Thought leadership

How digital transformation in manufacturing is enabling shopfloor intelligence for improved operations

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Manual processes often result in siloed departments, as manufacturing and quality managers are often physically checking products and processes and recording their findings with pen and paper. This information may or may not reach the organisation’s decision-makers, leading to transparency issues. 

With the use of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), manufacturers can create a digital manufacturing floor and establish shopfloor intelligence from the get-go. With proper support, shopfloor intelligence can drive significant savings with better-quality products as it reduces risk of warranty issues, create streamlined and efficient processes, and reduce waste. 

4 benefits of shopfloor intelligence – and how to integrate these into your facility 

There are four main benefits to shopfloor intelligence, but to maximise these benefits, the facility needs to be heavily digitalised. Interconnectivity is critical – all key operating systems and processes must be connected to the digital ecosystem of IIoT.  

Better insights and actionable data

With shopfloor intelligence, manufacturers can connect assets and systems in real-time, enhancing production performance monitoring. This can be achieved by retrofitting legacy machinery with IoT sensors to increase data flows, delivering services using IoT or measuring overall equipment efficiency (OEE). 

Manufacturers can also use digital twin technology to virtually replicate machinery and model potential problems. This could include throughput models and bottleneck analysis. 

Additionally, aggregating and visualising machine data could help enable better understanding and easier sharing of data systematically across departments and factories.  

Improved quality

A predictive maintenance approach capitalising on IIoT or edge computing technologies can help solve problems before they occur, reducing the annual cost of machine failures while cutting unexpected downtime.  

Manufacturers will need to forecast production requirements using machine learning, and should seek to detect abnormal conditions proactively, so engineers can anticipate repairs. 

On-demand availability

Shopfloor intelligence can also allow for small batch production and customised designs, materials and delivery. To support on-demand availability, manufacturers can leverage smart machinery that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and IIoT sensors to communicate with each other and automate reconfiguration. As an added benefit, the risk of manual errors is reduced and turnaround time between batches can be shortened. 

Complete traceability

With digitalisation and shopfloor intelligence, manufacturers can trace all parts, ingredients and materials through automatic sensors. This could lead to sustainable operating models and systems that encourage the reuse, repair and repurposing of materials.  

Improved traceability and better monitoring can help manufacturers to transition from linear production to a circular economy. Given the current emphasis on sustainable manufacturing across the globe, this could give a manufacturer a competitive advantage.  

Case study: How shopfloor intelligence helps with quality control in battery manufacturing 

Most would associate Nikon with cameras, but it has also successfully paired 3D X-ray scans with imaging software to bring quality control automation to the shopfloor of lithium-ion battery (LiB) production. 

The 2D radiography inspection technique traditionally used in LiB production does not provide accurate results, and quality control issues may not be immediately noticed. With 3D X-Ray scanning and computed tomography, as well as Nikon’s special software, results are more accurate and quality issues can be more quickly caught. This results in higher production yield and less waste, and reduces the risks of expensive warranty claims. 

All this is made possible through shopfloor intelligence, with the automation of quality control and the constant interconnectivity of IIoT. 

But shopfloor intelligence is not standard in manufacturing plants

Shopfloor intelligence requires highly digitalised plants and facilities. However, global manufacturing’s digitalisation and Industry 4.0 adoption varies across geographies and markets; one poll conducted as recently as 2022 found only 24% of manufacturers have a digital transformation strategy.  

Currently, three main challenges stand in the way of widespread deployment of shopfloor intelligence. 

First, manufacturers may perceive digitalisation as expensive and may assume that implementation of digital tools and technologies will cause significant production downtime. While it is true that digitalisation can incur costs and may disrupt regular operations to some degree, digital transformation can be made as seamless as possible through robust change management. In addition, manufacturers must understand that initial upfront investments may seem intimidating, but the costs of non-adoption will soon add up. 

Second, manufacturers may view shopfloor intelligence as a subset of quality management. The latter is often seen as a cost centre rather than a profit centre, which can give rise to budgetary roadblocks. A paradigm shift is needed to show how shopfloor intelligence helps with profitability and expected ROI.  

Third, resistance to change may also be an obstacle to shopfloor intelligence. For instance, leaders and employees may not want to upskilled or reskilled, or may believe existing systems and processes are sufficient. Manufacturers must ensure the alignment of top leadership to set the tone for the rest of the organisation.  

Elevate your operations with shopfloor intelligence  

Shopfloor intelligence has a huge role to play in manufacturing, enabling better quality management and optimising processes to deliver better business outcomes and unlock growth. While shopfloor intelligence rests on digital transformation, which typically comes with an up-front cost, the potential cost of overlooking shopfloor intelligence could be even worse for the business. 

The International Centre for Industrial Transformation (INCIT) supports manufacturing transformation and has both the tools and the reach to help manufacturers digitally transform and bring shopfloor intelligence into their facilities. 

To learn more about how you can position your business for success in this fast-evolving business landscape, contact us.

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