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Statistical process control (SPC) is a commonly used machine learning software in manufacturing that measures the consistency of a product’s performance based on its design specifications. Minimizing variability is a crucial part of avoiding defects and maintaining resilient manufacturing operations.
This guide outlines the different ways that businesses can effectively utilize SPC and reap all of the benefits this technology has to offer.
How Statistical Process Control Works
SPC is a tried and true technology that businesses have been using for more than 100 years to improve their manufacturing operations. It conducts ongoing statistical analyses, taking into account factors such as the materials, design, employees who handled the product and the machinery used to create the product.
SPC’s constant vigilance enables businesses to make swift and accurate resolutions to quality control problems. However, it’s not fully autonomous like other manufacturing software that can identify statistical correlations without human help. Instead, it relies on large amounts of training datasets that another source must manually input to achieve the desired results.
This form of machine learning is known as supervised learning. Businesses can input human-labeled datasets by themselves, or they can recruit another algorithm to automatically input statistics in a process called “machine annotation.” In either case, SPC needs to absorb as much raw data as possible to maximize its efficiency.
SPC displays its findings in easy-to-read control charts, and it’s the business’s responsibility to set the parameters for each chart by providing the software with enough information. This process includes six basic steps:
- Define the manufacturing process you want to monitor and control by establishing the input variables, output variables, equipment, materials and any other external factors that might affect the process.
- Collect the data that the software extrapolated from the variables you provided, then organize it into a digestible format — usually a chart or spreadsheet.
- Select and construct the control charts based on the type of data you’re using, such as weight, length, temperature and any defects that might have occurred.
- Look for patterns in the control charts that indicate special cause variations in performance due to underlying defects. You can calculate process variability through a capability index, such as C, Cpk, Pp and PPk.
- Investigate the root causes of the variations and make the necessary equipment, material or operational adjustments to correct them.
- Continue to collect and organize data to identify more variations, updating the control specifications as needed.
This process sounds awfully similar to Statistical Quality Control (SQC), but there are some key differences. Statistical Process Control measures independent variables, while SQC strictly focuses on dependent process outputs. SQC also carries out acceptance tests by screening individual product samples, while SPC relies on large datasets and doesn’t have an acceptance testing feature.
Types of SPC Tools
Many types of analysis tools have developed during SPC’s century-long evolution. These tools are split into two main categories — basic tools of quality (7-QC tools) and supplemental tools (7-SUPP tools). Here’s a quick rundown of how businesses can use the 7-QC tools:
- Stratification: separating data into subcategories by unique characteristics to clarify the origins of an existing problem.
- Histogram: A bar graph that displays the frequency of variability and the most common offenders.
- Check sheet: A document with tabular or metric format that tracks the number of special cause variations.
- Cause-and-effect diagram: A chart that shows all of the factors that lead to special cause variations and draws potential correlations between them.
- Scatter diagram: A dotted diagram that displays the overlap between dependent variables on the y-axis and independent variables on the x-axis.
- Control chart: A line-based graph that shows processes’ stability levels and pinpoints the likely variation within produced items.
- Pareto chart: This chart applies the 80/20 principle — 20% of variables cause 80% of problems — to display the most common causes of manufacturing failures.
Stratification also often appears in the 7-SUPP tools category because of its versatility and importance to statistical analysis. Breaking up large datasets into smaller digestible chunks makes SPC software more accurate at identifying problems and reducing variability. Here are the other six 7-SUPP tools:
- Flowchart: A straightforward diagram that outlines the step-by-step process of a manufacturing sequence.
- Defect mapping: A chart that shows the different types of known product flaws within a business’s manufacturing operations.
- Events logs: A variable summary showing the chain of events that resulted from an undesired occurrence.
- Progress centers: Centralized locations dedicated to tracking improvements and supporting informed decision making.
- Randomization: The deployment of random manual and automated input variables to eliminate human bias.
- Sample size determination: Choosing the number of subjects to include in a representative group when tracking manufacturing trends.
Today’s SPC software modules include all of these tools, allowing businesses to access dashboards that display the various charts and diagrams in one place. These insights can lead to identification of quantifiable improvement opportunities that maximize operational efficiency.
Benefits of Using SPC
SPC is one of the most effective machine learning resources for achieving consistent performance in manufacturing operations. Eliminating process errors allows businesses to simultaneously address the three biggest challenges in material handling — workplace hazards, equipment damage and carbon emissions — in many ways:
- Reduces manufacturing costs
- Monitors employee productivity
- Improves resource utilization
- Optimizes manual inspections
- Reduces rework and warranty claims
When these benefits combine, the final result is a more satisfied client base and a more profitable business. While SPC software can’t do all of the inspection work on its own, the tools and insights it provides are invaluable in a manufacturing environment.
