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Five Simple Steps for Boosting Productivity in Your Machine Shops

August 20, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


Improving productivity is a constant goal for any manufacturer. In today’s increasingly competitive and uncertain market, machine shops are no different.

To boost efficiency, manufacturers have long implemented lean manufacturing practices as part of their overall operational strategy. As cited in this eBook, 5 Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, there are a host of lean manufacturing tools to consider, including:

While lean manufacturing practices are anything but new, machine shop managers can take a more simplified approach to improve efficiency at even the most customized shop set-up. According to LeanProduction.com, manufacturers can experience great improvements in productivity through small daily increments. The idea is to identify and fix one problem each day using three questions (one each for Information, Focus, and Action) to identify problems from plant floor information, decide which issue to fix, and then take action to correct it. (Click here for some examples of the three questions.)

A Modern Machine Shop blog, however, notes that while improving productivity is essential to maintaining competitiveness, productivity on the shop floor comprises much more. “Productivity on the manufacturing floor depends on a combination of efficient employees, equipment, and processes,” the blog states. “Before you can adopt any method for productivity improvement, you’ll need to measure your existing output levels, create a baseline, and implement solutions for measuring change.”

The blog article goes on to list eight steps to help manufacturers design a more productive and successful manufacturing floor. Read on for a summary of five of the eight steps (Read all eight steps here.):

  1. Examine the workflow. Analyze the people, technology, and processes required for production, as well as the procedures, communication tools, and resources available. Identify the pain points and note how changes would impact the overall system.
  2. Update business processes. Share workflow problems with project managers to make improvement plans. Evaluate performance and interpret any appropriate changes.
  3. Invest in continued employee education. Be sure to keep your workforce up-to-date on the latest machining and manufacturing technologies. New advancements often require new skills for certain tasks and regular training will keep your machine shop running efficiently.
  4. Get smarter machining tools. Even if your workforce is trained, they can only work as fast as their tools. While advanced machinery can be costly, the investment pays off in the long run by helping companies stay competitive.
  5. Invest in maintenance. While new equipment can boost productivity, it also requires maintenance to ensure that it continues working efficiently. Employees should know how to troubleshoot in instances of system downtime, quickly find root causes of errors, and then correct them. Remember to consider the process, the blueprint, and the material when making adjustments.

Whether you run a high-mix or a small-scale shop, increasing productivity is essential to remaining competitive in today’s industrial metal-cutting industry. While there’s no sure-fire formula when it comes to boosting productivity, taking the time to drive improvements across the shop and making small adjustments from a baseline assessment can make a big impact.

What strategies has your machine shop used to increase productivity on the floor?

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How to Effectively Utilize OEE in Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization

August 15, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


As part of the push toward continuous improvement, more and more industrial metal-cutting companies are measuring overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). This is definitely a good trend, as measurement is the first step in making quantifiable change. However, some companies have jumped on the OEE bandwagon without being fully informed, which can cause a lot of misunderstanding and misuse of this important metric.

Knowing what OEE is—and what it isn’t—is the only way to make sure you are using it effectively. The following is a quick primer.

What is OEE?
According to leanproduction.com, OEE is a best practices metric that measures the percentage of production time that is truly productive. It takes into account all six types of loss, resulting in a measure of productive manufacturing time.

In simple terms, OEE can be described as the ratio of fully productive time to planned production time. According to leanproduction.com, it can be measured in one of two ways:

(Good Pieces x Ideal Cycle Time) / Planned Production Time

or

Availability x Performance x Quality

(You can find a more detailed description of the calculation here, as well as a sample calculation.)

A plant with an OEE score of 100 percent has achieved perfect production—high quality parts as fast as possible, with zero down time. While that’s ideal, it’s not quite possible in the real world. According to oee.com, studies show that the average OEE rate among manufacturing plants is 60 percent, which leaves substantial room for improvement. Most experts agree that an OEE rate of 85 percent or better is considered “world class,” and many companies use that number as a long-term goal for their operations.

Managers can use OEE as both a benchmark and baseline. Specifically, leanproduction.com says it can be used to “compare the performance of a given production asset to industry standards, to similar in-house assets, or to results for different shifts working on the same asset.” It can also be used as a baseline “to track progress over time in eliminating waste from a given production asset.”

