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FreePoint Connect Unlocks New Connection Options (Kepware, OPC-UA)

We have taken another huge leap forward with our release of FreePoint Connect, which continues to connect machines of any age, brand, and type but now opens more connection flexibility and allows you to manage machines connected (through FreePoint Connect) right in ShiftWorx! Contact your Sales Representative today to find out more. 

Option One – Connecting through Kepware
Kepware is an industry leading industrial connectivity platform that can aggregate data from your machine controllers and PLC’s and send that data to FreePoint Connect.

Option Two – Connecting directly through the machine controller or PLC
FreePoint Connect allows your machine to directly communicate with ShiftWorx through OPC-UA. This machine to machine communication protocol removes the need for additional hardware to connect.

Option Three – Connecting through our FreePoint remote module (e.g. 4i)
Our “Black Boxes” will continue to provide non-invasive, secure, and reliable connections to any type or age of machine independent of machine PLC’s.

Contact FreePoint today to find out more. 

How FreePoint Connect Works Graphic (Click to Expand)

Freepoint connect How it works graphic

 

ShiftWorx Brings You A Digital Call Box/Andon Functionality at a Fraction of the Cost of a Traditional System

Call Box Screen

Did you know that in our commitment to driving operational excellence and continuous improvement through your shop, we have several additional ShiftWorx Modules that can drive your industry 4.0 and lean manufacturing initiatives? We have touched on enhanced customization capabilities for custom views and dashboard and how coupling Job and Operator data with Business and AI tools can create a wealth of new insight, but today we want to discuss a Digital Call Box Module that not only brings transparency into your process and improves your maintenance response but can be configured to function as a Digital Andon system.

Call Station Example

Our Digital Call Box/ANDON functionality enables operators to send messages (email and text messages) to immediately address issues involving machines (e.g. broken down, safety) with the push of a button. This enhances the clarity of your production process and flows of information on the plant floor by tracking the number of calls, mean time to respond, start time, and completion time of a call. Problems are visually identified so corrective action can be taken immediately.

Best of all, our easy-to-use and the customizable system can be configured with many of the benefits of an Andon solution without the additional costs. With a traditional Andon system costing thousands of dollars to set up and install, The ShiftWorx Digital Call Box/Andon system is even better because:

  • No Wiring
  • No Installation
  • No Labor
  • Immediate Notifications
  • Full Tracking and Reporting Capability

You get advanced reporting and all the advantages of an Andon system, at a fraction of the cost.

To See our Digital Call Box/ANDON system in action, reach out to us today. 

Andon Dashboard

Advantages of Andon Systems

Andon has a crucial place in any lean manufacturing operation or connected industry and provides numerous benefits through:

  • Transparency: – Employees are encouraged to react to problems so that quality, safety, and down time improve. Process owners are notified in real time.
  • Productivity: Problems are quickly noticed and resolved to ensure minimal production interruptions.
  • Empowering Employees: Operators are given the freedom and flexibility to categorize issues when they arise depending on their priority and take action,  instead of waiting on leadership. This increases accountability overproduction issues.
  • Reduce downtime: Operators and supervisors are better able to resolve manufacturing issues and keep the assembly line moving.
  • Cost and time: The Andon board allows for greater communication on the floor so that time is saved and labor is cut.

Ultimately, the goal of any Andon system is about removing anything that inhibits production flow. It is about responding to issues immediately, finding the root cause of the issue, and putting a permanent corrective action in place so that the issue never occurs again. By utilizing the ShiftWorx Digital Call Box/Andon Module, you will quickly be able to document routine production challenges and provide Shift Supervisors and Engineering Departments the knowledge of the frequency and severity of problems that interrupt workflow.

Contact us today to get a demonstration. 

Bridging the IIoT Technology Gap

One of the largest Industry 4.0 roadblocks we often observe rests in addressing the gap in knowledge and objectives that exists between the different levels in manufacturing organizations.

CEOs are usually well intended in adopting Industry 4.0 technologies, but they are not comfortable with the technology conversation, so they delegate down the chain to someone who is. The people deeply involved in IT, or considering advanced technologies, are usually far more technology focused than they are day-to-day manufacturing focused and sit several levels away from the CEO with different responsibilities and objectives that don’t necessarily tie directly to the organizational vision or overall performance.