Use Statistical Process Control to Its Full Potential
Business leaders who are willing to put in the necessary effort to provide SPC software with large datasets can use this technology to its full potential. They will gain access to numerous eye-opening statistics about operational inefficiencies and have all the knowledge they need to make accurate adjustments.
*This article is written by Jack Shaw. Jack is a seasoned automotive industry writer with over six years of experience. As the senior writer for Modded, he combines his passion for vehicles, manufacturing and technology with his expertise to deliver engaging content that resonates with enthusiasts worldwide.
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The B2B supply chain is changing in this tech-forward world. Like so many other things, if you’re not getting on board with smart business tech, you could be missing out on important successes. That starts with your supply and integrating tech to reduce human error and track things more clearly.
As a B2B business owner, you already know that transactions tend to happen within the supply chain. Whether you’re a wholesaler or retailer, if you’re not using tech to keep track of your supply and your sales, your business might not be able to keep up with those who are integrating different types of tech – including cloud-based technology.
Let’s take a close look at how smart business tech is optimizing the B2B supply chain, and what steps you can take to implement more sophisticated technology into your management strategy.
Why Smart Tech Matters
Tech innovations aren’t just important for manufacturing purposes. They are extremely beneficial for every step in the B2B supply chain. If you’re a supplier, integrating smart tech into your supply chain strategy can help with things like:
- Cash flow
You’re also reducing the risk of human error throughout the process, especially when it comes to processing and fulfillment. Integrating smart technology as a part of your risk management plan makes it easier to reduce risk and put plans in place for fast recovery if disaster does strike within your supply chain.
Additionally, when you use things like automation and AI, you’ll actually end up freeing up many of your employees so they can focus on other tasks while improving efficiency. Your business can grow, your employees can move up the ladder, and you can move more product safely and quickly.
What You Can Do Today
Although technology is quickly advancing, there is plenty of technology you can start implementing into your B2B supply chain strategy immediately. For example, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software will help you overcome existing challenges you might face within supply chain management, including:
- Customer acquisition
- A global shift toward e-commerce
- Time constraints
With this kind of software, you’ll enjoy seamless data transfer from system to system. This offers another opportunity to reduce human error while optimizing your efforts because you won’t have to rely on manual data entry. Instead, you’ll have a consistently-updated clear picture of your efforts.
You’ll also be able to take advantage of automated workflows and accurate shipment tracking while offering greater confidence in fulfilling orders on time.
Integrating ERP software into your existing system should be just the beginning when it comes to what you’ll be able to do in the future with smart business tech. As you continue to grow, take advantage of existing technology that is becoming more widely available to small businesses and enterprises alike.
Preparing for the Future
As our globe becomes inundated with fossil fuels, every business needs to do its part in reducing its footprint to succeed in the future. Luckily, our world has combined the power of technology and sustainability, and nowhere is that more evident than in solar power technology. In the last decade alone, the limits of solar technology have broken down significantly. Today, solar power has been used for a variety of purposes, including transportation, military defense, and even space exploration.
When it comes to harnessing solar power for your B2B supply chain, it can be utilized almost anywhere you’re currently relying on traditional forms of energy. You can take advantage of solar energy-powered transportation by integrating it into your fleet. Not only will it help to reduce your overall reliance on fossil fuels and reduce your budget for fuel, but it can shed a positive light on your business practices and help with client acquisition
In addition to solar technology, you should also be looking into 5G for the future of your supply chain. Integrating 5G into your existing supply chain tech will help to reduce disruptions and improve optimization efforts. Things like smart sensors can be placed on your fleet trucks to track product location or determine the cause(s) of delays in real time. Shipments can be tracked electronically to prevent cargo from getting lost. Again, the risk of human error will be greatly reduced this way. 5G makes it much easier to implement AI and automation into your strategy without having to worry about network lags or lapses in connection.
Many people look at the supply chain industry and automatically assume it’s outdated. Others think if it’s not “broken,” it shouldn’t be fixed. But, smart technology is already optimizing the B2B supply chain, and the businesses that don’t jump on board will experience greater losses, delays, and burnt-out employees for years to come. Consider some of the tech solutions you can implement now and in the future, and you’re likely to see greater success and more streamlined production.
*This article is written by Ainsley Lawrence. View more of Ainsley’s articles here.