How to Use—and not Use—OEE
It’s important to note that OEE is not necessarily a useful metric for every manufacturing operation. “Measuring OEE only makes sense if you are trying to meet a certain demand on a daily basis,” explains Paul Bryant, senior OPEX manager, LENOX Tools. “If you have a problem with yield, then I would definitely suggest OEE.

“If you have a problem with inconsistent production output and/or downtime on a piece of manufacturing equipment, OEE is a great way to measure and identify how to where to improve your operations,” Bryant continues. However, for smaller metal-cutting operations that are more custom and low volume, Bryant says OEE probably isn’t worth measuring.

Bryant also says that a lot of shops use OEE incorrectly. Specifically, he says there are two common ways metal-cutting operations misuse the metric:

  1. Too Focused on the Benchmark. “Everyone knows that world-class OEE is 85%, but too many people get hung up on that number and how their shop compares to it. When I look at OEE, the number doesn’t mean much to me. I look at three components—availability, performance, and quality—and then break them apart and look for opportunities. That is the true essence of OEE: To find opportunities that help keep your machine and production system optimal.”
  2. Too Focused on the Operator. “Another misuse is that people use OEE to measure the operator. OEE is used to measure equipment. If you run into an issue with the metric, look at the machine first. There are so many variables, don’t always assume it is the operator. Once you’ve evaluated the machine, look at the material and then the operator last.”

An article from IndustryWeek (IW) adds that OEE should be used as an improvement measure, not a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). It also states that it is best used on a single piece of equipment or synchronized line.

Finally, if your shop is ready to start measuring OEE but doesn’t know where to start, enlist the help of some key suppliers. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Company, many companies don’t possess all of the knowledge, resources, or infrastructure necessary to do in-depth measurement. This is where a willing supply partner can help. In today’s competitive market, there are plenty of equipment and tooling suppliers that are willing to share their knowledge and experience as a free, value-added service.

A Helpful Tool
There is no question that OEE can be misused and misunderstood, but as the IW article reiterates, it is not a “bad metric.” When calculated and applied correctly, OEE can be a very useful tool to help industrial metal-cutting companies quantify and uncover new improvement opportunities.

For more information on OEE, check out the article, “The ‘Quick & Dirty’ About OEE,” or you can find a more in-depth overview here.

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Predictive Maintenance Helps Metal Service Centers Reduce Downtime

June 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Manufacturers know that downtime results in lost productivity and profits. However, thanks to technological advancements in predictive maintenance, service centers and other industrial metal-cutting companies can nearly eliminate downtime altogether.

Unlike preventative maintenance, which uses anticipated and planned downtime to prevent unplanned breakdowns and minimize cost impacts, predictive maintenance aims to predict breakdowns before they even occur. Software and sensors collect data, and algorithms identify not only the anticipated failure, but also calculate the probable time that failure will occur. This enables companies to repair or replace parts before failure and helps eliminate both planned and unplanned downtime.

Several industries are adopting predictive maintenance as part of their operations. An article from the Harvard Business Review provides a few examples:

The manufacturing industry is also adopting predictive maintenance, but research shows it is doing so at a slower rate compared to others. For example, a recent survey by the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association and LNS Research concluded that manufacturers have some work to do to catch up to current capabilities—only 14 percent of survey respondents said they used manufacturing data in their analytic program.

Of course, building a predictive maintenance program requires both time and money, but many manufacturers are finding that the benefits outweigh the cost. An article from American Metals Market lists just a few of the many potential benefits of using predictive maintenance:

According to the AMM article, several metals leaders are reaping the rewards of predictive maintenance, including:

The trend is also starting to gain traction in industrial metal cutting. The LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 metal service centers and other industrial metal-cutting organizations found that companies are gaining additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”

While there is no question that predictive maintenance is proving beneficial in the metals industry and beyond, some companies may be hesitant to adopt the technology due to the investment and the training required for implementation. However, if your goal is to reduce downtime and increase the chances of future success, this may be one technology worth considering.

For more information on predictive maintenance, check out this overview article, which lists common tools and techniques, as well as a video.

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Software Tools Help Fabricators Improve Productivity

May 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , ,


As fabricators continue to seek new ways to optimize their operations, many are turning to software. Whether using it to connect the plant floor to the front office, or to measure key performance indicators (KPIs), data shows that more and more fabricators view software as a smart—and necessary—manufacturing tool.

For example, according the “2016 Capital Spending Forecast” from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International, more than 94 percent of survey respondents said their software spending this year would either remain the same or increase. This is significant, especially as more and more reports show that many companies are pulling back on spending this year.

