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Manufacturing Resources

Smarter Manufacturing - Easy Wins

Author Ben Marsh 5 min read
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Smart factories have an advantage over those that are not. They operate with greater efficiency, higher quality, and less downtime. Though the financial benefits far outweigh the costs to implement, too many manufacturers assume there are massive expenses and hesitate the decision to embrace this fourth industrial revolution. Unlike physical upgrades, such as robotics or traditional automation, there are many low cost methods to improve your operational efficiency.

A Simple Guide for Process Control

World Class Manufactures rely on their control plans to maintain their quality of products and processes. These plans serve as a critical part of their quality management and link individual manufacturing processes to key inspection and control activities. Control plans technically require no new technology and instead only require internal reviews and exercises. Just adding these 5 activities will significantly assist in streamlining new product introductions.

Process Flow Diagram

Visually describe the flow of your production process, this can a simple block diagram that shows the flow of raw materials through the final product.

Design Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (DFMEA)

An assessment of potential design failures and their effects. A helpful process in determining which potential design flaws should be remedied.

Example: Incorrect gauge of wire could lead to a fire (high concern).

Process Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (PFMEA)

Similar to DFMEA but with a focus on potential process failures and their impacts. These failures should be identified within the locations from the Process Flow Diagram.

Example: Failing to properly torque a nut could lead to it reverse off bolt and lead to a rattling sound (low concern).

Special Characteristics Matrix

Standardize characters or symbols that can be used to call for special attention. Use these on your Engineering Prints or Work Instructions.

Lessons Learned

Take advantage on your historical knowledge, when reviewing new projects compare them to similar jobs of the past. What worked well and what did not.

Inexpensive Technology to Implement?

Transitioning to a Smart Factory does not need to cost much, there is no immediate need to overhaul your factory with sensors and big data systems. You can start small and adopt more advanced options when you feel ready. The key here is to bolster your ability to make educated decisions - this requires capturing useful data.

Time Studies

Knowing the true amount of time it takes to build your product will significantly improve your billing and scheduling accuracies. You can start simple and use the stop watch to record the total build time and divide it by your total units built. A better version of this would be to record the time of each individual task associated with the unit, this can help you better quote future jobs that share similar processes. Though it requires a little more effort initially, you can reap greater benefits.


In all my years helping manufacturers transition to a smart digital factory, one of the largest opportunities to improve capacity is to reduce the time it takes to react to a stopped cell. An ANDON is a visual and/or audible alert system that can quickly notify support staff of a process issue. This can be done as simple as having a physical flag raised to signal help is needed. The goal is to avoid requiring your staff from leaving their cell to find a solution to their problem.

Work Instruction Software

As you move towards documenting your process (highly recommended) it is important that you do so in a way that prepares you for the future. Too often manufacturers make the mistake to create work instructions using programs like Word, Excel or PowerPoint. The reason this is a massive mistake, is that these documents are not standardized, and they do not have the ability to record production information. You are doing 90% of the work, but only getting a small fraction of the reward.

Work Instruction Software allows you to keep using paper as your medium, will boost your documentation productivity, and the day you want to have a fully digital factory floor you can do so with minimal additional effort. Documents made in Word, Excel or PowerPoint do not automatically transition to digital work instructions.

What does IoT and Digitalization offer Manufacturers?

Many of the tactics listed above can be heavily automated by the integration of digital systems. Internet of Things (IoT) refers to devices you can connect in your network to monitor equipment and inventory. This gives you real-time access to have better control without the need of manual data collection and entry.

Digital factories (great animation half-way down) are a duplication of your physical factory in a cyber enviornment. They allow you to eliminate paper, which can be a massive hidden expense in factories. Though the individual piece of paper might not seem like much, each piece of paper includes labor and high chances of error. Digital systems also provide superior forms of Time Studies and ANDONs, as 100% of your products will be traced and digital ANDONs can send email/SMS notifications.

There are even greater opportunities to Digitalization than just replacing Analog processes, specifically with the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

New and Inexpensive Automation Opportunities

Historically, automation has been exclusively tied to the physical world, robots, conveyors, feeders, etc. APIs can be equally (if not more) powerful and can cost pennies on the dollar. If you are unfamiliar with APIs it can be difficult to even imagine this world that exists. In the simplest of terms, APIs are protocols that allow different software systems to communicate with each other. Here are a couple of examples how digital factories using APIs can outperform those that do not.

ERP Schedule Control

With Digital Work Instructions present at each of your production cells, you could have your ERP automatically send the daily schedule without the need for paper travelers. These systems can automatically record the production time, completed units, and close out the job in your ERP.

Embedded Quality Assurance

Ditching paper typically requires one to digitize Quality Checks during a process. Digital Work Instructions can have interactive elements that can satisfy Quality Assurance, then the data captured can be directly fed to a Quality Management System. This streamlined ability can then lead to even greater forms a Quality Checks without hindering your production capacity.

Dynamic Maintenance Scheduling

Rather than rely on calendar days to decide when key equipment is serviced, Digital Work Instructions can monitor the exact usage and pass that information to Maintenance Management Software's to adjust the schedule maintenance. This improved scheduling reduces machine drift and unnecessary catastrophic events.

Locate Billing Discrepancies

Over the lifetime of a product, many Continuous Improvement projects may be implemented or Skilled Labor exits that can effect the true labor associated with your processes. Since Smart Factories with Digital Work Instructions collect 100% time studies, they have greater confidence in the realized labor. A simple API project is to periodically compare projected times in the ERP from realized times that are collected. Start with a threshold of 15-25+% and identify any product that falls within that margin of error and correct your ERP to match.

Ultimately, as you transition to a digital enviornment everything can be interconnected. Future technology without a doubt will come equipped with communication protocols, meaning factories that embrace this technology now will be in a position to maximize the benefits of their investments of tomorrow.

What Steps to Take to Become a Smarter Manufacturer?

Similar to the PFMEA and DFMEA tools discussed above, we have created the inverted (from failure to success) Project Success Mode and Effects Analysis. This free tool you can get below, and will guide you through prioritizing process improvements that align with your bottom line.

Download the PSMEA for FREE

With a clearly defined roadmap, your organization will be able to set realistic deliverables for change to be considered. This knowledge will help you transition to a smarter manufacturer while achieving the quickest return on your investment as possible.

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Ben Marsh

I've spent my career in Manufacturing, and can't stop trying to make things more efficient. At home, I am a master Lego builder with my son.

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