Why have a Support and Maintenance Contract?

The history of contracts dates back to ancient civilisation. In the UK, we were heavily influenced by Ancient Greek and Roman thought. For instance, Roman law identified discrete categories of contractual transaction which needed to be fulfilled in order for promises to be enforced. Fast forward to the industrial revolution and a contract was seen as partly a sign of progress. Even in today’s business world, the signing of a contract is seen as a good thing and a positive step forward. Here, Chris Barlow, Technical Director at Astec IT Solutions explains why. Continue reading “Why have a Support and Maintenance Contract?”

Bridging the communication gap to reach Industry 4.0

The design, development, and manufacture of a new electric vehicle (EV) is a time consuming and costly operation. The vehicle itself needs to be developed on a digital drawing board before a prototype must be designed and go through extensive feasibility testing. Even if you are working at a relatively rapid pace, this process could take months at the least to be completed. The next stage is to develop custom pressing tools before mass production can begin and once you have started up your production line, any tweak to the design or change in hardware can be costly, potentially setting a project back weeks and months.

What if you could undergo this entire process at a much faster speed, reduce traditional development times up to 90% and incur just one tenth of the usual investments in factory and production technology? Sound impossible? The majority of articles you will read around the topic of Industry 4.0 will probably tell you that’s it not. They’ll probably tell you that it can be achieved – but they’ll probably tell you that the manufacturing industry is 10-20 years away from this being a reality – not this article.

For that’s exactly what German e-mobility start-up e.GO has achieved with its unique urban EV which weighs less than 900 kilos and is just three-and-a-half metres long. What makes this project so significant is the use of Industry 4.0 manufacturing methods which enabled agile production with relatively low capital investment.

Bridging the gap

On the face of it, e.GO has the same manufacturing software available to it as any other business and is an avid user of systems for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), CAD (Computer Aided Design), CAQ (Computer Aided Quality Management) amongst other things. However, too often software, machinery and equipment are operated in isolation, making it a challenge for plant managers to identify any loopholes affecting production. While data may be collected and analysed from disparate systems, rarely if ever is it pooled together to present one holistic view of the production environment, bridging the communication gap that is so far holding up Industry 4.0 progression.

e.Go adopted the Elisa Smart Factory solution to overcome this challenge and streamline the production process. The solution obtains data from various sources, analyses it in real-time and optimises it to identify any potential problems or production bottlenecks. It can then perform predictive maintenance or predictive failure detection. The next step is to use this newly created virtual data lake to create a digital twin of the production environment. The twin can be used to make real-time decisions affecting logistics and process optimisation driven by the Internet of Things (IoT), helping e.GO reach new levels of efficiency and productivity.

Streamlining complex operations

For e.GO, this bridge in device communication is essential to operating a complex production line in the leanest and most effective way possible. The company follows a multi-stage production process which is carried out in discrete steps, with the final end product having significant quality variations.

By creating a digital twin of the factory, the company is able to perform more advanced traceability, connecting process measurement data to individual projects, with Elisa Smart Factory utilising machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to more accurately forecast outcomes and establish the best operational processes for the production line. This enables e.GO to flex and adjust production as it needs, without incurring significant extra costs and extending production times.

For many across manufacturing, true realisation of Industry 4.0 is still considered some time away, with lots of businesses still operating labour-intensive, manual processes to plug the gaps in shopfloor communication. However, as e.GO’s use of Elisa Smart Factory demonstrates, bridging the gap can not only drive efficiencies and production improvement, it can also significantly accelerate time-to-market, even for upcoming challenger brands.

Inspired? To find out more about Elisa Smart Factory and how it can help bridge the communication gap in your factory, send me a message today.

Dashboards, Augmented Reality, Reporting and Field Service for Smart Manufacturing

At the PPMA Show this year, held on 25-27 September at Birmingham’s NEC, Astec Solutions will be speaking to manufacturers about digitally transforming their operations.

The highly successful annual event is organised by the Processing and Packaging Machinery Association, which is currently celebrating 30 years serving UK manufacturers. The 2018 show is expected to be the largest yet, attracting over 8000 visitors from around the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.

