Category Archives: Industry 4.0

How Big Data Can Give Project Managers The Edge In Manufacturing

There is no escaping the big data revolution that is sweeping across all sectors of industry. Companies that embrace this revolution are on the road to achieving greater business efficiencies and higher profitability.

Any organization with the ability to assimilate data to provide crucial insights into their operations can benefit. Sectors like financial services and healthcare have already embraced big data analytics to remarkable effect.

Now, manufacturing is getting up-to-speed as companies recognize the value in the vast amounts of data that they create and hold. Manufacturers across a range of industries now have the capability to take previously isolated data sets, aggregate and analyze them to reveal important insights.

[Further Reading: AI, IoT, and the Future of Manufacturing]

However, what many of them lack is a clear understanding of how to use the new technology, or even which big data analytics tools they need to apply to their huge volumes of real-time shop-floor data.

For project managers with big data skills and knowledge, this offers an opportunity to gain a competitive edge in the manufacturing sector.

Demand for Big Data Analytics in Manufacturing

Over the past couple of decades, manufacturers have made progress in tackling some of their sector’s biggest challenges, including waste and variability in production processes. By implementing Lean processes and programs, many have achieved significant improvements in product quality and output.

Nevertheless, in some processing environments, pharmaceuticals and biochemistry for example, Lean methods have not been as effective in curbing processing variability swings, largely because the production activities that influence output in these industries tend to be complex and numerous.

In biopharmaceutical production, it is not unusual for companies to be monitoring more than 150 variables to ensure the purity and compliance of their product. This has created a need for a more granular approach to identifying and resolving errors in these and other industry production processes. And, that’s where data analytics can make a difference.

How Project Managers Can Play A Role

Planning and Delivery

In manufacturing, planning and delivery is often a heavily documented area. It is also an area where big data is shaping project management. The application of data analytics can produce insights that can help to redefine manufacturing planning processes and parameters.

Quality Assurance

A second area where project managers have already deployed big data technology is in the analysis of quality management data.

Because producing consistently high-quality products is key to remaining competitive, many manufacturers are now looking to big data as a way of improving their quality assurance.

One example of where this has been done successfully is computer chip manufacturer Intel, which uses predictive analytics to deliver quality assurance on its products. Prior to the development of big data technology, the firm would subject every chip to a battery of tests to ensure that it reached the quality standard.

Using big data for predictive analytics, historical data collected during the manufacturing process was analyzed, enabling the company to reduce test time. Instead of running every single chip through thousands of tests, Intel was able to focus tests on specific chips, bolstering its operational efficiencies and its bottom line.

In this fairly typical manufacturing scenario, a project manager can play a strategic role in bringing quality management and compliance systems out of their traditional silos and helping organisations find better ways of operating.

Productivity and Efficiency

Speeding up the production process is key to driving profitability in manufacturing. But doing ramping production without sacrificing quality can be a challenge, particularly in manufacturing sectors such as pharmaceuticals, where multiple factors play a role in the manufacturing process.

Improving accuracy during the production process while increasing output is another task for the project manager with access to big data analytics systems and skills, which can be used to effectively segment their production and identify the fastest stages of the process.

With this insight, manufacturers can focus their efforts on those areas for maximum production and efficiency. In the case of the more complex pharma manufacturing process, big data can analyse these factors effectively and with ease. Segmentation of the process highlights areas with the highest error rates, which when addressed, allow the company to increase production and boost profitability.

Risk Management

Risk to any stage of the manufacturing process is a threat to output. For example, many manufacturers are reliant on the delivery of raw materials, and need to reduce risk in this area. Predictive analytics can be used to calculate the probabilities of delays, for example, due to disruption by severe weather conditions.

Analytics findings on weather patterns can help companies develop contingency plans and identify back up suppliers, etc. to minimize the risk of production being interrupted. Identifying risks and managing them on an ongoing basis is a core part of the project management team’s role, and data analytics will increasingly become a valuable tool for them in maintaining effective risk management within the manufacturing process.