A separate benchmarking survey from Modern Machine Shop shows that leading shops are more likely to utilize advanced software programs in their operations. Specifically, the survey found that top-performing machine shops (referred to as “top shops”) are more apt to utilize software solutions like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and toolpath simulation software in comparison to other shops.

Valuable Solutions
While there are many reasons software is becoming a valuable tool for manufacturers, for fabricators, a lot of it has to do with evolving customer demands. “As more custom fabricators are taking on more design work—beyond just design for manufacturability—engineering and estimating functions become more complex, especially as that work focuses on more subassemblies and full assemblies that call for multilevel bills of material and a multitude of sourced parts,” states a report from thefabricator.com. This, the article continues, is causing shops to invest in better methods of communication, as well as software tools like CAD/CAM, nesting systems, and ERP.

The good news is that as more manufacturers embrace software, the more tools are being developed—both by software designers and supply chain partners. Like consumers, industrial manufacturers are finding that where there is a need or challenge, there is indeed “an app for that.”

In metal cutting, specifically, there are several tools fabricators can use to help optimize their operations—many of which are free of charge. Below are two in particular that fabricators may find helpful:

Enhance Your Toolbox
Having the right tool for the job has always been a critical part of any metal-cutting operation, but fabricators are finding that it pays to have more than just hardware in their strategic toolbox. While it will never replace the important work machinery and other hardware tools perform on the shop floor, software tools can further optimize cutting operations by measuring important metrics, analyzing job trends, automating certain functions, and educating operators on proper cutting parameters. Although some software programs can be costly in terms of both money and training time, there are plenty of free tools available that can help even the smallest fabrication shop improve their operations.

What software tools are helping your shop optimize operations?

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Three Ways Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Can Empower Operators

February 29, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


As ball and roller bearing manufacturers strive for continuous improvement and optimization within their operations, there is no question that process improvement is a top priority. Leaders know that today’s competitive environment requires them to invest time and resources in finding new tools, technology, and strategies for increasing productivity and reducing waste.

However, managers need to be sure they are not so wrapped up in process improvements that they are neglecting the other half of the continuous improvement equation—people.

As explained in the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, people affect process. “Mechanical inefficiencies can often be solved with technology, but industry leaders are finding they can no longer ignore the human variables that contribute to productivity,” the paper states. “A lack of skill sets, business knowledge, and employee morale can affect vital areas of an operation, from inventory and parts costs to output and safety.”

When managers fail to focus on their operators, they are likely hurting their processes and, even more so, missing out on a prime opportunity for improvement. According to an article from The Manufacturer, a valued workforce can make the biggest impact on a factory’s efficiency. “Creating an environment where your workforce feels valued and respected results in motivation and loyalty,” the article states. This, it adds, can add up to tangible benefits, including higher output and lower absenteeism.

“Studies have found if employees are engaged, they put in twice as much effort, and will take just two-and-a-half sick days/year instead of six-and-a-half,” the article states. “This involvement leads to staff identifying with the company, its products, and sharing the corporate values.”

Indeed, a growing number of manufacturers are finding employee engagement can be just as critical as skills training when it comes to operator productivity. According to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, operators who take ownership of their process or work area can positively affect all aspects of an industrial metal-cutting operation, including quality, productivity, and in the end, the bottom line. “Similarly, when employees feel disconnected, those same business areas can be negatively affected,” the eBook states.

The following are three key ways managers can better engage operators and make them feel valued:

A recent article from the Liquid Planner also encourages managers to be intentional about creating a positive work environment by simply engaging in meaningful in-person conversations. “We’re all human, and most humans respond well to the real thing—in-person communication that says ‘you matter,’” the article states.

Perhaps an article from IndustryWeek states it best: “Most employees don’t need a $10 gas card; they just need to know that they can have an impact, their ideas matter, and they are appreciated.“

Yes, the idea of engaging and empowering employees sounds a bit cliché, especially as technology advances and competition intensifies. However, managers are finding that operators who feel valued are able to bring more value to the business.

In what ways could you better engage your operators?

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Using Visual Devices to Improve Your Forging Operation

February 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Workplace organization is one of those management principles that everyone knows is a good idea, yet it often falls by the wayside as managers focus on more pressing priorities like meeting deadlines and customer expectations. However, manufacturing experts continue to stress the importance of having a clean and organized manufacturing floor—not as a slap on the wrist, but because organizational tools are simple to implement and can offer a big return.