FreePoint has spent the last few months analyzing this challenge we have developed a Value-To-Vision process and Self Assessment Tool with the help of some industry partners that can address ways to close the gap and assess your IoT readiness. Part of that process was to discuss with manufacturers and understand the roles and objectives of each organization and we have boiled those conversations into the persona chart (Pictured above). There are a few key take aways:

  • Individuals on the left side of the persona chart have very short term objectives – this hour, this shift, etc. They are more tactile, non-financial and have very specific measurements – how many strokes, how many parts, how many minutes…
  • The right side have long term and ‘fuzzy’ objectives (sustainability, keeping work in one plant or another, improving overall competitive position), which are usually financial.
  • In the middle, you have the people tasked with developing and deploying a technology adoption project. They are often disconnected from the vision (CEO) by several layers, and equally disconnected from the people doing the actual work.
  • Sometimes there may be a CTO in the picture, but they are generally not in the value-to-vision stream. Some companies have CIO’s (Chief Information Officers), and because their output (data, information) is consumed by the CFO and CEO, they are more likely to be in the value-to-vision stream.
  • The right side of the chart is the vision side. The left side is where value is actually created day-to-day.

Over the next few months, we will be sharing more information in conjunction with our industry partners. If you would like to have a preliminary conversation on closing the technology gap or review our self assessment tool, please reach out to us. 

Top 5 Ways Manufacturers Should be Using Their Data

If you’re already collecting data in your organization, great! However, if you’re collecting data, and dropping it into a repository where it’s never seen again, what’s the point?

There are many great articles written on how companies should use their data, but manufacturers are quite different than retailers, or service providers, of any business that deal directly with the end user customer of their product. According to a recent article in Forbes, the common Top 5 ways to leverage data for those kinds of companies is:

  1. Make more informed decisions
  2. Understand customers, and market trends
  3. Provide smarter products and services
  4. Improve internal operations
  5. Create additional revenue opportunities

For many manufacturing plants however – those that don’t design the products they build or sell to the end customer as those functions and responsibilities belong to their customers – some of the above don’t apply ‘directly’. In the case of point 2, “Understand customers and market trends”, for many factories it would be more important to understand their workforce and the trends within the work force. Most companies in this category would not get a chance to create additional revenue opportunities, but they could use data to drive operator engagement on the plant floor, by modifying behavior, and thus creating more production capacity (i.e. revenue), or decreased cost, which creates additional earning, or improves competitiveness, which may lead to more business.

Our Top 5 list for Manufacturers would be:

  1. Make more informed decisions
  2. Understand your current workforce, and future trends to attract the best
  3. Make quicker decisions to prevent adding value to waste
  4. Improve internal operations (Lean, CI, digitization of documents etc.)
  5. Put data into action in real time to modify behavior engage workers

Arguably the most important of these 5 however, is making more informed, data-driven decisionsRandy Bean, and Thomas Davenport of the Harvard Business Review state:

“Analytical decisions and actions continue to be generally superior to those based on intuition and experience.”

There are many business cases that support this assertion, and manufacturers serve as an excellent example. Since the advent of industry 4.0, it’s become easier than ever to obtain performance metrics from manufacturing equipment. However, simply generating data in a manufacturing environment does not improve efficiency or productivity. Rather, it’s how manufacturers use their data that enables improvement. By monitoring their machine data, communicating more effectively with their operators, and scheduling dynamically, manufacturers can identify and address process bottlenecks, eliminate wasted time, material or energy, and greatly improving their overall production. This this allows manufacturers to produce more with the same amount of resources – directly benefiting the bottom line.

FreePoint Technologies CEO Paul Hogendoorn

Paul Hogendoorn
Founder
FreePoint Technologies Inc.

Ontario’s Automotive Modernization Program: Why You Should Care

Ontario’s automotive sector has always played a crucial role in the Canadian economy. With over 100,000 auto-related jobs across the province, investing in the sustainability and advancement of the auto industry is vitally important – which is why we are excited about Ontario’s next round of applications for the  Automotive Modernization Program (O-AMP) open until October 7th, 2020.