In business terms, the era of big data analytics may just be dawning. However, the technology is already proving to be a critical tool for bringing about improvements across many business processes, particularly in manufacturing, where process complexity, process variability, and capacity restraints present challenges. Those companies that strengthen their capabilities for detailed analysis and assessment of their operations will make themselves more competitive and ultimately more profitable.

How Project Managers Can Become Big Data Savvy

In this age of digital transformation, project managers are increasingly aware of where the intersections lie between emerging technologies, sectors like manufacturing, and their own role.

They understand the impact that big data analytics can have for manufacturers. They have a key role to play in helping manufacturers select the right technology systems that will enable them to maximize their use of this data.

Project managers may need to acquire new skills and learn how to adapt to the needs of big data projects, and there are many training programs available that can help with that.

[Further reading: 8 Ways to Become a Big Data Project Manager]

Leading a big data-driven project team can be quite different to leading more traditional software development teams, so here the project manager can draw on cross-disciplinary skills from other areas within the business, for example, from operations and business analysis.

By leveraging emerging technologies such as big data analytics the project management professional remains relevant and able to deliver real business value in sectors like manufacturing, where demand for these skills are in the greatest demand.

Summer 2017 Reading for Project Managers

If your weekend plans look anything like mine, you’ll be reading. A lot. My favorite thing to do on a warm Saturday afternoon is stretch out on the hammock with a good book in-hand.

These five books are heavy on the storytelling, light on the jargon, and full of lessons and research we can apply to our personal and work lives.

THE UNDOING PROJECT: A FRIENDSHIP THAT CHANGED OUR MINDS by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis, author of bestsellers “Moneyball”“The Blind Side”, and “The Big Short”, explores the work and friendship of Nobel prize-winning psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Forty years ago, the pair conducted a series of studies that challenged assumptions about our decision-making process. Their research demonstrated the ways in which the human mind erred, systematically, when forced to make judgments in uncertain situations. While the story could have ended there, Lewis builds the narrative by delving into Kahneman’s childhood in Nazi-occupied France and, later, his experiences as student, tank commander, and psychologist; Israel-born Tversky’s time spent as a paratrooper and mathematical economist; and the pair’s unlikely friendship that fueled their collaboration.

Good for: Becoming more cognizant of you and your colleagues’ decision-making processes.

SHOE DOG: A MEMOIR BY THE CREATOR OF NIKE by Phil Knight

In this memoir, Nike founder Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days and how it evolved into the iconic brand that it is today. While it’s a story about Nike’s rise, Knight doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges that come with launching a new venture. The book is “a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like,” Bill Gates writes in his review. “It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice. In fact, the only thing that seems inevitable in page after page of Knight’s story is that his company will end in failure.” Spoiler alert: Nike doesn’t end in failure. For an honest look into what it takes to be a successful leader, we recommend “Shoe Dog”.

Good for: Getting an honest behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to succeed in business.

CULTIVATE: THE POWER OF WINNING RELATIONSHIPS by Morag Barrett

Project managers know that great people skills are essential to getting things done. To be truly effective, you need to be able to build relationships and communicate effectively with stakeholders and team members. In “Cultivate”, Barrett shows readers the four relationship behaviors and their dynamics that are at work in companies–and in life. Rather than preaching lofty ideas, Barrett offers an actionable game plan for identifying key relationships and moving them forward.

Good for: Learning how to develop, optimize, and nurture every connection in your life.

DELIVERING BAD NEWS IN GOOD WAYS by Alison Sigmon
When bad things happen on projects, telling people is difficult. This tough job almost always falls on the project manager. Packed with anecdotal stories, research-supported facts, and “in the field” tips, this book is built around a core process that guides project managers through several stages: learning the bad news themselves, creating a message tailored to their team’s needs, delivering the news in a way recipients can process it, and working with the team to develop ways to move forward.