One tool that is often overlooked but can offer huge improvements is the use of visual devices. In fact, according to visual management expert and author Gwendolyn Galsworth, the visual workplace is one of the most misunderstood opportunities for a safer, more efficient, and reliable manufacturing operation.

“The entire world of work now strives to make work safer, simpler, more logical, reliable and linked, and less costly,” Galsworth writes in an article appearing in Fabricating & Metalworking. “Central to this is the visual workplace – not a brigade of buckets and brooms or posters and signs, but a compelling operational imperative, central to your shop’s war on waste and crucial to meeting daily performance goals, vastly reduced lead times, and dramatically improved quality.”

Specifically, Galsworth says in the article that managers should use visual cues to create a work environment that is self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating, and self-improving where what is supposed to happen actually does happen.

What does this look like? According to Galsworth, an effective visual workplace should follow some basic guidelines:

As an article from Modern Machine Shop explains, visual tools can include everything from different-color walkways marked for pedestrians and motorized vehicles, to foam cut-outs used as tool drawer organizers. One industrial metal-cutting company, featured here in a white paper, color-coded its blade stocking process. Each blade is marked with a colored tag, which corresponds to a chart that helps operators easily determine the right blade for the job. Stocking shelves are also color-coded, allowing operators to quickly locate and restock blades. This has improved operator efficiency, reduced the occurrence of operator blade selection errors, and prolonged overall blade life.

Visual tactics can also be used to improve safety. LENOX Tools, for example, has implemented a Safety Sticker program, which visually displays whether or not its operation has had any safety incidents. Sticker dispensing stations and a safety calendar are located at every entrance to the facility, and every employee is required to put on a green sticker with the number of days “accident free” written on it. When a recordable accident occurs, everyone in the facility changes from a green sticker to a red sticker for a seven-day period. After seven days, everyone reverts back to the green sticker. According to Matt Howell, senior manager, the program has been “a good rallying point for the facility and builds energy around safety.”

No matter what visual strategies you decide to institute in your forging operation, the goal is to use them to enhance communication and foster learning. The concept may seem a bit simplistic, but research shows it is effective. Studies by educational researchers suggest that approximately 83% of human learning occurs visually, with the remaining 17% occurring through the other senses. To put it another way: Your operators learn to work with their eyes first and their hands second.

What visual devices could you use to improve efficiency and safety at your forging operation?

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Automation Options for Low-Volume Machine Shops

February 20, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


The question of whether or not to automate is a difficult decision for any operations manager. As we covered here a previously published blog, the challenge is not only ensuring a good return on investment, but also figuring out how to effectively balance the allocation of technology and process automation with shop floor personnel.

In most cases, deciding whether or not to automate is neither a simple nor straight forward process and requires strategy, careful consideration, and a little bit of risk. This is especially true for low-volume/high-mix machine shops. While research has shown that many small manufacturers still believe that automation is reserved for mass production operations, more and more low-volume shops are finding that automation can work for them as well.

According to an article from Canadian Industrial Machinery, just-in-time manufacturing has made automation in low-volume/high-mix a growing trend. “Automation is suitable even for job shops, where the shop owner often doesn’t know what jobs will be running from week to week until an order request arrives,” CIM reports. The key, the article states, is investing in a flexible automation system that can be set up and changed over quickly.

As listed in the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges Facing Today’s Machine Shop Metal Cutting Operations, today’s shops have at their disposal a number of automated metal-cutting options, including:

Another more advanced automation trend that is starting to show up in low-volume shops is collaborative robotics. In fact, ABI Research estimates that the collaborative robotics sector will increase roughly tenfold between 2015 and 2020. The robotic systems, which are designed to work safely in close proximity and cooperatively with human coworkers, are said to save space and money, as well as permit more flexible manufacturing practices.

High-mix/low-volume electronics manufacturer Scott Fetzer Electrical Group (SFEG), for example, has benefited from collaborative robotics. According to a recent article from Fabricating & Metalworking, the robots helped the manufacturer optimize production by 20 percent. SFEG used the robots to take over monotonous and potentially hazardous tasks from employees, who were then reallocated to more rewarding jobs.