Although the inherent nature of the PPMA Show means a focus on production machinery, in recent years the prevalence of digital technology has increased, as its influence on manufacturing heightens. Manufacturing personnel across a variety of functions – C-level Executives, IT, Engineering, Supply Chain, Quality and Production can all capitalise on opportunities brought about by emerging digital technologies.

Technical Director Chris Barlow explains the value of Astec’s Smart Manufacturing Solutions, and where the offering fits within the market:

“The majority of exhibitors at the PPMA Show are machine vendors, as the trade association predominantly exists for machinery manufacturers. Those vendors will generally supply software with their equipment which enables the machine to be controlled. It may also collect important machine data and in some cases, even provide some machine-level analytics. Most of the machines now being developed will have numerous sensors and connectivity built-in, so they have the potential to be incorporated into IoT solutions.

This is where our Smart Manufacturing Solutions come into play. As an analogy, consider the machines as the individual musicians in an orchestra; every member is accomplished at their own specific role but it requires a conductor to ensure the ensemble produces a curtain-raising performance. Connecting machines and orchestrating operations is where Smart Manufacturing can truly transform your operations. Without it, all you have is disparate systems and assets.”

Astec will be promoting a number of recently launched services at the show, which are designed to address common pain points and barriers to digital progression. With clever use of software products from leading vendors such as GE Digital and PTC, the services go beyond the purely operational view of traditional SCADA and utilise predictive analytics, historic insights and augmented reality for preventative maintenance and proactive operations. New services for 2018 include:

Digital Transformation Assessments
Digitisation and Industrial Innovation Platforms
Augmented Reality Solutions
Rapid Response Support Button
Field Services Team

One of the key barriers to adopting ‘smart’ solutions is reported to be cost, with smaller UK manufacturers dismissing the technology as too high an investment, or only for large global corporations. This however, does not need to be the case, as Astec’s focus is working with existing systems and avoiding ‘rip and replace’ overhauls. Now coming into its 19th year, Astec has refined its future-proof solutions so the system infrastructure is crafted to be robust and secure while remaining flexible and extensible. Implementations are carried out with a holistic, IT-centric approach – and the discipline that comes with it. Customers can access fresh functionality and innovative tech while benefiting from fully supportable, off-the-shelf software that extends the value of their original investment.

Astec will be exhibiting on stand C14 in Hall 5 at the NEC in Birmingham 25-27 September. Register to attend the PPMA Show 2018 for FREE >>

How will the workforce benefit from emerging manufacturing technologies?

New technologies are often perceived as too expensive or too demanding to implement for smaller operations. In the UK, even large industry is reported to be lagging behind global competitors in championing digital advancement.

Amid Brexit uncertainty and preparations for a possible ‘no deal’ situation with the EU, manufacturers have now at least, received some guidance from a recently published government white paper on trade continuity expectations. Nevertheless, many remain hesitant to adopt new technology like bunnies in headlights – they know it’s coming (and fast!), but feel paralysed, unable to take action. The good news is however, that it is quite possible to pioneer and embark upon digital transformation, regardless of organisational size or investment budget. It is simply a matter of breaking down the evolution into manageable stages and making best use of the incumbent workforce.

There are multiple opportunities to use data connectivity to benefit a business; examples include improved collaboration, breaking down departmental data silos, obtaining new insights into operational effectiveness, predictive maintenance and worker self-learning.

To leverage rapidly developing digital technologies, manufacturers need a good understanding of how they connect and interact, and how the background skills, interactions and responsibilities of the workforce come into play. To assist with this challenge, Astec now offers a Digital Transformation Assessment service which includes a situational analysis and business case, as well as outlining achievable ‘next steps’ on the journey. As manufacturers improve data connectivity and capabilities across their operations and supply chain, they are able to solve problems at existing pain points in the short term, while starting to address broader transformation changes.