Good for: Building skills needed for quickly assessing and delivering difficult news, especially when it comes to project management.

ORIGINALS: HOW NON-CONFORMISTS MOVE THE WORLD by Adam Grant

If you’re the kind of project manager that’s always pushing your team, challenging the status quo, you’re going to want to read this book. Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent.

Industry 4.0 Series: AI, IoT, and the Future of Manufacturing

This story is part of our Industry 4.0 series, which looks at the new technologies, techniques, and trends that are pushing manufacturers toward a new level of optimization and productivity.

Once the stuff of science fiction, the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) carrying out tasks that only humans could previously achieve has become a reality.

AI, which fundamentally converts large amounts of data into intelligence, is being adopted at an increasingly rapid pace across many industry sectors, most notably, in manufacturing.

The Role of AI and IoT in Manufacturing

Manufacturing was one of the first industries to harness the power of AI by using robots to assemble products and package them for shipment. Advances in technology have made assembly of increasingly complex items possible.

These advances are also revolutionizing mass production by streamlining production and boosting output. While a human workforce must operate in shifts to ensure continuous production, AI-driven robots can ‘man’ a production line 24-hours a day.

In addition to driving operational efficiencies, AI can reduce manufacturing operating expenditure. Although implementation of the technology would require major capital outlay, the return would be significantly higher.

This all bodes well for industry competition, as highlighted in a 2015 Boston Consulting Group report. The report revealed that the lower costs and improved capabilities of advanced manufacturing technologies, such as AI and robotics, made manufacturing in the US more attractive than in economies where the main cost advantage was cheap labour.

AI is just one of a number of new technologies being embraced by manufacturers. One of the most significant for this sector is the Internet of Things (IoT), a network of physical objects that contain embedded sensors, which enable these objects to collect and share data and communicate.

[ Further Reading: How Project Teams Can Prepare for Industry 4.0 ]

Businesses in all areas of industrial manufacturing, including automotive, electronics, and durable goods, are investing in IoT devices, and starting to see a return. According to a Tata Consultancy Survey, manufacturers deploying IoT solutions in 2014 saw an average 28.5 percent increase in revenues between 2013 and 2014.

IoT can gather data from multiple machines to deliver waves of real-time data relating to performance and workload. This enables goods to be tracked and equipment maintenance needs to be predicted. Advanced data analysis makes it possible to identify the factors that can contribute to equipment malfunction or failure, including extraneous factors like weather and temperature. With advanced data insight, machinery maintenance can be scheduled proactively, reducing the risk of costly downtimes.

But there is more to adopting IoT than simply producing insights from plant and machinery. It can also create a two-way flow of information, allowing the manufacturer to send information back to the connected devices, changing settings, orders, and operations, all securely and remotely. It will be possible to adjust manufacturing operations automatically based on real-time conditions.

What New Tech Means for Project Management

What does the advance of new technologies like AI and big data mean for the project management team tasked with delivering smart manufacturing projects? Does it enhance their strategic position, or cast doubts on its strategic importance?

The technologies are not unfamiliar to the profession; project managers are already using AI tools and software. A driver of intelligent action, AI enables project management teams to make smarter decisions and move much faster. It can remove many of the complexities of projects around budgets, tasks, and timeline, as well as deliver valuable insights for the project stakeholders.

By automating the administrative project management tasks, AI can free up time and support greater collaboration and improved project delivery execution.

It also has the potential to take over a significant share of the technical areas of project management, with intelligent automated systems that can trigger work authorizations, check deliverables, and analyze deviations from the plan. As numerous surveys have shown, this is something that many project managers would welcome.

One of the most common causes of project failure is poor communication. Having systems able to communicate with one another effectively, translated by AI software and communicated to the end user, makes AI an invaluable tool in the project management toolkit.