“One of our biggest challenges is that we’re a high mix-low volume producer, most of our lines don’t run all the time, so trying to find a way to put robots on the line in the traditional sense was a very big challenge,” Matthew Bush, SFEG’s director of operations, tells Fabricating & Metalworking. “We wanted to build a mobile, flexible robot force. The only way we would accomplish this was with a collaborative robot.” (You can read the full article here.)

Of course, shops don’t have to invest in high-tech robotics to automate their metal-cutting operations. Thanks to software advancements, there are plenty of other tasks that can be automated as well.

As described in another white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, one metal-cutting company developed a software system that connects the sawing equipment to  its order-tracking system. Historically, employees would input order information into the company’s system, print out a report, and deliver it to the operator. The operator would then have to reenter the data into the sawing equipment. By creating a communication bridge between the saw and the computer system, the company no longer needs to enter the same data twice. This has not only reduced the chance of human error, it has also eliminated an unnecessary production step.

Is automation a good option for your machine shop? That is a question only you can answer, but the good news is there is a growing number of options available for low-volume operations. In the end, the deciding factor should really boil down to one key question: Will it help you better serve your customers?

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Selecting Maintenance KPIs for Your Fabrication Shop

February 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


Manufacturing leaders know that measurement is the only way to truly gauge how their operations are performing and, more importantly, identify areas that need improvement. However, many companies fail to realize that metrics can be applied to every area of an organization, not just production.

One area that can greatly benefit from measurement is maintenance. A strong maintenance department keeps equipment up and running, which directly impacts production schedules and costs. As an article from Reliable Plant points out, maintenance should be treated just like any other business area.

“You must make good decisions that add value,” the article states. “This means you need input and lots of it. Making decisions based on gut feelings just doesn’t cut it these days. Key performance indicators (KPIs) can provide the input you need to help meet this lofty objective.”

Where Do You Start?
As we covered in a previously published blog, the challenge for many metal fabricators is knowing which metrics to measure, especially in niche areas like maintenance. Not all KPIs are created equally, and the goal should be quality—not quantity—when it comes to metrics of any kind.

According to Lifetime Reliability Solutions (LRS) Consultants, maintenance KPIs should reflect achievement and progress in meeting an agreed maintenance benchmark. “In measuring maintenance performance we are concerned not only with doing good maintenance work, we are also concerned that the maintenance work we do successfully removes risk of failure from our plant and equipment,” LRS advises on its website.

The consulting firm suggests that maintenance managers use a mix of lagging indicators and leading indicators so they have an understanding of what is happening to the risk and performance of their operational assets through maintenance efforts. “Lagging indicators use historic data to build a performance trend line,” LRS writes, while leading indicators use historic data to monitor if an operation is doing those activities that are known to produce good results. A good example of a lagging indicator related to machine health is Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF), whereas a leading indicator in maintenance might be the percentage of condition inspection work orders performed when they fall due.

In general, LRS suggests maintenance managers consider using KPIs within the following six categories:

Why Do Maintenance KPIs Matter?
Like any other business area, maintenance performance can directly impact the bottom line. For example, if maintenance personnel fail to follow a shop’s preventative maintenance (PM) schedule, a host of problems can arise, ranging from lower quality cuts to unplanned machine downtime. As confirmed by a recent benchmarking study of fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies, maintenance tasks like PM can impact job completion rates, blade life, and material costs.

With the right KPIs in place, maintenance managers can make sure that maintenance performance is up to par, as well as play a key role in ensuring that the shop as a whole operates as optimally as possible.

How are you measuring maintenance performance at your fabrication shop?

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Industrial Vending Machines Help Metal Service Centers Improve Productivity, Save Costs

February 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Many technologies have helped advance the manufacturing industry to where it stands today. From the Industrial Revolution in the late 17th Century and Ford’s assembly line for its Model T to robotic automation and the Industrial Internet of Things, new applications and advanced software solutions enable the manufacturing industry to adapt. One such technology—the industrial vending machine—is currently helping the industrial metal cutting industry adapt as well.

Industrial vending machines are based on the traditional machines you know and love, but instead of providing a quick snack, they distribute metal cutting parts, tools, and other consumable supplies (e.g., safety gloves, goggles, metal-cutting blades). The key benefit is streamlined inventory control—the machines keep track of the person or department requesting the part and the time and frequency of requests, in addition to monitoring inventory levels. This can eliminate the need for storage rooms or tool “cribs,” as well as the necessary staff needed to manage them.

