Doing More with Less in 2016

This month’s article provides some food for thought on how to do more with less. We hear all the time about manufacturers having a difficult time finding workers to fill open positions.  There is either a lack of workers seeking employment or a lack of ones that are qualified.  We also hear about the need to reduce costs through labor productivity because of intense domestic or international competition.  High-volume commodity producers seem to have more competition and require a lot of innovation to stay in the business. While the best job-shop operations can only stay that way by reducing costs and increasing capability.  The following topics may present some good ideas for positive change in your organization.

Robotics Collaborative robots are the newest trend, which should warrant another look into robotics if you are currently without any.  A collaborative application is one which has under gone a mandatory safety assessment, allowing the robot to work alongside human operators without the need for bulky and expensive guarding.  Without the burden of guarding, the robots are easily moved from application to application more like their human counterparts.  Maybe you have three or four medium-run parts that can be handled by a single collaborative robot moved from machine to machine depending on customer orders. Machine Vision Systems This tool has seen dramatic increases in capability while the cost to install has decreased substantially.   Today’s systems can fit in the palm of your hand.   We know that 100% Inspection from a human operator is rarely 100% when done is large quantities.  When done right, machine vision inspection is 100% Inspection.  The new systems can inspect for dimensions and attributes, can filter-out glare, can process several inspections per second, and can easily integrate to an existing control system for handling of rejects.  Consider machine vision for help in achieving Six Sigma for a demanding customer.  An increase in capability will not only improve your cost structure but will improve your business opportunities.   Automated Production Counting and Reporting Systems Why expend a lot of labor counting products the old-fashioned way?  Or distract your operators from the important tasks of producing quality products by asking them to keep production records.  The IoT (Internet of Things) provides all kinds of tools for manufacturers to improve productivity – and automated production counting is one of them.  For almost a decade now, Ethernet communication is readily available for most PLCs.  With some CAT6 cable, a router, and some basic software; very effective production counting and reporting systems can be assembled at costs that you can justify. Machine Diagnostic Systems With a basic HMI (Human-machine-interface) and a few lines of logic, you can provide your operators with the information to quickly diagnose common machine failure modes.  This will help to increase your up-time while maintaining or reducing your maintenance labor. Cellular Machine-to-Machine Systems Also known as cellular M2M, these systems can be used to monitor remotely installed or unattended equipment.  The non-value-added effort of routinely inspecting machines that are running well can now be avoided. Contract Labor and Technical Support Personnel Consider ‘farming-out’ jobs that in the past you may have hired permanent employees to perform.  Today you can easily hire engineers, skilled trade personnel, and IT professionals on a job-by-job basis without the long-term commitment and cost associated with in-house staffing.  And maybe a fresh look can facilitate the innovation that can make your organization world-class….