[ Further Reading: How Lean Six Sigma Moves Manufacturing Teams Ahead ]

Then there is the business acumen element, which requires project managers to make business decisions, set goals, plan strategies and respond quickly to change. They are already well supported in this field by advanced data analysis.

But best practice management relies on sound judgement that takes more into consideration than hard data alone. With an in-depth understanding of the organization and its culture, project managers will have a “gut instinct” that enables them to spot early signs of potential problems with the project at a level too subtle for AI to detect.

As more of the conventional project management tasks are made redundant by increasing automation and evolving smart technologies, the role of the project manager is also set to evolve, away from traditional “all-rounder”, to a role requiring greater people skills such as emotional intelligence and motivation, that for now are beyond the capabilities of AI. Learn how LiquidPlanner helps manufacturers keep pace with a fast-changing industry.

AI and other emerging fourth industrial revolution technologies are here to stay. They are changing forever the way that things are designed, manufactured, and delivered; compelling organizations and their people, including project managers, to adapt to new ways of working.

More from the Industry 4.0 Series:

Preparing for the Rise of Collaborative Robots

3D Printing in Manufacturing: Three Sectors to Watch

How Manufacturers Can Gain Competitive Advantage Through Servitization

In a fiercely competitive global market, manufacturers’ product margins face increasing pressure, forcing them to look for ways to differentiate their businesses. Many are going down the servitization route, a digital transformation that enables them to provide services and solutions that supplement their traditional product offerings.

It also means gaining a better understanding of customer needs by forging closer working relationships with them, overwhelmingly the main reason for adopting servitization, according to the 2016 Annual Manufacturing Report. Three quarters (74%) of manufacturers surveyed cited their main reason for offering servitization was to build “closer relationships with customers”. Almost half, (46%) were seeking to boost profitability through the provision of added-value services, while 44% were looking to increase revenue.

This transition from making goods to selling services represents huge change that creates major challenges for many traditional manufacturers, as their product effectively becomes the platform from which to deliver those services. For some, the solution will lie in developing product-service systems, combinations of products and services, to deliver the outcomes their customers want and value. They will also need to bring in new technologies.

[Further Reading: 5 Project Management Trends for Manufacturing Teams to Watch in 2017]

A study on the future of servitization, carried out by the University of Cambridge, found consensus among capital equipment manufacturers (CEM) on five key technology requirements to enable servitization in the future. These included predictive analytics to anticipate specific failure modes, remote communications to resolve issues from a distance, consumption monitoring to create customer-specific service offerings, pushing information to employees, suppliers, sub-contractors and customers via mobile platforms or the internet, and mobile platforms to access business software remotely for maintenance techniques, production outputs, etc.

Servitization involves digital transformation on a massive scale, and not surprisingly it has created a huge demand for project management skills.

[Further Reading: How to Be a Project Team of the Future]

There are plenty of examples of manufacturers that have been successful in moving to servitization, including Rolls Royce, which famously stopped manufacturing aero engines and instead contracted with customers for its ‘power by the hour’ service. In this model, the customer buys the power that the engine delivers, and Rolls Royce provides all of the support to ensure that the aero engines can continue to deliver that power. It was a seismic shift in business model, but the result was a much closer alignment between the interests of the customer and the provider.

Rolls Royce is the poster child for servitization, contracting with customers for its ‘power by the hour’ service.

In its manufacturing heyday, global technology firm IBM was churning out a range of products, including computers, data storage devices, and software. It also offered a number of services, including networking and related services. When the company began to flounder in the early 1990s, it switched strategy and focused on its services, which included supplying integrated IT solutions to business. The result? IBM became a one-stop shop IT service provider, a move that strengthened its position in the market.

Of course, these global enterprises have the internal resources needed to make the switch from product to service focus.