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Studies have shown that over 40% of workers across various industries spend a significant portion of their workweek on repetitive manual tasks. In the manufacturing sector, these tasks often involve data collection and manual data entry, which many consider to be inefficient given the availability of advanced automation software in today’s market.
Innovative automation programs are designed to automatically collect, upload, or synchronize data into a system of record. This automation can help eliminate production bottlenecks and streamline manufacturing processes, ultimately improving output. Moreover, automation can significantly reduce the risk of human error, which can lead to injuries. In fact, a majority of workers (nearly 60%) believe that they could save six or more hours per week if the repetitive aspects of their jobs were automated.
Automation is not limited to the field personnel, as managers are also looking to streamline their own tasks. A renowned technological research and consulting firm predicts that by 2024, 69% of day-to-day managerial work will be fully automated. Examples of automatable managerial tasks include approvals, sign-offs, status updates, and confirmation requests. Increased efficiency in these operations can free up time for employees at all levels to contribute more strategically to the success of a business.
In addition to automation, cutting-edge robotic technology is also being utilized in many manufacturing organizations. Programmed robots or robot-controlled machines that use artificial intelligence (AI) can enhance a company’s assembly, material handling, and processing capabilities. Robots excel in predictable environments and can handle physically demanding or monotonous tasks that may negatively impact employee well-being or morale. This results in increased productivity and reduced labor costs.
Another type of robot gaining popularity is the collaborative robot, or cobot, which is specifically designed for direct human-robot interaction. Cobots are relatively new but are projected to have exponential growth in the market, with an estimated worth of nearly $2 billion by 2026, up from $590.5 million in 2020. Industry experts predict that by 2025, 34% of industrial robots sold will be cobots. Cobots are cost-effective, safe, and flexible, making them an ideal tool for small and mid-sized manufacturers to modernize their operations, reduce redundant tasks, improve productivity, and achieve peak performance.
To learn more about the impact of repetitive tasks in manufacturing and how technology can counter them, please refer to the infographic below:
Repetitive Tasks in Manufacturing from Acieta, a manufacturing robotic company
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Adapting to new trends often comes in waves. We’d prefer if we could pace ourselves and anticipate new technology, but it’s never that simple in a digital landscape.
As technology improves, companies must adapt. Adapting to new technology can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in operational and administrative costs. Moreover, the mere appearance of adoption can make the difference in clients perceiving you as a reputable thought leader or an obsolete brand past its prime.
Your intention, of course, is to keep your brand relative and alive. That is why prepping your company’s culture, assets, and methodology to abide by digital trends is paramount.
Optimization Through Digitization
The time of pen and paper is a bygone era. As more companies move their documentation management to online cloud storage platforms, it opens the door to time, space, and improved organization.
Consequently, it allows progressive brands to accomplish more with their time than brands that haven’t adjusted their document management. Not only this, but file sharing is becoming more expected by consumers as opposed to traditional means of communication like snail mail.
Digitizing company documents can also improve the quality of life for most HR workers as it can reduce the footprint of files they need to keep track of physically.
But it’s not only for convenience. If data is being shared via e-mail, it faces the possibility of malicious online threats. That’s why data encryption and security measures are in place to protect sensitive documentation belonging to companies.
Although transforming all physical documents to a digital format may be an involved and large task at first, the benefits of time savings and organization can vastly outweigh the initial time investment. However, it needs to be done in a way that can be repeatable on a daily basis. The new system of conducting work processes digitally needs to be scalable. Physical methods should be put away. Digital forms, communication, and organization should take their place.
It can often feel daunting to convert thousands of documents into digital formats. That’s why many brands hire consultants to aid them in arranging their systems in a way that can be easily categorized, implemented, and repeated.
Entering the Metaverse
The metaverse, one of the most recent and ongoing technological trends, is going to change all aspects of life, including average business daily life. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it is a virtual rendering and representation of the world we live in. You can imagine it like a video game at first, trying to imitate real life by making it appear as real as possible.
The metaverse does this, but the intent is that it will have practical application. For example, where today, to buy groceries, one must get up, go outside, drive to the store, walk around the store, purchase the merchandise, and return home.
These digital realities will strive to allow you to enter a virtual rendering of the same grocery store and simulate walking around and purchasing groceries. The difference is that you won’t have to leave your home. Your groceries will simply be dropped off via a drone, and that’s that.
We already see a glimpse of this in actuality through the popular app, Instacart, which enables distant customers to shop for groceries from their mobile phones.
The ability to access virtually and experience tangible things from a distance could imply major benefits for a lot of different applications.
