DIGITAL FACTORY ADVANTAGES AND HOW TO ACHIEVE THEM
The aim of the digital factory is clear: “Produce better, in the shortest time, at the lowest cost”.
But how can these results be reached?
Lead Time Reduction
The reduction of “process times” must take into account different production characteristics: the production model adopted (continuous or discrete production); make and buy portion; minimum workpiece quantity in the batch; etc.
In a discontinuous flow production, typical of mechanical production workshops working with tool machines and with outside machining phases, to achieve lead time reduction it is absolutely necessary:
Full control over the real machining progress to correctly coordinate the passage between the different machining phases and reduce queue times to a minimum: “the right material, at the right place, at the right time”. The direct interconnection of all machines is essential, as well as the use of factory management systems able to track the logistic flow of materials in real time. The real competitive advantage derives from highly developed systems for production data analysis, able to calculate real process times between the single phases and relevant material waiting times and predictively suggest the best production models.
Optimum exploitation of production resources, by applying the correct production planning rules based on real efficiency and resource availability. The production planning system, to be efficient, must directly communicate with the production resources (machines and people) by directly conveying tasks (production orders) and receiving progress information in real time. Traditional MES systems provide scheduling programs that often generate complicated operating plans in the office, which reveal inapplicable in the workshop, since they are completely detached from the real production progress.
Reduction of setup times, for example by minimizing tool change times, whose data can be automatically acquired by machines depending on the type of machining to be performed. There is much information to be processed for efficient tool management: the type of tools required for machining execution; useful lifetime of the tools in the machine; availability of tools in stock; geometric tool data; loading and unloading lists; lists of the tools to be checked; etc. The digital factory guarantees the automated management of all information that can be processed and directly conveyed to the resources when needed.
Reduction of downtimes caused by manual operations. For example, by automatically checking in advance the arriving of the material in the storage areas without the risk of assigning operators to other activities. In the digital factory, the manual activity scheduling system must manage in real time the information relevant to all machining and supplying phases, which, for example, precede manual assembly phases.
The scheduling system of the digital factory must be able to adjust planning to the real progress of the current activities (coming directly from the machines or the manual working stations); it must also be equipped with analytical capabilities able to assess with extreme rapidity and precision any variation in the work program, for example in the event of an unexpected urgent order.
Reduction of maintenance costs. It is important to keep machines always efficient to avoid unexpected stops, optimize the employment of maintenance personnel and reduce warehouse costs for spare parts. Thanks to the use of new digital technologies, it is possible to always receive “the correct information when needed” (for example when the operation shall be performed; operating maintenance instructions; spare parts required) and consult it more rapidly.
Reduction of errors and manual operations in the office. In traditional factories, for the execution of different operating phases, it is often asked different operators to input the same information. This happens not only because of a lack of integration between different corporate software systems and the unmanaged use of other software (Excel sheets), but also because of the lack of managerial software systems designed and thought to manage factory activities. These repetitive activities not only result in indirect personnel costs, but also are sources of errors that generate production scraps and non-conformities. As its core element, a real digital factory management system has a centralized database and functions able to catch information where it is (for example in ERP management system), manually input new information and automatically send it to the resources that have to carry out machining.
Reduction of production scraps caused by anomalous behaviour of production means. The digital factory uses new technologies to constantly monitor machine operating conditions, thus avoiding any anomalous behaviour that can create production scraps.
Production data collection is essential to objectively measure work performances, while the direct interconnection of all machines is essential to collect useful information to improve efficiency.
The digital factory foresees the use of data analysis technologies for predictive purposes: based on the data collected (time of the single machining phases, setup times, material queue times, etc.), the predictive analysis allows for the suggestion of optimum production models able to minimize any wastage and allocate resources more efficiently.