Can smaller manufacturers achieve the same? Many already are, selling products that are combinations of manufactured goods and services. In the digital age, however, the servitization journey is largely driven by new technology that will take them beyond the bundling of manufactured consumables and spare parts with scheduled product maintenance tasks to forging much closer relationships, some would say partnerships, with their customers, where they know in real time what they need, and can respond in real time to provide it.

For many traditional manufacturers this presents challenges that require the digital skills and expertise of project management professionals to facilitate their transition to a servitization model.

Modern technologies, particularly in the project management and ERP (enterprise resource planning) spaces, are great enablers of this. In some organizations, effective servitization relies on the use of sensors embedded in products, so IoT applications and platforms will have a role to play in this process.  They will need the capability to record and control the services they are offering, which requires data analytics expertise.

Successful project managers are already using technology as an enabler for delivering successful servitization projects, achieving maximum efficiencies in the process, delivering the best outcome for the manufacturer and their customers.

[Further Reading: How Contract Manufacturing Teams Keep Up With the Speed of Innovation]

There are many business benefits of switching to a servitization model; the most obvious being the opportunity to increase revenue streams from selling services as well as selling manufactured products. Delivering consistently well on service contracts will boost customer loyalty and retention and create further opportunities for upselling of additional products and services.

There are also potential risks. Moving to a servitization model needs the buy in of leadership, and that can require a significant shift in corporate mindset – designing services is quite different to designing products – as well as a shift in culture, from ‘make it, sell it’ to ‘support it throughout its business lifecycle’. Investment in skills training may be required to ensure that staff can deliver a customer-centric service, and there is always the possibility that customers may initially be deterred by a new offering, which comes with different contracts and payment models, etc.

If they are to survive in a global market, manufacturing companies need to increase their competitiveness. Servitization is seen by the industry as an effective way of doing that, with a third (33%) of manufacturers polled by the 2016 Annual Manufacturing Report citing it as a means to “shut out the competition”. Around a quarter (26%) see it as a route to improve competitiveness through faster product development and a smaller proportion have identified it as a way to improve cost monitoring and management.

With the right resources available, integrating value added services into their full portfolio offerings would enable manufacturers to achieve these business objectives, but also to become successful digital businesses focused on the complete customer experience.

Industry 4.0 Series | 3D Printing in Manufacturing: Three Sectors to Watch

This story is part of our Industry 4.0 series, which looks at the new technologies, techniques, and trends that are pushing manufacturers toward a new level of optimization and productivity.

There’s much more to 3D printers than plastic trinkets. The industrial market for 3D printing has been heating up, with manufacturers exploring new ways to capitalize on additive manufacturing’s latest technologies.

By 2020, 75 percent of manufacturing operations worldwide will be using 3D-printed tools, jigs, and fixtures made in-house or by a service bureau to produce finished goods, according to a 2016 Gartner report. Gartner also predicts that 10 percent of industrial operations will incorporate robotic 3D printers in their manufacturing processes by 2020.

While 3D printing is expected to grow in manufacturing operations, there are several sectors that are already utilizing this new technology.

Healthcare

When people think of 3D printing and medical devices, prosthetics or implants usually come to mind. But the applications for 3D printing within the healthcare space span beyond that.

The ability to quickly and inexpensively produce prototypes using 3D printers is a big win for the medical device industry. Engineers and designers can now produce prototypes in-house, making it easier to communicate ideas and designs to stakeholders.

By being able to hold the device in their hands, designers, engineers, and stakeholders can more accurately and quickly evaluate the device. Modifications can be made and tested in a day, rather than weeks. Using 3D printers to create prototypes can also help manufacturers avoid wasting time and money by finding issues in the device design before it moves too far in the development process.

3D printers are also being used to create life-size replicas of the human anatomy, allowing surgeons to practice complicated procedures on realistic replicas.

Such was the case when researchers created a 3D model of the brain of 5-month-old Gabriel Mandeville. To help treat his violent epileptic seizures, Mandeville’s parents consented to a hemispherectomy, a complex medical procedure that removes or disconnects the healthy side of the brain from the side of the brain that’s responsible for the seizures.