With metal cutting companies facing diverse economic conditions and shifting shipment levels, industrial vending machines can help service centers increase operational efficiency and productivity. As reported in this white paper by the LENOX Institute of Technology, resource allocation and efficiency are top operating challenges for metal service centers. Industrial vending machines can help resolve both, while also saving costs.

Below are a few benefits of industrial vending:

Several metal-cutting companies are already reaping the rewards of what industrial vending can bring first-hand. The following are just two examples:

As service centers and other manufacturing operations look to save money and improve efficiency, industrial vending machines are quickly gaining popularity. While they have been more common in larger manufacturing operations over the last few years, smaller shops and service centers are starting to realize that automated inventory control is a fairly simple way to eliminate paperwork, save floor space, streamline purchasing, improve workflow, and, ultimately, save costs.

Could industrial vending machines be an option for your metal service center?

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Adopting Mobile Technology Within Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Operation

February 1, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


There is no question that mobile technology has transformed the consumer and corporate worlds. Having instant access to people and information has enabled conveniences and efficiencies we have all come to expect. However, the constant barrage of information typically brings some distraction along with it—a fact that has some manufacturers questioning whether or not mobile technology belongs on the shop floor.

Of course, some of this concern is founded. While distraction can certainly cause delays in productivity, it also presents some serious safety concerns, especially for machine operators. In fact, one machine shop, featured here in Modern Machine Shop magazine, banned cell phone use in their facility to avoid a hike in their insurance premiums. The machine shop said the ban has also increased productivity and even helped it win a new customer.

However, that’s not to say that there isn’t room for any mobile technology on the floor. Quite the opposite is true. A growing number of manufacturers are finding that  technology has plenty of applications, especially when it comes to streamlining work processes and eliminating paperwork. For example, a customer survey conducted by software provider Canvas found that companies are using mobile apps for the following tasks, most of which used to be paper-based:

An article from Forbes states that mobile technology is not only becoming more prevalent in manufacturing, it is revolutionizing the industry. “CEOs prioritizing the strategic importance of mobile technologies are driving a revolution in manufacturing today,” the Forbes article says. “Designing mobility into new production strategies, processes and procedures is bringing greater accuracy and speed to production centers. Augmenting existing processes with mobility is delivering solid efficiency gains. The net result is greater communication, collaboration and responsiveness to customer-driven deadlines and delivery dates than has been possible before.”

From quality audits and checklists to electronic work instructions (EWI) and real-time alerts, leading companies are finding a host of ways to use mobile technologies in their manufacturing environments. But before you go investing in a boxful of tablets and software apps, there are some considerations. An article from American Machinist offers seven tips for managers who want to bring mobility into their operation. Below are five of the tips (you can read the full seven here):

  1. Evaluate readily available solutions. Instead of assuming you have to start from scratch, inquire about the mobile offerings from manufacturing operations’ management, quality management, maintenance management, environment, health, and safety, and other solutions providers with hosted or on-premise solutions already deployed in your manufacturing environment.
  2. Avoid extra hardware investment. For a reasonable ROI, it’s important to prioritize investments that do not require specialized hardware beyond the mobile device, where possible. This could include work-issued mobile devices like tablets or smart phones, or you may want to consider instituting a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.
  3. Prioritize user-interface (UI) simplicity. During the selection process, focus on strength of the user interface, user experience, and general intuitiveness of the solution. Generally, people demand the usability of products like the iPhone, where they can start making use of it with little time or direction.
  4. Remember that success leads to success. Mobile solutions for all aspects of manufacturing are emerging fairly quickly, which increases the pressure to choosing the right solution. Actual case studies and ROI analyses (when possible) should be required during the solution selection process.
  5. Take advantage of native functionality. With advances in smartphone functionality happening every year, solutions should be evaluated with the understanding of what the host device is capable of doing. For example, if a corrective action app cannot incorporate pictures as attachments to support root-cause analyses, there probably is another, similarly priced solution that can do it.

In the end, there is a lot to consider before choosing the right mobile technologies for your shop, but most manufacturers are finding it is worth “going mobile” on some level. In fact, according to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, mobility is the top technology priority among industrial manufacturing CEOs.

If mobility isn’t on your radar yet, you may want to seriously reconsider. Slowly but surely, industrial manufacturers are finding that there is indeed “an app for that,” which means your metal-cutting operation may be missing out on some prime opportunities for efficiency gains and cost savings.

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