Lean Manufacturing in the Age of the Industrial Internet

When technology supports the convergence of machine and intelligent data, and everything is connected, the power of the Industrial Internet becomes real for manufacturing.

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Discrete manufacturers face increasing costs, global competition and growing consumer demands. They must move faster, better and leaner every day just to keep up with, let alone stay ahead of, competitors. They face pressure to produce more for less and to quickly respond to changing market demands while lowering costs. In short, they have to capture every operational efficiency possible. Hence, lean manufacturing is more critical than ever and manufacturers need to take this to the next level, particularly in the face of the opportunities presented by the industrial internet where machines and devices are connected and people have access to operational insight wherever they are working, with business intelligence at their fingertips. 

One way to take lean manufacturing to the next level is to complement it with the principles of Six Sigma, which also seeks to eliminate waste by streamlining and improving all business processes and removing variations within the process. The combination of the two is dubbed Lean Six Sigma. Manufacturers can get more out of Lean Six Sigma techniques because of the explosion of data from todays connected machines that has been enabled by the Industrial Internet. Applying advanced Manufacturing Execution System (MES) solutions, this data can provide insight to improve the top and bottom lines of a business—better customer service, shorter lead times, higher production performance and operations efficiency—all while avoiding costly mistakes. Digitization of manufacturing processes and data with MES uncovers interrelationships and deep insights across the enterprise and provides the underpinning from which big data analytics can inform strategic planning, guide real-time operations and uncover root causes of issues before they become problems.

Building the Foundation

From a Lean Six Sigma perspective, MES software technologies are best leveraged once the proper foundation is in place that answers the following questions:

  • Am I collecting the right data?
  • Do I have an effective and efficient way to store and access it?
  • Do I have a way to visualize it in context?
  • Do I have a way to get it to the right people?
  • How can I integrate analytics into my production plan?

Collecting the right meaningful data you need from your manufacturing process, critical assets and people is imperative. Determine the key sources of that data—whether its product data, execution data, work instructions, quality metrics, supply chain metrics or genealogy/traceability data. And remember that in the age of the Industrial Internet, the data is not only inside building walls, but also from sources and activities that feed the facility, like suppliers and customers who are served after products leave the factory.

The next step is to measure your manufacturing processes with capabilities that enable you to collect, store and manage your data at the enterprise level, which may require the consolidation of multiple plant historians into a single historian, with common configuration. Finally, you need the ability to handle a number of different types of data—time series, metadata, pictures, videos, etc.—and correlate them together within a common context. The right MES solution enables you to collect, store and manage your industrial big data to leverage higher-level analytics. This is where Lean Six Sigma delivers valuable business insight, and powerful performance improvements start to take shape.

Analyze for Data-Driven Insights

With the foundation in place, manufacturers can leverage MES to build analytics that get at very specific problems for their business, such as helping operators visualize data and deliver data-driven root cause analysis to determine what the problem was, what happened, how often it happened, where it happened and what the final disposition should be. This manufacturing intelligence can drive significant and game-changing productivity and efficiency for manufacturing operations. Data-driven insights through advanced analytics help enhance asset performance by detecting and predicting the why, when, where and how of future potential production anomalies. Perhaps more important is the ability for manufacturers to assess, through simulation, the impact a potential change will have before it is actually implemented. This allows the manufacturer to pinpoint the cause of a quality defect found during the final product test; or to note a difference in operating procedures between first and second shifts due to an operator removing the product too early from a critical operation. Having these scenarios identified beforehand allows for changes and/or contingency plans to keep production running in the event a failure occurred.

Improvable with Actionable Data

With the ability to measure and analyze in place, connecting the right people to the data is key. MES visualization technologies provide real-time operational intelligence so that the operator, control room personnel, plant manager, engineer or maintenance staff can separate the signal from the noise. With relevant information in context readily available at their fingertips, they can prioritize the right actions at the right times, to drive the best actions every time to achieve significant operational improvements. Further, since the industrial world is becoming increasingly mobile, steps must be taken to make data accessible. MES industrial mobility, powered by the Industrial Internet, enables today’s manufacturers to connect to their production processes from anywhere at any time on mobile devices—a powerful business enabler. This fosters a virtual “walk-the-plant-floor” management approach as opposed to a “spreadsheet-management” approach. This hands-on culture aligns with the philosophy of Lean Six Sigma, whereby real-time information and action accelerates process improvement initiatives.

Control to Drive Operational Excellence

As the Industrial Internet enables connectivity between your machines, data and insights, and people, you have the infrastructure to leverage business and operational insights into the future, transforming your operations to be leaner than ever. To sustain these new levels of lean performance, MES enables you to integrate analytics as part of your production plan, so you can continually drive better outcomes, such as:

  • Scheduling production in plants, on lines or on machines to produce within the defined targets
  • Reducing work in process with real-time visibility
  • Producing and delivering products to customers faster by closing the loop between manufacturing and engineering Increasing quality through real-time data collection and conformance metrics to verify as-built equals as-designed
  • Leveraging full product genealogy for fast traceability and exposure containment
  • Optimizing production based on energy constraints
  • Integrating energy and water consumption into material management and consumption metrics

In the age of the Industrial Internet, manufacturers have the opportunity to leverage MES solutions to drive better, leaner ways of doing business, with analytics connected at the point of control and processes that enables manufacturing businesses to be self-learning, self-improving, and self-“leaning” for accelerated competitiveness. When technology supports the convergence of machine and intelligent data, and everything is connected, that’s when the power of the Industrial Internet becomes real for manufacturing operations.