Improving workforce productivity in industrial machinery and equipment manufacturing

March 14, 2017
Inconsistent productivity rates can cause recurring issues for industrial machinery and equipment (IM&E) manufacturers, impacting overall customer satisfaction.

In today’s era of highly demanding customers, ultra-thin margins, and complex workflows, cyclical ebbs in productivity rates may be understandable, but they certainly can’t be ignored or tolerated.

IM&E manufacturers need to maintain a tight grip on processes in order to maintain consistencies and predictable margins. Fluctuations in productivity can be highly risky, creating uncertainty around delivery dates, account profitability, and capacity planning.

Understanding the scale of the problem

There are many reasons why poor productivity can be troublesome to any manufacturer.

For the IM&E manufacturer, though, those headaches are magnified because of the typical size and cost IM&E products. The highly complex, ETO processes and capital-intensive parts and labor mean that even small variances will have big impacts. Delays are extremely expensive.

For example, the highly skilled workforce continues to be compensated—even if they are only waiting for right parts, and the oversized assembly hangar still racks up massive overhead costs even if the resources and crews aren’t available for assembly and testing stages. Hefty fines for late delivery and noncompliance with contract agreements can also add to the motivation for improved productivity. Most IM&E manufacturers simply can’t afford to be lackadaisical about scheduling, planning, and resources.

Identifying causes

Influencing factors also seem to intensify within the IM&E plant, compared to a manufacturing facility that may produce consumer packaged goods or commoditized industrial products. The IM&E industry deals with machinery that is highly engineered, contains high-tech components, and is designed especially for the customer—likely with highly specialized requirements. No two orders are ever alike. Drawings and specifications need to be created and quoted. Frequent change orders complicate the processes.

Putting modern technology to work

IM&E manufacturers can put modern technology solutions to work to help them manage the shop floor complexity and put an end to major lapses in productivity. Let’s examine some tactics which can be used:

  • Usability. Infor offers ERP solutions with a user interface that is highly intuitive, simplifying processes and improving productivity. The workforce can use role-based workbenches and dashboards to manage their own Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and follow predefined best practices. Screens push relevant contextual information to users, rather than waiting for them to look it up. This speeds processes and reminds personnel of their next steps and details to monitor.
  • Collaboration tools. Manufacturers can take advantage of embedded business collaboration tools in order to simplify communication among colleagues and customers. Infor Ming.le ™ helps personnel throughout the organization easily track conversations, prioritize issues, and follow progress on projects and dialogues with people inside the organization and outside.
  • Escalation alerts and notifications. Managers can use escalation alerts to help maintain close control over any recurring issues that require extra attention. Triggers can be set to send emails or team alerts for potential problems. Ideally, this allows issues to be addressed early when there is still time to remedy the situation without a major delay.
  • Product configuration. Infor Configure Price Quote (CPQ) helps manage highly configured products, helping sales people quote on personalized products and creating diagrams so customers can visualize their tailored products.
  • 3D printing. This is valuable technology for creating emergency spare parts for break-fix incidents. 3-D printing can also speed prototyping and testing phases, keeping MTO projects moving. 3D printing allows the enterprise to create the needed piece or the mold, template, or tooling used in manufacturing the spare part.
  • Sensor readings. Embedded sensors on internal equipment can be used to prevent unexpected downtime from equipment failures. Temperature and vibration are common examples of physical conditions which can be measured and monitored by sensors. The data can be used to spot early symptoms of degradation, such as overheating. When potential problems are detected early, prompt intervention can keep the issue from cascading.
  • Predictive forecasting. Advanced analytics can also be used to forecast stages in the typical lifecycle so the maintenance department can plan ahead and schedule during off-times any necessary calibration, replacement of consumables like filters, and replacement of eroding parts before they fail.
  • Virtual Reality and holographic simulations. As the current workforce reaches retirement age, companies need to step up the recruitment and training of new technicians. To speed the process and massive transference of equipment knowledge, companies are turning to virtual reality and simulation environments to help train recruits, allowing them to “practice and fail” in safe environments, rather than endanger the actual machinery.
  • End to end visibility. Manufacturers who have end to end visibility throughout their organization are more likely to be able to spot potential gaps or productivity drains before they happen. Visibility also eliminates silos of activities and gaps in communications which can both be major obstacles to productivity.

Next steps

For IM&E manufacturers it is important to keep informed about new technology available and stay on top of innovation in the field. It is easy to become overwhelmed with the possibilities and, therefore, tune out the many advancements that seem to occur at rapid-fire rates. Being out of touch is dangerous, creating risks of becoming obsolete.

Although new technologies often involve a capital investment, this shouldn’t be a roadblock. Technology solutions often pay-off very quickly in savings of time and prevention of lost performance. Cloud deployment, which involves a monthly fee rather than one-time investment, may be a sound option for technologies like analytics and IOT tools for capturing sensor readings.

Above all, some action is better than no action. Taking incremental actions can be good early steps in the journey. Even enacting a few tactics, if not all, will be valuable in improving productivity.

Learn more about Infor for solutions for IM&E.
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