The manufacturing industry is at a crossroads. Traditionally, efforts aimed at reducing expenses have been primarily focused on procurement activities. Getting discounts on supplies and machinery on an ongoing basis has been spotlighted as the most effective method to reduce expenses, which in turn would increase profits. Some industries have gone so far as to create offshore facilities to reduce the expenses associated with payroll and other overhead.
This has been a successful method for expense reduction, but it is necessary to go even further today in the changing marketplace.
Reducing Wear and Tear of At-Risk Components in Current Equipment
Many American companies are now finding that their focus must be on reducing the wear on their current equipment. By targeting individual at-risk components they can increase efficiency within their current manufacturing process. For example, pipes and channels meant to transport abrasive or corrosive materials and substances are prone to damage. Acting as arteries for the entire factory, catastrophic damage occurring in just one spot can shut things down for hours or days. By investing in overlay pipes used in applications where the inner diameter is exposed to severe abrasion or corrosion, manufacturers can extend the life of these at-risk components and reduce the chances of a critical failure from occurring.
By improving the individual at-risk components that are known to take the most wear, companies are reducing the downtime required to repair or replace these at-risk parts on an ongoing basis. Personnel costs are then offset by continual production since the assembly line is not shut down for repairs. The cost of upgrading the at-risk components is lower than replacement values, which reduces expenses as well.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
Some of these same companies are using the IoT (Internet of Things) which is the introduction of embedded intelligence, or smart devices into the manufacturing process. More than half of these companies already use some of this technology, and close to 70% plan to add more.
The reason? Profitability, plain and simple. Almost three-quarters of companies using the IoT say their manufacturing plant is more productive, and most of that is being translated into increased profits.
Flexibility in Assembly Lines
Flexibility in the assembly line has become possible as a result of these technologies. Forbes Magazine is reporting that flexible fabrication platforms are being implemented “to replace conveyors, overhead cranes, and other forms of bolted down conveyance.”
This is reducing downtime when the customer specifications of the manufactured product are changed. The assembly line no longer needs to be completely disassembled itself, unbolting fixed equipment from the floors and shutting down production for prolonged periods.
With more constant changes expected in specifications, this seems like an excellent long-term strategy to cope in our ever-changing global economy.
Repetitive Task Automation, IoT and At-Risk Components
Repetitive task automation in manufacturing is longstanding enough to be considered a traditional approach to assembly. Robotic automation increases efficiency, and reduces errors, especially in highly repetitive tasks. The current dilemma in US manufacturing is to find the lines between robotic automation and IoT applications, often applying both technologies in one situation.
In addition, improving the individual at risk components in the equipment associated with repetitive tasks is likely to reduce downtime and the associated expenses. Repetitive task equipment is not necessarily exposed to high-risk issues such as corrosion, heat, abrasion or impact, but the nature of repetition creates its own issues.
The Cross Roads
Manufacturers today must focus on balancing their procurement activities for supplies, equipment, and payroll expenses. That has not changed.
What has changed is the requirement that manufacturing plants become a flexible and creative process. Assembly lines must be able to change with new specifications and customer demands. The technology of reducing the cost of at-risk components, embedding intelligence from the IoT, additional flexibility and managing repetitive tasks is now available.
These give manufacturers in America more room to improve their profitability through the reduction of unnecessary expenses and avoidable downtime.