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Healing Manufacturing’s Pain Points

Smart manufacturing can heal the pain points bruising many midsize manufacturing plants.

“The trick is to start small by evaluating your current plant to determine where there are problems meeting performance objectives,” explains Don Busiek, general manager of manufacturing software at GE Intelligent Platforms.

A common pain point is machine downtime for maintenance purposes. By leveraging data produced by sensors embedded inside plant equipment, operators can manage when it is best to schedule maintenance—obviously not during peak customer demand.

Product quality is another challenge. “Say you are making a widget for an aircraft engine at a particular density, weight and size and the machine is cutting to these parameters,” Busiek says. “Sensors and statistical-process controls can tell you if you’re making the cuts at the precise dimensions—right down to one one-millionth of an inch, for instance.”

Throughput is another problem area—knowing why there are bottlenecks and where—to ensure manufacturing schedules are optimized across the plant. Again, sensors and software can provide this vital information, which typically required physical inspections in the past.

Supply chains can be optimized by integrating the plant IT systems with enterprise systems managing suppliers, procurement, inventory and working capital. “You can look from the front end to the back end into everything on a dashboard, whereas you didn’t have that capability 10 years ago,” Busiek says.

As an example, he cites a manufacturer of aircraft engines. Thousands and thousands of parts occupy a single engine, which are provided by hundreds of suppliers and involve multiple assembly plants. “If you find a non-conformance—some sort of defect in a tiny widget—previously your supply-chain managers were making hundreds of phone calls trying to track down where the defect was generated,” Busiek says.

“That could take weeks of effort; meanwhile, manufacturing is at a relative standstill,” he adds. “Now, imagine being able to have a dashboard that shows you where every part came from, at what point in time, the quality checks performed on that part and who provided [those] checks.”

Instead of weeks on the phone trying to diagnose the pain point, the information is there in a couple of hours. Says Busiek, “With a mobile device, you can learn all this at any time of the day—in real time.”

In today’s breakneck speed of business, curing the pain fast is the best cure of all.

About russ banham

Russ Banham (russ@russbanham.com) is a contributing writer to Chief Executive