What is the connection between an iPhone and a machine in a manufacturing plant?
In many manufacturing plants, the installations are critical.
What does this mean?
- When they fail or unexpectedly stop working, the plant comes to a halt. No revenue is generated, as no products are made.
- When they fail, additional costs have to be made: repair works and spare parts.
- When they produce goods, but those goods are not within spec, they have to be discarded of. The revenue is lower and the base products, energy as well as labor time used in the production are lost.
- When they run sub-optimally, energy consumption is higher, thus the margin will be lower
- If they age prematurely a new (replacement) installation will have to be bought. This investment affects margin.undefined
When the iPhone was launched in 2007, it was conceived by the general public as a mobile phone with a number of additional functions. That was however not the vision behind the device. As we know now the iPhone (and many other smartphones) has replaced and integrated the roles and functions of multiple other devices. To list a few: the mobile phone obviously, the PDA, the digital camera, the MP3 player, an email client, a web browser, a portable GPS, an activity tracker… This is what we call a new paradigm: a number of devices and functions are almost wiped out because a new concept arrives that manages to combine multiple functions in a single tool and creates significant additional value (efficiency gains, independence…).
In 2023 we can draw an analogy: the division in so-called silo’s encountered in industrial plants producing goods and materials. In a manufacturing site for making steel, bricks, waffles, copper wire, lime… one encounters multiple departments or roles: maintenance, capital projects, production, product quality, energy efficiency... All can function independently. In reality however a lot of value is lost or not captured because of this separation of roles and responsibilities. When looking at the situation from a distance, it is clear that decisions taken in one of these domains, almost always affect the others, often in a negative way. For example: running a machine at 105% of its capacity will lead to premature ageing, leading to an advance in CAPEX spending for a replacement or large overhaul. Postponing a maintenance operation often leads to a sudden, unplanned stop with significant production losses incurred. On top of that, manufacturing sites are becoming increasingly more complex: variations in product mix together with an increase in complexity in machine designs lead to a challenging operating environment.
Of course some plants manage to maintain short communication lines together with very open and efficient communication between the different roles and functions. They can ensure that all move into the same direction: the common goal of optimal production with an optimal working environment for the operators, a minimal impact and a maximum margin. In many cases the sheer size of the operation and/or the high intricacy of the machines and processes makes this an almost impossible task. In those situations one should apply tools that bridge multiple individual domains. Tools that combine information and data and interpret them, taking all factors into account. As an outcome, the people making sure the plant is running smoothly receive all the info and context they need to take informed decisions. Say hello to: The Virtual Engineer.