It is a pretty amazing world we live in today. You can order food, groceries, and anything with one click. There are even specific shopping holidays like Cyber Monday to order, and companies run marketing campaigns to support them. As great as that process can be for a consumer, they don’t see all the manufacturing that goes into the creation of all those goods and services. That is what we will chat about today.
As a person who started with board drafting and manual production machines, I know manufacturing technology has come a long way in the last several decades. Still, before we pat ourselves on the back, I think we need to break down the manufacturing discussion into three phases, Current status, future target, and most importantly, the method to get there.
Three Phases of Manufacturing
Status: The current status of Manufacturing is good or bad, depending on who you speak with. In all reality, it is producing more goods than ever but at lower margins each year due to outside costs. Most companies know they need to improve but have trouble finding the right teams and groups to help develop a long-term plan. Everyone is selling something, often buying things (machines, raw materials…)_without a plan, complicating it further. Couple that with a growing skills gap and the aging workforce, and it is safe to say we as manufacturers are in a challenging spot of losing tribal knowledge and no one to back it up.
Target: So what is the target? Well, that isn’t easy, either. Depending on where you are in the world, there are many discussions and hot topics today focused specifically on the future of manufacturing. There are even more marketing buzzwords that every publication uses but outlines differently. Some examples are Smart Manufacturing, Industry 4.0, digital twin, virtual twin, and OEE, to name a few. Depending on what you are selling, they mean different things. For example, some could use a digital twin as a 3D CAD model. Others use it as a living digital twin of your entire process. The goal of all of these is trying to hit a similar target: Closed Loop Manufacturing or Manufacturing Sustainability.
Yes, I know more terms. But let’s talk about the target, and then we will look at the proposal of what can be done. The goal of a manufacturer is to make a good product at a good price while making money. The last part is the most important because nothing matters if a company can’t make money. Every company’s decision should begin with the question, “Are we moving toward our goal or away from it?”
Proposal: If we know we have chaos and all the challenges, what is the proposal for this Closed Loop Manufacturing or sustainable manufacturing process? As I mentioned, everyone company is at a different point in its journey, so it is not one size fits all.
With that said, some things fit no matter where you are today. Most companies have a problem achieving their goal because they lack the current information they need to decide. They don’t know if they are moving closer or further from being profitable until it is too late. The idea of Closed Loop Manufacturing is simple in theory, connect systems into one data stream to simplify information sharing and retrieval.
The Benefits of Closed Loop Manufacturing
From machine runtimes to scheduling to engineering, all the data should reside as close to one place as possible to eliminate duplication errors and allow anyone to see what they need when they need it.
This data should also be used to provide more transparency to your customer regarding status and shipping. As a consumer online, you can see delivery dates and status of when your order will arrive. This change for a consumer is starting to be expected in B2B as well. The only way to provide transparency and open communication is through a closed-loop system where everyone can see what they need when they need it.
This closed loop system is also why people start talking about platforms and unified data models. A platform is one method to store and share data as needed throughout a business while connecting to local manufacturing solutions like real-time process monitoring, scheduling, and warehouse management.
Looking at your processes today from an outside perspective, you may find hidden profits and efficiencies available before you turn on that machine each day. Process improvement and closing the loop are often the competitive edge in an era where everyone can afford the same equipment and automation in the physical world.