Written by Rami Vina & Rami Karlsson
Throughout the years, we’ve noticed that many of our customers are not using their existing automation systems and integrated machinery to their fullest potential. We think you can always perform better! Purchasing new machining or automation system can be a good idea for the future, but before making the decision to invest you may want to check that the following productivity points regarding your existing machining capacity are in order.
Optimized machining capacity
The most common performance challenge that our clients face is not being able to utilize all of the machine capacity available, often due to having short unmanned periods on the machines. Overcoming this problem calls for adjusting the process and making it stable enough to continue independently without human intervention and monitoring or compromising production quality. Although this will require predictive production planning and resource management processes, the result will definitely be worth the effort. Stand-alone machinery utilization is often only 20–30%. Unoptimized automated machinery utilization is usually 50–70%, and when fully optimized, you can reach a level of more than 90%!
Sufficient production data for planning and forecasting
In order to properly plan and forecast production, you need to make sure you’re collecting a sufficient amount of production data and analyzing it correctly. Pay attention to how production is being monitored and managed, what kind of operations are being created, whether the machining times are correct, and whether the loading and unloading processes are in order. This will help determine at which point of the process you are losing capacity and productivity.
Productivity and performance are defined and measured in automated products per MC utilization, flow, and throughput. The values to adjust and measure include connected machinery utilization rate, machine-tool spindle time, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), flow, work in progress (WIP), and planned vs. realized vs. needed throughput. There are various ways to measure these depending on the industry and type of company, but in general, the idea is to manage and predict production to avoid long-term deficiency and subsequent financial loss. For example, if the plan is to produce 100 components per week, but due to various machining complications the outcome is only 50, this will result in a massive loss over the year.
Effective use of existing resources
Better performance and productivity will require effective use of existing resources and a mindset geared towards continuous improvement. All of the system’s resource aspects need to be in balance, including people, machinery, materials, warehousing, lead times, tooling and tool management, fixturing and NC programs. These resources need to be planned, adjusted and forecasted on a proper quality level so that they’re available just in time. While automation steps in to take care of the routines, people are still very much needed to produce new ideas, make decisions and act based on the collected data. Follow-up monitoring is another important aspect, as humans tend to resist change and return to familiar practices if the benefits are not made clear to them. Maintaining these procedures will improve productivity and your company’s competitiveness, profit, resources, capacity and customer satisfaction through accurate and timely delivery of expected quality.
Utilization of external resources
Without measuring, it’s impossible to find the root of the production problem or predict future production needs other than by guessing. That said, without taking the right action, measuring and analyses are just a waste of time. We can help make plans and turn production data into productive measures.
Hiring an external automation consultant offers many benefits to manufacturers. First, it will save internal resources for what they do best without compromising core duties. Second, based on decades of experience with hundreds of factory environments, we know the best practices in the industry and can approach production systematically and independently. Finding development issues, as well as measuring, planning and following up on production are all part of our core competence, making us experts in getting the most out of automation and recognizing which resources to use in internal development. We also know that any solution provided must be carefully integrated into our customers’ operations. After all, automation is never an island or separate device but instead needs to play on the same team as all the other resources of the production system.
Equipment and machinery purchases are usually large, long-term investments. With external support, you can make sure that existing machinery is being used in a proper way and that you’re getting the best out of your current capacity before making new investments. It’s all about unleashing your hidden potential.