Using IoT to drive Lean implementation

The net effect of these challenges is that wasteful costs lie hidden within the operation, unmeasured and unseen. So it’s easy to chalk it up as a cost of doing business.

But the fact is that technology is within reach and can be employed to Lean purposes. Here are two examples:

Connectivity. Gone are the days when the only way to connect equipment was with hardwired Cat 5 cabling. The recent wave of IoT has driven down the price of wireless connectivity by orders of magnitude. A connectivity project that might have cost $20,000 simply for the installation of Cat5 wiring now requires less than $1,000 of wireless cards and range extenders.

Data Collection, Consolidation, and Viewing. Recent changes in hardware and software allow you to collect operating data without extensive on premise IT involvement. Cloud-based software solutions are becoming the norm – greatly simplifying implementation by dramatically minimizing IT intensity.

Moving to cloud-based solutions eliminates dependency on plant-based PCs and servers and the associated implementation and maintenance challenges. Data connections can now be made simple using common internet security protocols and standards. With cloud-based solutions, one gets the added benefit of remote data access, freeing managers from the constraints of being on-site to review plant or line performance.

But is a $1,000 investment important given all the priorities you have? Most definitely. Unplanned downtime is a huge waste. Changing plans for the day, last-minute notice that staff will need to work several more hours, excess waiting time… these are emotionally taxing on every layer of the plant organization. Plant managers, line managers and line workers all have more productive, mission-critical tasks to do than to develop a plan for how to recover from unplanned downtime. No one enjoys spending more time than anticipated to achieve the same output. With today’s technology, unplanned downtime can be significantly reduced.

Now, let’s think about this from a financial impact perspective. Let’s be conservative for the moment and assume the cost of unplanned downtime is $500 per hour. In preliminary work we have done with some of our customers, the ability to connect, collect, consolidate and view data and take corrective action is having a significant impact on downtime reduction. It is conservative to say that there are several thousands of dollars per month of lost productivity per line in a given FMCG plant.

The cost of sensors that monitor machine performance and conditions is also coming down, and manufacturers are working diligently to incorporate additional sensor technologies into new solutions. The evolution of machine performance will continue to evolve quickly. As a simple example, consider the communication of warnings and fault conditions. A few years ago, these alerts were predominantly communicated via light stacks to nearby line operators. Now, automated alerts sent via text and email are commonly available, helping maintenance and operations staff keep tabs of machine performance. With more powerful and numerous sensors, coupled with IoT technology, the potential for true predictive maintenance capability lies just around the corner.

This is a challenging time, but a time when Lean is already your friend. If you’re a small and growing company, Lean can help you remove waste so you can reinvest for sustained growth. If you’re in a large organization and not growing at the pace of your ambitions, deepening your Lean implementation can help you unlock solutions for your most persistent challenges. As we solve the problems of connecting, collecting, consolidating, and viewing packaging line data, we can confidently chase solutions that will improve our businesses.

Chris Riley, President of Videojet

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