Using the Simulator Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, the doctors printed an exact replica of Mandeville’s brain out of soft plastic. Blood vessels were printed in a different color to differentiate them from surrounding tissue.

Before the surgery, doctors were able to do a practice run of what Joseph Madsen, director of the epilepsy program at Boston Children’s Hospital, called “one of the most challenging operations in pediatric epilepsy surgery.” The 10-hour surgery was a success.

Aerospace

The aerospace industry is at the forefront of the additive manufacturing movement. From NASA to GE, aerospace and aviation companies are finding new ways to use 3D printing to create more efficient processes, develop prototypes and parts, and create designs that are unachievable with traditional manufacturing.

In 2016, GE began creating the fuel nozzles for its next-generation LEAP jet engine using direct metal laser melting, a technique that fuses fine layers of metal powders together with a laser beam. Compared to earlier models, the 3D printed nozzles are 25 percent lighter, five times stronger, and printed as one component, rather than 18 individual pieces that required assembly.

Each LEAP-1B engine has 19 3D-printed fuel nozzles, made from a nickel cobalt alloy. Image credit: GE Aviation

Last September, GE acquired two European metal 3D printer companies, Arcam and SLM Solutions, for $1.4 billion, illustrating that GE believes 3D printing can bring big benefits to the company.

Automotive

Rapid prototyping, mass customization, and fast production are the biggest benefits automotive manufacturers will see from 3D printing.

With 3D printers, manufacturers can now quickly produce accurate prototypes to validate design. Previously, manufacturers relied on machine shops to produce prototyped parts. This process cost both money and time, especially if a part needed modification. With 3D printers, manufacturers can now print their parts in-house and test and iterate quickly.

3D printing will also help usher in the era of mass customization for the automotive industry. Last year, automaker Daihatsu partnered with 3D printing company Stratasys to bring customers customizable body panels for its Copen model. The 3D parts, known as “Effect Skins”, are available in 15 patterns available and 10 different colors. Customers can mix and match to create their own unique looks.

Local Motors’ Olli is the world’s first 3D-printed autonomous shuttle. Image credit: Local Motors

And, what about printing entire cars? The potential is there.  In 2015, Local Motors introduced the world to the Strati, the first road-ready 3D-printed car. A year later, they printed a self-driving electric shuttle, called Olli, that has been serving commuters in Washington DC and Berlin.

More in the Industry 4.0 Series:

Industry 4.0 Series: Preparing for the Rise of Collaborative Robots

This story is part of our Industry 4.0 series, which looks at the new technologies, techniques, and trends that are pushing manufacturers toward a new level of optimization and productivity.

There’s a new wave of robots on the horizon. They’re smarter, safer, and cheaper than earlier models. And, they’re going to have a major impact on manufacturing for years to come.

That may be why manufacturing experts consider robotics to be the greatest potential disruptor over the next five years, according to a new study from the University of Kentucky’s Global Supply Chain Institute.

“Robotics have been around for more than 50 years, but they have become dramatically more dynamic in the last five,” says Paul Dittmann, executive director of the Global Supply Chain Institute and author of the paper. “It used to be that robots were in a cage and were dangerous. They had very limited applications and weren’t programmable. Now we have robots that work alongside a human. They’re so easy to program that people can literally move their arm and program the robot, as opposed to complex code.”

Meet Your New Colleague

Stäubli is one of the companies producing these collaborative robots. The Swiss-based company unveiled its new TX2 line at the Automate trade show this April.

This focus on safety and collaboration is part of a second phase for robotics, says Paul Deady, automotive segment manager at Stäubli. In the first phase, robots took over jobs that were too “dangerous, dirty, or mundane for people to do. We put robots in those application spaces. We took people out,” he says. The second phase is focused on “robots that are purpose-built—designed and engineered to be safe to work alongside people.”

