How to open a digital transformation window in a legacy environment

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One of our clients is quickly taking steps to radically change the product marking process in a high-mix environment. From ink stamps and metal marking punches to UV laser marking equipment, the drastic reduction in setup and cycle times has made the investment worth while. Something that has remained constant, however, is the number of defects due to improper marking and aesthetic variation.

We discovered that the content of each mark is a still dependent on the operator who transcribes data from the product specification into the laser marking software. We agreed to pilot a solution for a single product family. At the start of the project our time studies revealed a mean setup time of 130 seconds with cycle times of 7 seconds. Today we presented our first pilot release to engineering, supervisors, and operators. The results were amazing. We eliminated 100% of setup time and reduced cycle times by 50%.

From the beginning, our goal was to create standards and deliver a flexible solution that could be: easily maintained and updated with new template designs, integrated with multiple brands of laser marking machines, and completely removed all laser marking software dependencies. All while integrating the client’s existing enterprise data.

Opening a digital transformation window

Maintain the “digital thread”

Specifications received from customers must be carried through the production process as intended. Any gaps left to downstream interpretation create opportunities for failure. Shared responsibility for maintaining design intent is created as well as several side effects which must now be maintained, adding non-value added work to all parties involved.

As much as the organization tries to countermeasure failures, they reach a ceiling through traditional Kaizen activities. Mainly because partial focus remains on solving symptoms instead of the fundamental problem. The expertise required to solve the real problem is missing.

At this point, a window for digital transformation has been opened. A single iteration of the 5C approach seizes the opportunity and elevates performance toward the ideal state through a step change. The unaltered flow of design specifications through the product lifecycle allows the organization to continue their excellence journey with a new lens of possibilities.

Don’t rip and replace, educate

ROI of 18 months is good, but a ROI of 1 month is even better! Digital transformation does not mean that all of your existing technology requires replacement. The cultural shock alone would be unsustainable. Our clients work within their technological abilities. Some have a lot of tech debt, some less. For some, the IT systems have sprawled over time and are very irregular. For some, digital processes are completely missing and paper rules across the organization.

Adapting while unlocking driving forces behind change are key. What we mean by this is possessing the ability to introduce guiding concepts that put organizations on the track toward Industry 4.0 in preparation for equipment connectivity, data (as fact) collection, and improved decision making. Like a well executed value stream design, changes are incremental.

Going back to the laser marking project, our client is heavily invested in Microsoft technologies. We developed a solution using their platform and familiar programming concepts, but we also added something extra. The newly developed solution is no longer required to run in a Windows environment, it allows communication with laser marking equipment using current communication protocols (ie. HTTP, MQTT), and is flexible enough (ie. scriptable) to support the irregular landscape of databases and various engineering applications.

In order to realize immediate value, the solution was integrated with existing shop floor applications. We can now concentrate on brining additional product families online while educating internal IT and engineering staff in modern architecture, IT-OT bridging concepts, available platforms that span ISA-95 layers, and the visualization of real time shop floor facts. We always enjoy hearing the analogy of eating an elephant one bite at a time. In our case we have to be the shark that is taking a bite, with multiple rows of teeth.

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