Aimed at helping Manufacturers adopt new technologies quickly, the new program provides eligible manufacturers with a grant up to $100,000 to support purchases and projects that fall under one or both of these two categories:

  • Technology Adoption
  • Lean Manufacturing

This program has made emerging technologies significantly more attainable for manufacturers considering a digital transformation. You can now reap the benefits of Industry 4.0 for a fraction of the cost by implementing any of our advanced manufacturing solutions. Whether you are looking to use machine monitoring, downtime tracking, or a customizable API – you could be eligible for a grant up to $100,000 . With our state-of-the-art data visualization software and extensive suite of machine monitoring solutions, you can begin your digital transformation while maintaining eligibility for government funding.

What gets measured gets improved”. Our IIoT solutions help you measure everything you need to measure to improve, including establishing an empirical baseline for where you are today. Our visualization tools will drive productivity improvements right away, and our reporting tools will help you identify the things that need to be done to get even better. If you have been considering a FreePoint system in your plant, there has never been a better time, so reach out to us today!

 

Check out the following links for additional information:

www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-automotive-modernization-program#section-2

APMA – Applications open for the Ontario Automotive Modernization Program (O-AMP)

www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/vic-fedeli-announces-10-million-automotive-sector-modernization-program-1.5277165

www.ontario.ca/page/driving-prosperity-future-ontarios-automotive-sector

FreePoint Founder Outlines Why Industry 4.0 is Not as Scary or Costly as You Might Think

FreePoint Technologies CEO Paul Hogendoorn

Paul Hogendoorn – FreePoint Founder

FreePoint Founder and Chair, Paul Hogendoorn has featured in CIO Application magazine’s Vendor Viewpoint and Manufacturing issue of their most recent publication with his most recent article “Why Industry 4.0 Is Not As Scary or Costly as You Might Think”

In this featured article, Paul outlines:

  1. While industry 4.0 represents the future of manufacturing, you can (and should) get started today and how to begin
  2. How it’s possible to connect to any machine – regardless of age and function.
  3. How to establish your baseline and drive production capacity improvements of up to 50+%

Throughout this article, Paul stresses why getting started today is important. Accounting for the new challenges COVID-19 has created, understanding when your machines are driving value-added work along with remote monitoring and reshoring supply chains; industry 4.0 is the catalyst to help you emerge from this pandemic ahead.

Manufacturers can do more to ensure their success by taking a systematic approach to industry 4.0 and digitization in their shop. By properly combining people and technology, manufacturers will be much better positioned to take full advantage of their industry 4.0 technologies and drive future growth. Industry 4.0 isn’t just the future state of manufacturing, it’s available and driving meaningful improvement in large and small manufacturing environments now. FreePoint makes this technology accessible today, to any manufacturer.

Read the full article here.

Don’t struggle to get the most out of your IIoT solution. Make sure you are leveraging both your people and your technology in order to ensure the highest levels of success in your organization.

 

FreePoint Technologies CEO Paul Hogendoorn

Observations of Manufacturing During the Pandemic

Data can reveal some interesting trends, and this is certainly true in manufacturing, where the aggregated data from approximately 100 factories equipped with FreePoint’s ShiftWorx system reveal some very interesting things over the course of the response to the pandemic. 

The first thing we saw was fairly obvious. We saw total “value adding activity” (productive activity) drop 43% from March 9th to April 5th, with the steepest decline between March 23rd and March 30th.

The second thing we saw was that it was not a unilateral 43% decrease across all manufacturers. Some manufacturers shut down, some slowed downs significantly, but many were able to continue through the period without any indication of a slow down. This too is understandable.

The third thing we noticed was very interesting, and something that will certainly cause some contemplation.

Machine Data

Pre-Covid

Machine data

Post-Covid

 

Notice the difference?

Of the companies we saw that were maintaining their overall productive activity, we often saw improvements in the productivity of the day shift, consistent levels in the afternoon shift, and a reduction or elimination of production activity on the weekends. Total productive activity, or “value adding activity” as we measure it, was the same for the whole week, with less or no time scheduled on the weekends.