It could allow clientele to browse inventory and specifications of a product that’s located on the other side of the world. It could allow physically disabled individuals the ability to shop on their own. The benefits are worth considering.
And that is what your brand must consider. What does its place in the metaverse look like? There’s certainly a host of ways that businesses can leverage the metaverse to their advantage, including the sale of NFTs to behave almost like a ticketing system to obtain real-life tangible items. Some other examples might include exhibiting product demonstrations for industrial machining companies or product testing a new design before its put on the market.
If you start now, your brand could be among the first early adopters of the metaverse when it eventually takes off and becomes one of the main alternatives to physical experience.
Be wary. The internet didn’t take off right away. And there will be plenty of naysayers that try to diminish the validity of the metaverse, but your company should be prepared to adapt if it becomes the next big thing.
Maintain Awareness of What’s Next
If there’s anything you take away from this, it should be to stay vigilant and aware of what’s creeping up on the horizon.
The metaverse might get big for a decade and then fizzle out. It might be replaced by another thing shortly after. The important thing to do is to remain conscientious of what’s coming and make decisions on whether or not and how you will adapt to meet the new evolution of technology.
Advancement is exponentially increasing, which means we have smaller and smaller windows of time to settle in the previous development before we have to move on to the next one. Don’t let anything slip by!
*This article is written by Ainsley Lawrence. View more of Ainsley’s articles here.
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As long as we have transported goods from place to place, we have had to figure out how to keep track of those goods. Warehouse management is the modern iteration of this pursuit, and there has never been a better time to manage this work efficiently and effectively. However, not all warehouses take advantage of the technology that makes this efficiency possible.
Here’s a look at how technology can benefit your warehouse and help your business run at its absolute best.
Learn how to eliminate wasteful practices and procedures in your supply chain by partnering with USC Consulting Group. Call 800.888.8872 to schedule a consultation.
Protecting Your Information
Some warehouse owners and managers assume that bringing in more technology will make them more vulnerable to cyber attacks. Although there is an element of truth to this idea, the simple fact of the matter is if you use any technology at all – which, these days, you most certainly do – you are already vulnerable to hackers and other malicious parties. Rather than shirking further technological advancements, the solution is to be proactive on cybersecurity.
After all, small businesses are some of the most likely targets for cyber attacks. Many entrepreneurs assume their business will be safe, simply because it doesn’t have the funds to provide a large payout. Businesses that do have those funds, however, such as banks and investment firms, typically have very tight cyber security. Attacks on these businesses are more likely to fail as a result, making mid-size businesses an attractive option.
Since cybersecurity is an ever-changing game, work with a knowledgeable, established team to keep your protocols up-to-date. You can even look into hiring an “ethical hacker.” There are trusted hackers for hire who will do their best to break your security efforts to ensure they’re sufficient and identify any weak spots. This can be an absolute life-saver, especially if you have any subtle issues you and your security team may not have spotted otherwise.
Tracking Your Inventory
At the end of the day, your business is all about making sure you know what items are going where, and when. Many inventory management companies rely primarily on barcodes to keep this work moving. However, Explainthatstuff notes they come with plenty of drawbacks. First and foremost, barcodes can be difficult to scan. They rely heavily on lighting and angles, and these factors aren’t always consistent from print to print. They’re also easily compromised if scratched or damaged.
These issues are surmountable, obviously, but they can slow workers down and leave them frazzled and frustrated. Switching to RFID-based tracking can speed your work up significantly, as this method is far more consistently effective. You can track more inventory faster, with fewer complications along the way. This will lead to quicker and more accurate inventory reads, making your warehouse run smoother than ever.
Chances are good that you are more than aware of how helpful it can be to reduce man hours and human error via automation. But you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that you don’t need to invest in robotics to add automation to your warehouse.
At the heart of effective inventory management, there are technology solutions like inventory software that can help automate your processes. From real-time inventory tracking to improved communication to faster customer fulfillment, by investing in the right software, you can bring your warehouse into the automated age. It’s also crucial that you analyze all your inventory data to learn where you can make improvements. Look for data analysis professionals—you can find data analytics companies through online job sites where you can learn about their ratings, rates, and experience.
Facilitating Employee Success
Finally, there are many technologies out there that can help you make sure your employees are given the best opportunities to reach their full potential. For example, you can invest in training software that takes your workers through everything they need to know to thrive in the warehouse. This can be especially useful when it comes to safety procedures and other aspects of the work that need to be approached collaboratively and cohesively.
