Smart Machines: Where is the problem?

What exactly is the problem and what are we trying to solve?

We are offered all kinds of solutions in the field of Smart Machines or Industry 4.0, but in this regard I seldom see the problem we actually solve.

Find the Problem!

“Where is the problem?” is a difficult question to answer. Each market has its own challenges. If you want know where to connect, you need to do research.

Don’t use a solution for a non-existing problem!

Does it Matter?

Last year I talked with a customer who used a maintenance package with hour counters.

I told him it could be interesting to actively get those counters from the machine.

“Why?” was the answer. “I think it is cheaper to have a technician collecting this info for one hour per month. In the meantime, this technician can also check the status of the machine, and have a chat with the operator.”

Well, he had a point: Look for the things that really matter.

Which data is used by the technician to determine what needs to be done in addition to what the maintenance software tells you? Could this be automated? Can we use energy monitoring to detect deviations in time, to get a better indication of the time needed to plan the next production stop?

These are the questions to be asked first.

Production Planning

That brings us to the next point: Production planning.

It is pretty safe to say that a production company has a form of MES or ERP running, to manage production planning, warehousing and so on.

The Technical Services and the Production Planning division often have communication issues.

A service technician wants time to improve the running machines. A production manager on the other hand doesn’t want a machine to stand still, because in his opinion, this costs (too much) money due to loss of production loss.


Communication Issues

Let me tell you an example of these communication issues.

Some time ago I was in a factory in Germany, to meet with the plant manager, a production manager, the head of Technical Services and a mechanic. When I asked what kind of malfunctions their machines had, the production manager answered: “Actually, we don’t have that many malfunctions”.

You should have seen the expression on the faces of the mechanic and the guy from Technical Services! They started to argue that they often have to move heaven and earth to get the machines back to work – until the next malfunction. This was caused by the fact that they didn’t get the budget and time to make structural improvements to those machines.

Here we see an overlap in data that is needed for maintenance, and data that is needed for production.

If a production manager has a better understanding of losses, and service technician can show how to reduce these losses by making well planned improvements (causing a production stop for a day), it will save them both a lot of discussion time. In addition, it will give more insight in the effect of certain improvements.

In Conclusion

For this we will have to make the machine’s data available to various systems (ERP, MES, maintenance software). But before we start thinking about this, we first need to know which data benefits the customer most, and which systems he uses.

So it is back to: “Research”:  What is the problem? Who needs to know?

The solution will follow.

Know Your Customer

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