Industry 4.0 – Digitization, One Step at a Time

The concept of Industry 4.0 in the manufacturing industry is becoming increasingly popular every day. When considering the digitization of production plants, we often imagine fully automated factories equipped with specialized robots and devices, and completely digital circulation of extensive documents. However, not everyone knows that the best approach to implementing Industry 4.0 is one step at a time.

Managers of production plants, when planning the digitization of factories, often mistakenly and quite idealistically imagine the changes that are guaranteed by the implementation of solutions in the field of Industry 4.0. However, before you start the dream digitization of the plant, it is worth asking yourself a very important question: Why focus on these activities and not others?

The Digital Enterprise Index (DIGI) developed by Siemens indicates that, in 2021, Polish industrial plants achieved a score of only 1.8 on a four-point scale. This indicates a worryingly low level of digitization of factories, and shows an increased need for their digitization in the coming years. Taking this into account, however, one should not succumb to the vision of an ideal, smart factory of the future ready “immediately”, nor one should race towards full automation of production processes. Instead, it is worth preparing a strategic action plan.

Industry 4.0, one step at a time

Define the problems and assess their scale

The first step on the way to the digitization of the factory should always be to define the problems occurring in the plant, taking into account key processes and tasks that need to be improved. Then you need to assess the scale of each defined problem to understand what level of optimization is actually needed. Below, you will find some examples of possible problems and proposed assessment methods.

  • Is there too much administrative work in the plant (especially paperwork)? Assess who manually rewrites data from analog production reports to an ERP system, and how much time it takes them per day.
  • Are there often mistakes in documents? Check which documents are affected by mistakes, how often they happen, who takes care of correcting them, and how much time is needed for this.
  • Do you hear about lost materials? Examine how many of them are lost weekly, monthly and annually, as well as the value of each.

Assessing the scale of each of the daily problems will help to indicate what is actually a real issue, and what happens sporadically and does not require immediate intervention. Based on the collected data, it will be easier for you to set specific goals.

Observe and model

Often, when managing a factory, we have no idea how much time is actually taken by data management, including seemingly simple activities (such as ongoing completion of documents). Before you start setting goals in the digitization process, it is important to observe and model existing procedures, thanks to which it is much easier to see possible solutions to the defined problems.

The purpose of business process modeling is to determine how the plant currently functions, and to be able to determine how you would like it to function. Modeling gives you a comprehensive understanding of the course and sequence of tasks during a given process, making it easier to catch any errors or issues that need improvement.

With a model and a map of a specific process, you can immediately start observations, during which you will measure how much time a given activity actually takes, and who is assigned to it. It is worth noting that checking who performs tasks is extremely important, because the time needed to complete the same task may vary depending on a specific person’s experience or competence.

Check performance with a dedicated application

If one of the problems of your plant seems to be the low efficiency of a given machine, it is worth using the dedicated Industry 4.0 application offered by Comarch. Thanks to this, you can check whether the machine is working at any given moment, monitor how many pieces of product it produces per minute, and much more. The data collected with the help of the application provides specific information about production downtime and its duration. By subjecting data to appropriate analysis, it is easy to determine the losses resulting from the use of a given machine.

The same is true if you know that production downtime occurs, but you don't know the cause. In such a situation, the solution may be to install a special screen for the machine operator (also available as part of the Industry 4.0 application), through which the employee will be able to immediately indicate the reason for the downtime.

Set goals and implement solutions

Only after accurately identifying problems, assessing their scale and observing a specific process can you start setting goals. It is worth using the universal SMART method, thanks to which you can easily determine the specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goal that you want to achieve.

If the most losses in the plant result from the manual filling of production reports, start by implementing an MES system that will download the production order from the ERP system automatically. The Comarch Industry 4.0 application allows you to display information to the process operator (what task to perform, in what quantity, and the procedure for task execution). The progress of the order can be reported manually by the device operator (via an intuitive touch interface) or automatically by the machine. All data are immediately transferred to the ERP system. The production manager can therefore monitor the status of the task, the quantity produced, and the key production indicators on an ongoing basis.

To solve the problem of material loss, the application includes an option for declaring the consumption of materials. The operator sees on a screen next to the station a list of materials needed, and the amount that should be used. Then, the employee declares the material actually consumed by scanning the code on the label of a specific batch of the article and supplementing additional data in the application (the amount used). This information is saved in an archival database and immediately transferred to the ERP system. Thanks to this, it is known who and where the operator was, how much and what they actually consumed, and when this happened.

If you are observing problems with quality control, the next step worth introducing may be to use the checklist module. The operator is regularly assigned tasks to perform (such as measurement of specific characteristics of a product or material). Data about such a measurement can be immediately saved and sent to an external quality management system, which will significantly improve ongoing controls.

Only in this way – one step at a time, focusing successively on specific, defined problems and sticking to a fixed, strategic plan – can we create the smart factory of the future.

If you want to learn more about our IoT ecosystem solutions, including the Industry 4.0 app, visit the website or email us using the dedicated form.

Katarzyna Strzebońska, Comarch IoT

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