Putting off new technology keeps your company from reaching its best potential. We hope this article has helped you see some of the benefits your warehouse can reach by working in some of the latest tech. Take advantage of innovation, and your business can thrive!
*This article was written by Dean Burgess. Dean runs Excitepreneur, which celebrates the achievements of entrepreneurs. He understands that there are many types of entrepreneurs, and strives to provide helpful information to assist them in achieving their particular idea or goal.
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Technology is essential for business tasks like tracking manufacturing and distribution, managing inventory and the supply chain, and handling administrative duties. Once business leaders establish technological systems, it’s all too common for no one to think about it again for a decade. This isn’t a great business practice.
Successful businesses are constantly updating their software to make processes more efficient and to improve the user experience for customers. Haven’t updated your company’s technology in a while? There’s no need to worry.
If you take a minute to analyze your business processes, you may find there are some tell-tale signs it’s time for an upgrade.
1. Your Team Uses Different Software for Different Processes
Do you find that your team is constantly jumping from one platform to another? Are there different applications your team uses for different business processes?
You can lose time and productivity if you are always having to change systems and platforms. Not to mention, using multiple applications can slow down your computer.
2. Team Members Frequently Complain About the Software They Use
There is nothing worse than not being able to do your job well because of technology.
Questions to ask yourself about your team’s experience are:
- Is your team having to do a lot of manual business processes?
- Is it difficult to access the data your team needs to access daily?
- Is your business data available on the cloud for easy access?
- Is your software slow enough to cause frustration among your staff?
If you notice your team complaining about outdated software, slow hardware, or systems that hinder everyday duties, it won’t be long before you start seeing a drop in morale and productivity.
3. Your Business is Shifting Gears
If you’ve decided it’s time for your company to change directions, you may need to also upgrade your technology to better align with your new business goals. Perhaps you want to acquire new laptops, smartphones, or tablets for your team. Perhaps you simply want to set up new systems.
When shifting directions, new technology can help you achieve your business goals. Research new technological solutions that might be a good fit for your business, and evaluate your options.
4. The User Experience is Convoluted and Difficult
Talk to your customers to find out what the user experience is like with your website or any other systems they use to purchase goods or services from your business. Is the whole process too chaotic? How is the workflow efficiency? Are your systems causing you to have difficulty when scaling your business and adding more customers?
These are all signs it’s time to improve the user experience. The last thing you want is for your website or app to be giving customers the wrong impression about your business.
5. Your Software Isn’t Secure
Security for your company is crucial. If you find the software is being threatened, it’s definitely time for an upgrade. Customers will be able to trust your business more if they know their information is secure in your system.
If you haven’t upgraded in a while and you’re using older technology, you may be more vulnerable to security breaches. This can put your company and your customers in a bad position.
How to Upgrade Your Business Software
Alright, so you’ve taken a look at your business, you’ve assessed your situation, and you’ve noticed the signs that you need to give your business technology an upgrade. So what are the next steps? How should you go about getting started with updating your business technology?
1. Make Things Simple
You want to take a look at your current processes and figure out how you can streamline as much as possible. Unfortunately, business leaders can tend to overcomplicate things.
Identify your business goals, and research the best software to help you achieve as many of those goals as possible. Automate as much of the business processes as you can.
When you have put your new systems into place, don’t forget to test the new workflow. You want to be able to identify any issues so you can work to improve the effectiveness of any new systems.
2. Hire a Software Developer
Hiring a software developer is often one of the easiest ways to update your business software. In most cases, these experts will be able to go into your software, diagnose any problems you are having, and help you to find the right solutions for your business.
You may find it helpful to keep the software developer on retainer so that if you run into issues in the future, you can consult with them to find the best solution. This way, they can help you to ensure that your business processes continue to run smoothly.
3. Take a Web Design Class
If a lot of your issues have to do with your website, you may want to take web design classes yourself. In a web design class, you can learn the basics about web development, web coding principles, web graphics, and user experience.
You may be thinking that you’re interested in running your business, not becoming a web designer. However, as technology becomes more and more intertwined with business processes, you are likely to be much more successful in your business if you have a basic knowledge of how software and web design can work to help you have more efficient business processes.
If you want to improve the technology in your business, there are a lot of things you can do to stay current. It’s important to regularly take a look at your business processes and assess whether or not your technology is working for you.
*This article is written by Ainsley Lawrence. View more of Ainsley’s articles here.
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Workplace injuries are frighteningly common. While incident rates have declined over time, there were 2.8 million nonfatal workplace accidents in both 2018 and 2019. Few things are as important as the safety of your employees, so facilities must prevent these incidents.
