemba Walk — you can do a deeper dive into this amazing methodology, but in short, you can learn a ton while walking around your facility/shop floor and interacting with the people doing the work. The Gemba Walk is an entirely non-digital process and can be highly valuable in diagnosing challenges and opportunities that can lead to solutions. However, those solutions will ultimately benefit from digital solutions (like a CMMS) to enact positive change. Here is one example of a Gemba Walk and how the challenges discovered with it can be solved using digital transformation:
During a standard Gemba walk, you see/interact with a maintenance person who is headed to the parts room to locate a critical spare for a current open work order. In conversation, you learn that the technician was working from a paper-based work order with few details and no reference to the specific parts needed. Luckily, the tech knew the part needed but was headed off to find the part. During the conversation, you learn that this is standard and often the tech gets to the parts-crib only to find they don’t have the part in stock and will need to escalate an emergency order — further delaying the work order and possibly causing unplanned downtime.
Now that you have diagnosed your challenges, your solution can be found in the form of digital transformation, specifically a CMMS.
Some of the benefits of a CMMS in this case include the following:
- Work order templates allow lots of details to be shared in a format that is easy to understand and follow, including parts needed and the current on-hand quantities.
- Instead of paper, mobile CMMS access allows quick access to information — anywhere the technician is at that time. This will also save you from a long walk across the plant only to find the part is out of stock.
- Excellent systems for spare parts inventory including automatic reminders to order low-stock parts to avoid outages. This is critical in today’s supply-chain challenged times.
The main purpose of a Gemba Walk is to get up to speed on the challenges the team can report as well as finding helpful suggestions. This knowledge can be used to make improvements going forward. Digital transformation only makes that knowledge easier to turn into positive operational changes and efficiencies.
Example 2: Averting Potential Disasters using Sensor and IoT technology
In this example, imagine you are responsible for a manufacturing assembly line process that utilizes compressors. Compressors, a very common asset, can be prone to lots of potential issues, one of which is overheating. An overheating compressor can lead to poor-quality products, unplanned downtime, wear on the machine, and other maladies.
A major problem lies in how to detect the issue, especially early on. An overheating compressor shows signs of failure that may not be detectable until the situation becomes severe. Left undetected, this will often give way to more severe temperature changes that can result in poor-quality production, damaged related assets, and possibly overall unplanned asset/production downtime. In some cases, the asset will receive catastrophic damage, requiring costly overhaul repairs or replacement.
If you can detect the problem early, you can prevent those more severe consequences. However, doing so can be difficult or impossible without technological assistance, as it is simply not feasible to have a team member constantly looking inside the compressor to check for tiny changes in temperature.
The solution to staying on top of overheating lies in digital transformation. A modern CMMS like Brightly Asset Essentials™ combined with Smart Assets can connect to sensors, in this case a thermometer. You can program the app to alert you whenever the temperature goes outside acceptable tolerances, and then send a work order to examine and fix the asset. Notifications get out to appropriate technicians. In that case, the whole process will be easier and much less costly than if you simply let the compressor run until it breaks down from overheating.
This is just one example of how DX can allow you to avoid costly unplanned downtime and quality issues, as well as protect your relationship with your customers. There are countless types of sensors that can avoid other problems. This predictive/preventive maintenance strategy allows team members greater safety, better optimization, and maximized organization productivity.
Example 3: Increasing Production Capacity
Digital transformation is just as valuable for long-term decision-making as it is for day-to-day maintenance operations. In this scenario, imagine you have a customer who needs to increase orders in the next fiscal year by 20% — a big win for the organization. While we love new orders, the production supervisor has concerns about this increase as this example is already at near capacity. At this point, you might go through some options for increasing capacity: adding an extra shift, working on weekends, or overtime. You might even need to build out additional line capacity. All of these will be expensive and challenging.
There is another method of increasing output that can be less costly: increasing uptime by using digital transformation through a CMMS. By introducing digital methods of communicating and storing knowledge, you can increase efficiency and reduce downtime. Unplanned downtime can really hurt production — if you reduce that downtime, you will be better able to keep up with demand.
Some specific strategies you might implement include:
- Making sure your team is keeping track of downtime for every work order asset and recording it using a CMMS. Eventually, you can analyze those reports to examine potential patterns to maximize uptime for those assets.
- Every work order needs to have detailed information as to the source of the issue, who did the work and related — all to identify the sources of downtime to work on best solutions to avoid.
- Measuring output of product, including notes on any complications to rate or quality. Is there anything in the CMMS that can help reduce possible quality issues? This can really help.
- Utilize more sensors to catch problems when they are comparatively small, before they create production-killing and expensive unplanned downtime.
- Knowing the source of your downtime and ultimately moving to a more preventive/predictive posture and avoiding the downtime is far less expensive than adding production capacity and running additional shifts. It is also better for safety, team morale, and overall improved operations.
Digital transformation sounds technical, expensive, and often difficult to comprehend. But remember — it all starts with identifying your real-world, often non-digital challenges and opportunities and then using existing technology, like Asset Essentials’ CMMS, to make a true difference. This will make your operations run smoother, safer, and less costly.