An engineer operating the Stäubli TX2 60 at Automate trade show.

An engineer operating the Stäubli TX2 60 at the Automate trade show.

The TX2 models use compact laser scanners to detect the presence of humans. When a technician approaches, the robot reduces its speed. If the technician gets too close, the robot stops until he or she has moved to a safe distance. These models also have a “sensory skin” that immediately stops operations when touched.

One downside of these collaborative robots is that production and speed are sacrificed with frequent slowing and stopping. Dittmann believes that this will change as technology develops.

While safety has been increasing, prices have been going down. The cost of purchasing and operating a robotic spot welder, for example, went from $182,000 in 2005 to $133,000 in 2014, and will drop to $103,000 by 2025, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group. At the same time, robotics performance will improve by around 5 percent each year.

Lowered costs, lessened barriers to entry, and improved performance of robotics will be a catalyst for increased adoption. Boston Consulting Group predicts that the share of tasks that are performed by robots will rise from a global average of around 10 percent across all manufacturing industries today to around 25 percent by 2025.

At Stäubli, Deady has seen robotics expanding from the traditional automotive space. “We’re seeing a lot of creativity and capital flow into the robotics space,” he says. “It’s a growing market.”

Preparing for the Tech Tsunami

There’s more new technology out there than ever before, Dittmann says. “It’s almost like a tsunami coming at people. Those who ignore it could be in serious trouble,” he adds. But he’s quick to point out that staying current doesn’t mean chasing every new technology. There needs to be analysis and solid ROI.

[ Further Reading: How Project Teams Can Prepare for Industry 4.0 ]

Manufacturers interested in robotics should follow a disciplined and methodical approach. When Deady works with Stäubli customers that are new to robotics at, he recommends the following actions:

Document Your Existing Processes

“If a manufacturer hasn’t embraced robotics before, the first thing I encourage them to do is to document their existing processes,” he says. Document what you do and how you do it, as well as any process variations.

Manufacturers should also take the time to measure process cycle times, error rates, and other key metrics that can establish a baseline. “By documenting your existing processes, you can understand the sequence of operations,” he adds.

Look for the Easy Wins

“Then, you start to look for what we call low-hanging fruit,” says Deady. He recommends manufacturers look for processes that are repeatable, consistent, and don’t have a lot of variability. These are the easiest to automate and bring benefits like reducing scrap rates and waste and improving product quality. Dirty, dangerous jobs are also great opportunities for automation.

Create an Implementation Plan

“Get your people involved early on, and don’t skimp on training,” Deady recommends. “Have them present during the installation and commissioning phases. There’s opportunity for what I like to call informal skills transfer. You’re hanging out, watching the equipment go in, and able to ask questions. You can pick up a lot that way.”

Manufacturers also need to plan for how long installation and training will interrupt manufacturing. Once the new equipment is installed and running, companies should measure the actual performance and document the new processes.

Back Up the System

A mistake Deady often sees is manufacturers not backing up their new robotics programs. “If something catastrophic happens, they are in a world of hurt,” he says. “Back up the system.”

Advice for Managing Robotics Programs

When it comes to managing robotics programs, Deady, who worked as a project manager before joining Stäubli, recommends PMs view robotics as “just another project.”

“Break it down into quantifiable systems,” he adds. “Just like any other project, break down the work breakdown structure. Don’t be intimidated by robotics and automations. Take a methodical, disciplined approach, and you’ll have success.”

[ Further Reading: How Lean Six Sigma Moves Manufacturing Teams Ahead ]

Dittmann advises manufacturers to not lose sight of the methodologies and best practices that have been successful in the past. “Manufacturing 4.0 still needs to have Lean at its core,” he says. “Sometimes you get the bright shiny toy, take focus off what you got there, and get in trouble. Lean manufacturing is at the core of everything. It can’t be ignored or deemphasized.”