Every facility has unique conditions and concerns, but some steps can improve safety in any industrial workplace. Here are five of the leading ways you can keep your employees safe.
1. Prioritize Safety Training
The most crucial step in improving workplace safety is providing thorough training. Make sure you teach all employees proper safety procedures as well as why these policies matter. If they understand the risks that your protocols prevent, they’ll be more likely to follow them.
In addition to general safety training, you should instruct workers on the specific considerations for their position.
For example, anyone who has to operate a forklift should receive additional training on safe forklift operations. It’s not enough to only go over these procedures upon hiring, either. Hold regular refresher sessions to ensure no one forgets crucial safety procedures.
2. Take Advantage of Technology
Even with thorough training, employees won’t be able to avoid all hazards. New technologies can help you account for these blind spots. For instance, wearable tech can detect when a forklift or other employee is around the corner, even if a worker can’t see or hear them. The device can then alert them to stop, preventing a collision.
Similar devices can monitor signs of fatigue in workers. If it senses they’re nearing a state where it would be dangerous to work, it can warn them to take a break. Since overexertion and bodily reactions are the most common workplace injuries, these warnings can lead to substantial improvements.
3. Maintain All Machinery
Machinery is one of the most common sources of injury in an industrial workplace. When equipment malfunctions, it can pose a threat to even the most careful employees. To prevent these accidents, you should perform regular maintenance on all machinery.
Maintaining equipment on a schedule is safer and often more cost-effective than using it until it breaks. An even better method is predictive maintenance, which uses sensors to predict when a machine will need maintenance. This avoids unnecessary repairs, saves time and money, and prevents dangerous breakdowns.
4. Create an Emergency Response Plan
While addressing these everyday hazards, remember to prepare for emergencies, too. Roughly one quarter of businesses would be unable to reopen after a disaster. You can avoid becoming part of that statistic by creating and practicing an emergency response plan.
You don’t need a response plan to every type of disaster, but you should craft one for the most likely scenarios in your area. Identify which emergencies are most likely, then develop a response and recovery plan. Remember to train all employees in this plan and run drills periodically so everyone knows what to do should an emergency arise.
5. Foster a Culture of Responsibility and Safety
Finally, you should try to cultivate a company culture of safety. If safety is part of your workplace’s atmosphere, employees will make better choices and spot potential hazards as they arise. While a “culture of safety” is difficult to quantify, there are steps you can take to foster one.
Ensure all managers and team leaders lead by example by going above and beyond company safety policies. You should also establish and promote a straightforward, two-way communication system so workers can express their concerns.
You could also consider instituting a reward system for employees who exhibit safe behavior or recommend valuable safety changes.
Keep Your Workers Safe
Industrial facilities are often dangerous places to work, but they don’t have to be. If you follow these steps, you can create a safe work environment for all employees. You’ll protect your workers as well as improve efficiency and morale.
This article is written by Devin Partida. Devin is a tech writer with an interest in the IIot and manufacturing. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com.
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Lean manufacturing and Industry 4.0 are in some ways a case in contrasts. The former is a production methodology designed to reduce operational costs through a combination of process efficiencies, a lighter footprint and smart time management. In short, it’s a system of minimizing waste and maximizing productivity through the barest of essentials. According to a recent research report spearheaded by IndustryWeek, lean manufacturing systems is a major priority among manufacturers in the U.S. today, behind only quality management systems.
Industry 4.0 is next-generation technology, which relies heavily on state-of-the-art equipment, tools, data, and analytics to make automation possible. Here, it’s out with the old and in with the new, made possible by investing in industrial practices and smart technology that expedite production and reduce human error. Often, it’s assumed that Industry 4.0 can replace the human element altogether.
So if lean manufacturing aims to reduce operational expenses, while Industry 4.0 typically requires added spending, are the two mutually exclusive? Not necessarily. It is possible for them to coexist when Industry 4.0 tech is leveraged strategically as a supplement to, not a replacement for, your staff.
Originally appearing in the Lean Enterprise Institute’s blog Lean Post, a classic case in point is a company called Denso, which since its inception, has tried to prioritize its people first and foremost. But the company is now also taking advantage of technology to augment their workers’ ongoing performance.
Must be purposeful about IoT utilization
Headquartered in Japan, Denso specializes in automotive components and is perhaps best known for being Toyota’s largest parts supplier. Many companies these days are using the Internet of Things (IoT) technology to improve processes and enhance output. But as Denso North American Production Innovation Center Vice President Raja Shembekar discovered, IoT is all too frequently not put to its full or proper use. In other words, without proper planning, it has no real problem-solving application, at least among the competitors he observed.