This required some further digging.

Chart with pre-covid highlighted

Pre-Covid

Chart with two week period highlighted

Post-Covid

Pre-covid, we have often noticed that afternoon shifts in these companies regularly run more consistently day to day than the day shifts. In discussions with management and operators, the most common explanation offered is “simple, management’s not here on the afternoon shift”; there’s less interruptions, less schedule changes, less scheduled maintenance. In short, the work that needs to be done is scheduled for them to do, and then they are left to do it. The other suggestion offered is that different types of people are going to gravitate to the different shifts; those that like to be left alone to their work will gravitate towards the afternoon (or night shift), and those that require a more dynamic work experience (more things to do, more interaction with other people) prefer the day shift. The result though is the same – there’s more distraction and opportunity for disruptive activity on the day shift.

During the crisis respond period however, those distractions were reduced or eliminated. There were no visitors allowed in the plants, be they customers, suppliers, contractors or salespeople. Administration, sales and support staff, and many managers were asked to work at home, and they did. Problems that needed to be solved on the floor were solved by the people on the floor, which makes sense because companies best able to cope with trying times such as these are the companies with the best people.manufacturing machine connections

But, the requirement to work more outside of the plant presented an opportunity not wasted on many managers. After a short time of anxious adjustment (perhaps adrenaline withdrawal), when it became clear they could manage remotely and the sky wouldn’t fall without them there 50+ hours per week, they started to set their attention on larger thoughts and planning. Every good manager has a list of things they wished they had the time to really focus on, and now they have that time.

Strong manufacturers are going to come out of this stronger. I’m convinced the accelerated adoption of technology will be part of that (remote machine monitoring and paperless workflows), but its still a company’s people that make them strong, and will make them stronger yet. The benefit of removing distraction from the plant floor and letting good people focus on their job showed up in our data right away. The benefit of giving good managers the time needed to really concentrate and focus a bit more on the list of things they’ve always wanted to get around to will take a little longer to show up in the data, but I’m sure it will. Strong, resilient companies are built by strong, resilient people.

The data doesn’t lie!

FreePoint Technologies CEO Paul Hogendoorn
Paul Hogendoorn
Founder and Chairman
FreePoint Technologies Inc.

Getting Ready for the Restart

Industry is getting ready to restart. Prior to the Covid crisis, you may have been contemplating things like connecting your machines to a system that gave you better visibility into production activity remotely and eliminating paperwork on the plant floor. If these things seemed like a good idea then, they most certainly must have moved up to near the top of the priority list now.

If you have been hesitating or were too busy to get started on this before but want to get a good jump on it now – before the full restart – give us a call right away. We can get your machines (or more machines) connected right away and have programs to defer the costs to later. Or, if eliminating the paperwork passed around on the plant floor is your concern and you want to start simple by digitizing some forms and checklists, reach out to us and we will connect with you promptly.

The new ShiftWorx Plus machine view tracking job, operator, and scrap.

I believe it’s now our time to be proactive. We have endured a long period with little choice but to follow and wait. Now is the time to act and to lead.

Looking forward to the restart with all of you.
FreePoint Technologies CEO Paul Hogendoorn
Paul Hogendoorn
Founder and Chairman
FreePoint Technologies Inc.

Getting Started With IIoT Has Never Been Easier

A common misconception we hear about IIoT and Industry 4.0 is that these technologies are the future of the manufacturing industry or just beyond manufacturers grasp. Many think the transformation is too costly, too challenging, or both!

Getting Started is Easier Than You Think

We understand that even for manufacturers who are ready for industry 4.0, the process can seem overwhelming. What do I need? How do I get it? Where do I begin? Starting your digital transformation doesn’t have to be so hectic.

With FreePoint, here is all it takes to begin your digital transformation:

  1. Connect Machines
    • We non-invasively connect FreePoint sensors to your machines
  2. Transfer Data to the Cloud
    • We connect your machines to our ShiftWorx software through a PC on your shop floor
  3. Visualize Data
    • You display the collected data on the shop floor using LCD screens

The Sooner, the Better

These first, small steps are really all it takes, and the sooner you can get started – the better! By deploying these technologies today on your shop floor, you will be able to establish baselines and collect data that will help you make more educated, data-based decisions in the future. It’s honestly never been easier!