Astec Technical Director Chris Barlow says,

“Our new Digital Transformation Assessments are an opportunity to take stock of the current position of the business, progress already made, areas to improve and identify unexplored areas of potential. Astec have been producing reports to help clients improve their systems for years, and have built up considerable experience in the manufacturing space, so we are looking to meet the current demand for digital transformation roadmaps. Through our partnerships with PTC and GE Digital we can deliver fully-supportable, off-the-shelf, IT-centric solutions with clear, incremental steps towards incorporating new technologies such as AR and machine learning.”

For the workforce, it doesn’t have to mean re-inventing the wheel, but continuous learning is an increasingly critical part of the digital future. Existing knowledge from experienced workers on the factory floor can and should be retained. Modern, intuitive interfaces and dashboards, workflows and AR enhance workers’ current skill set, building on the more traditional skills. Improved data capture, reporting and process management protect the wisdom that has taken years to accumulate, while encouraging career progression and employee retention.

Remote working and real-time data can transform traditional ‘hands-on’ roles, delivering a level of convenience that can help retain valuable older employees and attract the best new recruits. As personnel are able to apply their existing skills while being trained in using specialist digital tools, overall efficiency will also improve. All employees, regardless of department – Production, Engineering, Quality, IT or C-level Executives, can benefit from new capabilities as a result of digital change.

Read more on Astec’s Digital Transformation Assessment.

Using OEE to drive improvements in operational performance

Back in the 1990’s, the discipline of lean techniques helped to lay the foundations of manufacturers’ digital transformation, although they didn’t know it yet. Then came the buzz about OEE, lean production and six sigma, which gave rise to a surge in solution implementations focused on improving overall equipment effectiveness.

For the companies that invested in this way of working, constantly developing and adjusting lean methodology has become second nature; OEE is an integral part of their commitment to continuous improvement. Relatively small percentage savings in availability, performance and quality quickly accumulate, boosting profitability and market share.

Despite this, the well-known productivity metric is still greatly under-utilised in manufacturing today. This view is consistent with a recent report by McKinsey, which reveals most companies today merely scratch the surface of potential applications for the data: on a modern oil-production platform, for example, only 1 percent of the data generated by the 30,000 sensors is ever examined.

One of the common reasons for untapped digital opportunities often lies with ineffective change management. OEE expert and Astec Managing Director Andy Tripp explains;

“It would be reasonable to assume that global organisations would take the lead in strategic and cultural evolution, but it is not unusual to find local sites completely detached from global head office initiatives. Even when a Business Change Manager is employed, this alone isn’t sufficient to galvanise mid-level management into action. Many UK manufacturing sites are either half-heartedly adopting new advanced analytics programs or even worse, ignoring them and missing the opportunity in its entirety.”

To help alleviate change inertia, Astec offers guidance through the process of maturing pilot projects to an organisation-wide approach – the embodiment of the ‘think big, start small, scale fast’ mantra.

“We specialise in cross-functional integration across departments and organisational functions. Our holistic approach takes into account factors from across the enterprise. Large data sets can be combined and visualised so customers can assess the true business impact of process and equipment losses from issues such as unplanned downtime and faulty equipment.”

For larger industrials in particular, the current disruptive climate can certainly present challenges. A recent study from PwC research arm Strategy& found 66% of manufacturing leaders do not have a clear smart factory vision and strategy, and only 25% believe their employees have suitable qualifications to master a digital future.

Beyond the traditional focus on maximising efficiency, the next step in performance improvement will require companies to establish an IT-centric, robust technical infrastructure. One possible route to achieve this is to outsource implementation, training and support. This approach has the benefit of bringing immediate value while simultaneously extending the skill sets of existing employees. With the correct capabilities, infrastructure and management – including benchmarking and new ways of monitoring progress, industrial manufacturers can remain confident in a rapidly changing climate.

About Astec

Astec implements innovative software solutions to deliver a competitive advantage for clients. Using the latest technology from globally respected partners, invaluable operational insight can be extracted for increased capacity, improved quality and reduced operating costs.

Serving industries such as Food & Beverage, CPG, pharmaceutical and utilities, Astec provide a range of real-time, data driven solutions and support services to help many of the world’s leading companies to improve their operations and help strengthen their market position.