Not being strategic and intentional about IoT implementation — and how it can support workers on the shop floor — raises the risk of not obtaining the intended result: improving output, quality, or ideally both.
“Not being strategic and intentional about IoT implementation — and how it can support workers on the shop floor — raises the risk of not obtaining the intended result.”
Concerned that Denso could fall into this tech trap, Raja built a small team composed of quality assurance managers and IoT aficionados to identify where production shortcomings existed and how, if at all, IoT capabilities could potentially fill in the gaps. They found just the thing by placing tiny sensors on cooling fans, which are used to maintain the temperature of brazing ovens for producing aluminum heat exchangers. The placement of said sensors on the fans enabled maintenance workers to swap out fans before they broke, forestalling production issues and avoiding lengthier timelines for parts to be ready for sale.
In short, IoT was able to provide workers with the insight and intelligence they needed to take action as it pertains to installation, supporting their roles. Raja noted that the maintenance team was skeptical about the sensors accurately forecasting when the fans would fall apart, but they played along.
“They took the fan out [and] the blades on the fan had disintegrated,” Raja recounted. “They were totally shocked that they had no idea this was happening and we could provide that prediction.”
As noted by Manufacturing.net, there is a risk in jumping aboard the Industry 4.0 bandwagon, simply because it’s the “in” thing to do. Organizations must first assess what their problems are and whether Industry 4.0 investments can actually solve those issues. This requires a complete assessment of current business processes as they exist and what desired outcomes are if they’re not being realized. Additionally, if Industry 4.0 can optimize the supply chain, as an example, manufacturers must make certain that their supply chain infrastructure can support the adjustments or installations that game-changing technology may entail.
Another way for lean manufacturing and Industry 4.0 to be cohesive is by getting to the bottom of the following question: Does the adoption of machine learning, IoT or some other form of computer-integrated technology supplant or support your team?
Workers expect job losses from AI, just not theirs
The answer will differ for everyone, but what is known is today’s workforce has a love-hate relationship with artificial intelligence. In a 2018 survey conducted by Gallup, approximately 75% of respondents said they anticipate more jobs will be lost than created as a result of AI’s increased adoption. However, only about 1 in 5 — 23% — were worried that their own job was in jeopardy.
While the increased implementation of AI has led to job losses, whether it does or not depends on management philosophy, according to the Lean Enterprise Institute’s blog. A mechanistic approach to business decisions relies heavily on technology, sometimes to the exclusion or replacement of actual workers. From an organic-systems perspective, however — which Raja ascribes — tech takes a backseat to employees who are on the front lines of warehouses, factory floors, and assembly lines.
“Technology provides data that allows the associate and the team leaders at the gemba [factory floor] to provide a far higher level of decision making,” Raja told the Lean Post.
Raja went on to state that at Denso, the addition of Industry 4.0 tech has helped workers make smarter, more well-informed decisions about how to continuously improve and enhance production through PDCA, meaning “Plan-Do-Check-Act.” The goal at Denso is always to leverage tech so it provides work crews with actionable information about the current systems in place so they can react accordingly, not to take those decisions away from them. As Manufacturing.net recommended, it may be worthwhile to perform trial runs of innovative technology to see if it supports or supplants your workforce and where adjustments can be made. In essence, better to “try before you buy.”
For optimal gains when marrying Lean philosophies and Industry 4.0 principles, utilizing an operations management firm may be best. USC Consulting Group has the expertise and experience to help you achieve results by leveraging your existing technology and ensuring that it aligns with your manufacturing philosophy. Please contact us today to learn more about our offerings and how we may be able to help.
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It’s easy to forget that, connected though they may be, building materials and construction are two distinct industries.
That said, they almost always experience similar economic challenges or act as augurs to one another’s success or failure. While one might think building materials would inform construction more often than the other way around – changes to a product, after all, could greatly alter how a user uses it – in many ways the reverse is just as true.
What current construction trends will impact how building materials manufacturing performs this year?
U.S. economy stabilizes and takes off in 2017
Simply put, if people are building, the building materials industry can expect good sales numbers.
According to the American Institute of Architects, construction will soon overcome the stagnancy it struggled against at the tail end of 2015 and throughout 2016. This year, spending on construction is projected to grow by 6 percent, with a majority of investment coming from the public sector (government and residential). In theory, this comports with current events in Washington, D.C. The Hill reported the Trump administration plans to wheel out a “massive rebuilding package” in the president-elect’s first 100 days in office.
