Product coding and marking is a small but vital component of all manufacturing operations – an incorrect, or missing code can mean that products can’t be shipped, which can put retailer performance targets at risk, damage brand reputation, and result in significant punitive fines.
Yet, it would be incorrect to say that manufacturers are overly focused on the specifics of their coding and marking equipment – or indeed, any individual piece of machinery on their production line. Today’s manufacturers are more concerned by the bigger picture – in maximising uptime and ensuring that production lines can keep running no matter what.
With demand on manufacturing environments more unpredictable than ever before, Andy Barrett, Domino Printing Sciences, outlines how smart, connected services can be used to drive efficiencies and provide insight to inform decision-making that ensures competitiveness, while improving performance and profits.
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Outcome-Focused Manufacturing – Changing Focus
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers were already focused on the competitive advantage that could be achieved through integration, automation, and big data – including reduced costs and increased productivity.
Today, the technology and the benefits are the same, but the focus in recent months has been on adaptation; indeed, some might argue, survival. COVID-19 has accelerated a shift in the global manufacturing mindset; as traditional ‘break and fix’ approaches, which focus on the performance of individual technologies, are replaced by outcome-focused solutions, which emphasise the value in optimising the overall performance of a production line.
It’s not hard to see the reason why – at times of unpredictable and unprecedented demand and high volatility machine failure can be disastrous, grinding production to a complete stop until a fix can be implemented. Solutions which optimise the overall performance of a production line can reduce the risks of machine failure, helping to keep lines running no matter what.
This change in mindset requires the provision of more information on the overall health of manufacturing systems. Is the line producing the optimal number of units, for example? Is the equipment indicating trends that are indicative of higher failure rate? Any sudden change in production performance – or indeed gradual degradation – may indicate that something on the line is not performing as it should.
In response to the changing needs of manufacturers, industry’s forward-thinking hardware and software providers are now using data and insight enabled by Industry 4.0 principles to provide advanced services that limit unplanned production downtime, reduce waste, improve performance, and maximise profits.
Digitisation, Sensorisation, and Optimisation
There has never been a better time to embrace new digital technologies to improve production line performance. As more and more providers begin realising the value in data acquisition to optimise performance and uptime, manufacturers can begin to take advantage of the technology, without necessitating a full-scale commitment to smart factory solutions.
In the coding and marking industry, for example, manufacturers can now use any number of Industry 4.0-enabled technologies, advanced software applications, and cloud-based solutions, to help improve production line efficiency and product labelling accuracy.
Coding automation software can minimise risk of error and eliminate production downtime during product changeovers by networking printers, automating job selection, and populating data directly from a range of databases, and MES and ERP systems. Additionally, integrated vision systems can enable live 100% monitoring of print quality – providing information on product throughput and product rejects.
The addition of sensors within Industry 4.0-enabled technology, when combined with cloud-based services, can allow manufacturers to monitor and measure variables which can have an impact on production and coding performance, such as temperature, moisture, air quality, motion, and vibration. This sensorisation can be taken a step further, to allow equipment to auto-detect problems by using algorithms to predict areas where issues may arise, allowing for early, planned intervention to mitigate the risk of unscheduled downtime.
Cloud-based services can also be used to provide remote intervention and assistance – by enabling service support staff to view how machinery is operating without conducting a site visit. Moreover, augmented reality applications can offer options for remote intervention, allowing external service support to ‘see’ with a customer’s eyes exactly what is occurring on a line. Such solutions can speed up identification and resolution of issues with machinery: external service engineers can guide production workers to implement machinery fixes or carry out routine maintenance. And, where a site visit is required, they can arrive equipped with the necessary tools, materials, and knowledge to rectify the issue first time.
Information from analytics can also be used by technology providers to alert manufacturers when their equipment may not be performing as it should be and allow for intervention before a line fails. If the line in question is a critical line, for example, the manufacturer can help production planning and supply chain management by gearing up an alternative line without impacting overall performance.
The increased digitisation and sensorisation of production lines creates a treasure trove of data that can be used to optimise operations and further increase production line efficiency. This is where cloud-enabled solutions – including live reporting – present the opportunity for technology providers to move from the traditional, reactive ‘break and fix’ approach to the proactive and adaptive model forward-thinking manufacturers demand.
In the future, it’s likely that artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities will enable manufacturers to identify further areas of productivity improvement through in-depth analysis of historical and real-time data, scenario planning, and cost model simulation.
Manufacturers’ most pressing priority in recent months has been survival. That said, it is clear that the ability to react and adapt – in near real-time – to any slight change in production performance will enable manufacturers to remain operational, productive, and efficient, in the face of any volatile or unpredictable scenario.
Going forward, the wealth of data afforded by Industry 4.0 and connected services will enable manufacturers to determine exactly when and why intervention is needed, and how to implement this, in order to keep their production lines running with minimal disruption.
Equally, as the world adjusts to the ‘new normal’, brought about by COVID-19, it is likely that former concerns relating to sustainability will be reinvigorated. As such, having the technology, data, and insight to maximise efficiency, and reduce waste, across any production line, at any time, is now, arguably, more important than ever.
Embracing an outcome-focused approach to manufacturing is not something that can be achieved in isolation. Such an approach demands collaboration and the coming together of hardware and software providers to unlock the insight from Industry 4.0-enabled technologies, advanced software applications, and cloud-based services to create and design new outcome-focused solutions. No two manufacturers are the same, and so, in an outcome-focused services world, no two solutions will be the same either. Forward-thinking equipment providers will facilitate this shift, by becoming service suppliers and tailoring their solutions to the outcomes required by specific manufacturers.