How Digitisation Helped Steelbird International Boost Efficiency?
How do you improve efficiency of your manufacturing plant? Is IoT the right solution to improve efficiency? How long does it take to get RoI? These were some of the questions that Manav Kapur, Executive Director, Steelbird International had on his mind. Read on to know how this auto components manufacturer implemented IoT solutions in their factories to increase efficiency.
What Problems Led You to Adopt New Technology?
In most manufacturing units, the process parameters are set up and displayed on paper. These parameters are not updated regularly. As a result, the displayed parameters and the ground reality are not always in sync. This leaves space for a few inefficiencies. We were no exception to this rule. We realised that we could address this problem with Industry 4.0 as the process parameters would be set on each machine, and the machine would lock itself if it ran out of parameters. Further, this is escalated to the supervisors through an SMS. As a result, the parameters would always be updated leaving no scope for error and this would optimise efficiency.
How Did You Plan the Implementation of New Technology?
Digitisation is the way forward in the manufacturing industry. However, we had other reasons to adopt digitsation solutions. Internally, we discussed and decided that we could improve our efficiencies with the help of Industry 4.0 solutions. We found that IoT solutions could give a quick Return on Investment (RoI). In the manufacturing industry, it takes years to get RoI. In many cases, even a period of 5 years is considered as a good time to get RoI. As opposed to this, IoT solutions promised RoI within 6 to 12 months. This was an encouraging factor.
Having said this, implementing Industry 4.0 technology is a humongous task. To ease implementation, we decided to focus on one process at a time and started with moulding as it is the most critical process in our operation. For this, we identified a tech-savvy personnel from each plant, who would be enthusiastic about adoption of a new technology and its implementation. This is because when a person is tech savvy, he/she is aggressive towards adopting the new technology compared to others. To give you an example, it was the Quality Head in one of our plants who initiated the process of implementing IoT solutions in the moulding process and not one of the supervisors.
Describe Your Journey of Technology Adoption
After the technology implementation, the first thing we realised was that the parameters laid on paper and the parameters that surfaced through data generated post implementation of IoT did not match. As a result, during those initial days, there were many occurrences of the machines locking themselves due to non-compliance of the cycle time parameters. There were no tolerances specified in the process parameters. For example, if we had assumed cycle time to be 300 seconds, even if it is increased by a second to 301, the machine locked itself and we had to unlock it manually. Therefore, we had to factor in the tolerances and reconsider the parameters. We increased the parameters for machine cycle time so that the operators could adhere to them comfortably. After all, we cannot expect people to work like machines.
The beauty of Industry 4.0 is that it can generate enormous amount of useful data. Apart from the details on the machine’s cycle time, we were also able to gather data on the efficiency of the machines and the operators’ capabilities. We could also identify if an operator was more efficient operating a particular machine. As a result, we could deploy them on those machines, thereby further improving overall efficiency.
Industry 4.0 solutions can generate significant amount of data. We wanted to improve our efficiency hence, we focussed on process parameters and cycle time data so that we could make necessary changes in the operations. However, if a company wants to improve quality of its moulding process, they may consider capturing the data points such as temperature. It all depends on the ultimate goal of the company.
How Did You Take Your Employees into Confidence?
There was an initial resistance especially from the operators as they would be impacted the most. In fact, they felt like being under surveillance during initial days. However, we clearly communicated that the new technology is deployed for improving efficiency and not to keep a watch on them. Moreover, we provided training to operators, and narrated the benefits of this technology. As a result, their reluctance subsided gradually.
What Are Your Next Steps?
Implementation in the moulding process is almost complete. Now we plan to move on to assembly lines. Besides, we are also looking at integrating QR codes in our supply chain. With this, we will receive precise details of the product. These details will include manufacturing date, materials used, grade of the raw materials used, name of the suppliers, suppliers’ details, etc. We are aiming to avail this data through scanning a QR code. For this, the software is ready and tested. The next step is to integrate the software with our SAP system.
What Is Your Advice to Other Emerging Businesses on Adoption of Technology?
Adopting new technology is exciting. However, do not do it just because it is fancy or trending. Do it when the technology is able to solve definite problems that you are facing in the factory. If you do not have a purpose, then the RoI is going to be zero. Also, understand the RoI before investing.
Secondly, remember that change is the only constant. One can be hesitant to adopt new age technologies. However, if you do not do it now, your business may become obsolete, and your clients might force you to accept new technologies or prefer to collaborate with your competitors. So, do it in a planned manner instead of rushing into it.
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