Rather than a months-long process, FreePoint solutions can be installed non-invasively to any machine over the course of roughly 20 minutes – without the need for your IT people’s involvement. Once connected to the ShiftWorx platform, you can start purchasing whatever tablets, or LCD screens you need to visualize your data and engage your operators on the shop floor.

At FreePoint Technologies, this can all happen within 24 hours, and less than 20 minutes of machine downtime. To get a free quote or schedule a live demonstration, contact us today!

5 Ways You Can Customize Your IIoT Experience

As more manufacturers begin to transition to an IIoT environment, sometimes they may find an off-the-shelf solution just isn’t enough. At FreePoint, we think manufacturers deserve a custom solution as unique as their process.

To ensure manufacturers can take full advantage of their IIoT solutions, those solutions must be flexible, versatile and scalable. Flexible, customized software solutions can grow alongside your business, meaning you don’t have to keep purchasing additional solutions as your needs evolve.

In light of our recent acquisition of custom software development company: CoreSolutions Software – we have come up with 5 ways we can to customize your IIoT experience:

  1. Custom Modules
  2. Customized Production Scheduling
  3. Customized Dashboards
  4. System Integration
  5. Data Mobilization

Custom Modules

custom modulesMany IIoT solutions will come with a standardized set of features and functions to help manufacturers increase efficiency. Machine monitoring and downtime tracking are usually two of the most common features. However, by offering custom module development, we can develop unique applications that perfectly cater to your distinct workflows.

For example, our ShiftWorx Notifications module sends email and text alerts when a specific machine condition has been met. We can even customize the notification module to automatically trigger specific actions elsewhere in your system.

Customized Production Scheduling

For manufacturers looking to increase production capacity without purchasing new equipment or hiring additional employees – consider custom production scheduling. An asset to managers as well as operators, customized production scheduling allows individuals to prioritize the data most relevant to them. Management can focus on scheduling views and performance statistics while operators focus on task lists and work instructions. The best part about customized solutions is that they are tailored to fit your shops unique needs. Whether you want to:

  • Increase production capacity
  • Reduce changeover & startup times
  • Reduce time & material waste
  • Improve scheduling accuracy

Custom scheduling solutions can help get you there. From defect reporting, to ERP and MRP integration, custom solutions pack more of a punch then their off-the-shelf counterparts.

Customized Dashboards

Custom dashboards are another powerful means of obtaining actionable, impactful insights into your process. Every manufacturer is different, so it makes sense that their Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) would be as well. Rather than a one-size-fits-all solution, customizable dashboards give you the power to view the information that is most important in your shop, in real-time. Custom dashboards can also access data from across your organization, allowing you to more easily identify production trends and patterns, as well as areas of improvement.

System Integration

Another way we can customize manufacturer’s IIoT solutions is through custom system integrations. By giving manufacturers more flexibility, they can work across multiple connected systems and complete more tasks in less time. In addition, manufacturers will find custom integrations open the door for major process improvements. For example, by integrating IIoT solutions with ERP & MRP systems, manufacturers can supercharge their quality control, as well as their supply chain:

“If you can catch deviations from specifications when the product is being manufactured, you could easily stop and fix them. This would greatly minimize defective parts, if not completely eliminate it.”

ERP Software Blog

Data Mobilization

custom data mobilization

Data mobilization is also an avenue through which we can customize your IIoT solution. Through CoreSolutions’ mobile application development, we can provide efficient, versatile, and reliable access to your data, regardless of where you are. Make your machine data accessible from company tablets anywhere across the shop floor, or even from your cell phone for the times you are off-site.

Final Thoughts

Industry 4.0 solution packages that are scalable allow machine and equipment availability to be increased and processes to be optimized. If you’re interested in processes that provide lightning-fast cost savings, provide a competitive advantage, and offer valuable real-time insight into your OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness), you should consider machine monitoring.

Contact us to learn more about how we can create and customize an IIoT solution for you to call your own.