How the Smart Enough Factory helps you apply Industry 4.0 principles to improve productivity

Dr Steve Dowey, Technology Manager at Sutton Tools, follows up on his ‘Smart Enough’ Factory approach to achieving Industry 4.0 by putting some context behind its three interdependent principles.

In a previous blog, Digital strategies behind the ‘Smart Enough’ Factory, I discussed my Digital Triangle – a strategy framework for implementing Industry 4.0 principles on a scale cost effective enough for even smaller manufacturing operations.

This time, I thought it would be useful to discuss each of the three corners of my triangle – Data-Driven Management, Productivity and Compliance, and Single Source of Truth – in terms of how they work on Lean Principles to help us achieve our ‘Smart Enough’ factory.

Data-Driven Management

When Dr Brian Joiner developed his well-known triangle, one of its points was the ‘Scientific Approach’. On our Digital Strategy triangle that’s represented by Data-Driven Management. The data we’re creating in the Smart Enough factory is almost real-time – giving it the power to enhance the management of manufacturing processes, by providing insights and support for making evidence-based decisions at every point.

Edge devices and sensors are constantly feeding data across our wireless network, but valuable data may come from many sources. For example, we provide our distributors and industrial customers with application programmable interfaces (APIs) to our tool catalogues. This speeds selection of tools by delivering comprehensive information about their dimensions and capabilities, by embodying the third principle, the Single Source of Truth for data.

Productivity & Compliance

The apex of The Joiner Triangle was Quality. For quantifying the benefits of Industry 4.0, I’ve translated that to a focus on Productivity and Compliance.

In our production environment, we’re using many generations of production equipment – legacy systems in the jargon– whether CNC or not. Replacing them with single source controllers is out of the question. So, in our Smart Enough factory, we focus on what we need to manage – rather than control. Therefore, following a Lean approach, we apply a lightweight digital overlay to collect relevant management data. With this digitisation emerges the capability to improve our productivity and, almost as a consequence, improve our compliance to our internal standards.

‘Management Data’ may be very simple basic data indeed. For example, if you have set utilisation targets you want to monitor, then whether your machines are OFF, ON, idle or busy will enable you to track progress against your targets and predict whether or not you’ll make them.

Without the machine ‘telling’ you – as a CNC controller would – our edge computing devices can count parts, log downtime and, depending on our requirements, generate alarms or even tweet us if it discovers a breakdown. By building up a database of ‘normal’ operation, anything outside of longer term trends can be discovered and reports generated automatically.

Compliance relates to a number of aspects of doing business to many standards (internal, national and even international) and to satisfy your own, or your supply chain partners’ quality systems. For example, if an OEM requires you to report on a heat treatment cycle, in order to comply you must provide proof from the machinery used in an electronic format. If you are required to keep supplies at temperatures under 4⁰C, then you must monitor the temperature of your fridge – and ideally receive an alert if the temperature begins to rise. If you claim to inspect a component 10 times, then your devices need to ‘tick this off’.

Single Source of Truth

Representing the ‘All in One Team’ of The Joiner Triangle, creating and feeding a Single Source of Truth for your data is a significant benefit. By adopting up-to-date ICT practices – another Industry 4.0 principle –the live data created by digital tools such as edge devices and sensors can be accessed with standards-based services and provide a truly integrated ICT solution, without duplication of effort. As its integration is critical if it is to become truly central to your operations, it needs to mesh in rather than clash with current systems.

We don’t just focus on machine information systems. At Sutton Tools we’ve used Confluence, an enterprise team collaboration software platform from Australian software company Atlassian, for over four years for internal blogging, R&D and product development processes to serve the purposes of our own ‘All in One Team’. I always shudder to think what a 100-year-old company has accidently forgotten in that time, never mind what it has chosen to remember!

It takes three to tango!

Just as a fire will go out without the ‘Fire Triangle’ of heat/oxygen/fuel, all three pillars of the Digital Triangle are interdependent and essential. We’ve found that many quality-based programs have come and gone. It is only through a company-wide engagement that programs like Lean succeed – and in our experience Lean is the standout. So, by digitising Lean, we believe that we won’t just be creating the factory of the future, we’ll be designing a factory with a future (with apologies and thanks to JT Black!)

Just remember, keep banging those rocks together…

Please contact us if you’d like to discuss our Smart Enough Factory approach – or any other manufacturing or tooling questions we could help you solve.