The AIA stipulates, however, these increases depend entirely on good performances from volatile variables such as moderate job growth, continued housing market recovery, and both national and international confidence in American manufacturing. Estimates from Metrostudy show about three new construction jobs were created for every house built in 2016, so the success of building materials as fed by construction may be somewhat self-sustaining as far as the job market is concerned. After all, with larger construction workforces, contracting teams can take on more projects and require more supplies to do so.
Housing too should see a good year in 2017, with many economists predicting more than 6 million existing home sales, according to Gord Collins, as well as the creation of 160,000 new homes. The latter figure should carry on annually to 2024. That’s huge for construction and building materials – as Value Line noted, residential housing represents about 60 percent of all domestic construction spending.
Can construction take its services online? And can building materials manufacturing keep up?
Tech disruption may push construction out of pace with manufacturing
Widespread, cross-industry innovation and tech adoption throughout the private sector have only highlighted how little and how infrequently building materials and construction upgrade. Perhaps the resistance to change has something to do with the timelessness of these trades.
Nevertheless, the numbers don’t lie: In its 2016 industry digitization index, McKinsey rated construction the penultimate least digitized industry, one step ahead of “agriculture and hunting.” As the U.S. government plans to repair its crumbling infrastructure to boost the GDP, construction will have to rise to the challenge and implement new, tech-savvy methods for managing large-scale projects.
In turn, the building materials industry should ready itself for a big change. It is, after all, generally easier to upgrade the service sector than it is to upgrade means of production. Distribution too will factor heavily into the interplay between construction and building materials. As more contractors use the internet and apps to price shop, manufacturers must be ready to balance traditional brick-and-mortar channels with omnichannel logistics, all while keeping consumers happy and their brand value high.
How are American metallurgists doing these days? At a cursory glance, presumably well. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated the iron and steel industry in America, for example, produced 26 million metric tons of pig iron and 81 million metric tons of raw steel in 2015, cumulatively valued at about $103 billion.
Quite a substantial feat and an economic boon to sectors like construction and automotive, unless one looks at the recent past. Of the top 11 independent iron- and steel-producing countries in the world between 2014 and 2015, the U.S. experienced the biggest drops in both iron and steel production among them all. In steel, the U.S. fell from third place to fourth. In iron, the U.S. fell from fifth place to seventh.
What’s behind these plummeting production figures? It could have something to do with the recent U.S. Department of Commerce investigation focused on an alleged tariff-dodging scheme and the dumping of low-cost corrosion-resistant steel imports from China. But because that story is still in development, let’s turn instead to the operational and regulatory challenges in metal smelting that undoubtedly raise financial issues for U.S. metal makers.
Carbon emissions and regulatory restrictions
Research from the Center for Climate and Energy Solution shows the industrial sector generates about 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. CCES also pointed out industries like iron production and cement manufacturing as major contributors, as their high-heat coal and coke-powered furnaces directly release carbon dioxide.
As metal industries enter the crucible of federal regulations, will something new be forged? Or will businesses simply get burned?
Numbers like these are what drive government agencies to step up regulatory costs for businesses, with industries like metal and cement taking the brunt. A 2014 study from the National Association of Manufacturers estimates environmental regulatory costs to U.S. businesses reside in the ballpark of $330 billion annually.
Furthermore, hazardous air pollutants caused by many forms of metal production have caught the ire of U.S. regulators. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act, for instance, forces metal makers to invest in maximum achievable control technology (MACT). As such, smelters not only pay more than ever for their processes, they also invest more in technological advancement because of government oversight.
Can new smelting technology help businesses win out in the end?
Absolutely, according to the Institute for Industrial Productivity. HIsmelt, Hisarna, and Romelt smelting processes and technology like cyclone converter furnaces achieve remarkable reductions to carbon emissions, some by removing coke use altogether. With a substantial amount of operating expenses in metal manufacturing going to regulators, smart investment in long-term environmental solutions could easily prove lucrative.
Recently, MIT researchers accidentally stumbled upon a promising new smelting method that could potentially revolutionize industries like copper and nickel. While attempting to develop a new “all-liquid high temperature storage” battery, scientists instead discovered a way to produce pure metals without producing sulfur dioxide. Moreover, if it can be scaled to industrial levels, this method will also lower energy costs for metal manufacturers, a significant burden in industries that have to keep furnaces at a few thousand degrees Fahrenheit at all times.
Metal as an industry isn’t going anywhere, but disruption is imminent. In an age of innovation and environmental cognizance, old-world processes will no longer suffice.