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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 fundamentally cloud-connects machines of any age, type or brand; although, it now opens up even greater flexibility via Kepware and direct machine controller connections. Machine connection is step one, and with FreePoint Connect it is easily managed in a web browser using ShiftWorx Plus MES software!

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
Our “Black Boxes” will continue to provide non-invasive, secure, and reliable connections to any type, age or brand of machine independent of machine PLC’s.

 

How FreePoint Connect Works Graphic (Click to Expand)

Contact Us today to learn more and see a demo.

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. 

Kanban & Lean Manufacturing: Are They Relevant Today: Part 2

In Part 1 of our blog series, we defined Lean manufacturing and Kanban’s association. Today, we take a look at Toyota, the company that pioneered the concept and we answer whether Lean and Kanban are still relevant.

PUSH and PULL Manufacturing

The main focus of JIT is to pull production through the process as the customer actually takes what they want. The ideal flow being a single part manufactured as required; although this is not always possible with many processes without significant redesign or investment. This is very different from what most companies have traditionally done.

Traditionally production processes are scheduled, raw materials ordered and then manufactured to create stock based on a forecast of what the customer is expected to order. This is push production and is driven very much by the materials being fed into the start of the process and all processes being controlled through a schedule or MRP. This typically produces products in large quantities or batches and ties up a huge amount of your capital in stock and Work in Progress (WIP).

Pull production however works in reverse, when a customer takes a product from the end of your production process a signal is then sent back down the line to trigger the production of the next part. Just as a supermarket will fill the empty shelf each preceding process in the flow will request the parts that it needs from its preceding process. This process is controlled through the use of a Kanban.

push and pull manufacturing freepoint technologies

from https://www.industryweek.com/cloud-computing/push-vs-pull-manufacturing-kanban-pull-system-right-your-company

Kanban at Toyota

Cards of the Kanban methodology are used throughout the Toyota plants to keep inventory management lean — no cluttered warehouses, and workshops with sufficient access to parts.

Imagine that your workshop installs Toyota RAV4 doors and there is a pack of 10 doors in a bin near your workspace to be installed one after another, onto new cars. When there are only 5 doors in the pack, you know that it is time to order new doors. But you don’t have to do anything. An inventory replenishment manager, who we’ll call “Mary” whose job it is to check inventory levels of all bins in your shop area, notices that there are only 5 doors remaining in your bin. This is a “signal” that lets Mary know to replenish your RAV4 doors bin. Now, you have the peace of mind that new doors will be manufactured by the time you have used the remaining 5 doors. By the time you are installing the last door, another pack of 10 doors arrives. The result: Doors are only ordered when needed.

Toyota Woodstock, Ontario Plant.

This is how the Kanban system works all over Toyota production floors. There are no warehouses with spare parts laying around for weeks or months. All the employees work upon requests and manufacture only the necessary amount of parts. If orders increase or decrease, production is modified accordingly. The main idea of Kanban methodology cards is to scale down the amount of work-in-progress (WIP). Use only what is needed.

The Problems With Kanban

Kanban systems are excellent for consistent production levels of consistent parts, but can be challenging when inconsistency is the rule. Such inconsistency can mean heavier than normal demand caused by a large order or an unusual rush of many orders for specific parts. A Kanban system cannot typically see heavy demand coming down the pipe, thus causing out-of-stock conditions. Even with companies that use Lean manufacturing techniques, a Kanban system typically requires a constant, complex reassessment of Kanban stocking levels for components because of inconsistency, seasonality and other factors.

“Inventory buffers are also useful when uncertainty is high and disruptions in the transportation network are frequent.”

For the sake of quality, inventory levels are driven to as close to zero as possible in the Kanban system. However, sometimes inventory buffers are needed to guard against not only poor quality items from suppliers but also poor quality from internal processes. Inventory buffers are also useful when uncertainty is high and disruptions in the transportation network are frequent.

Even though lean processes are still at the heart of most manufacturing operations worldwide and are increasingly important in other industry sectors, including distribution and financial services today, it pays to ask the questions, “Is lean still relevant?” and “How does a lean enterprise also embrace investment in new technologies like 3D printing and the Internet of Things?”

Fred Thomas writes in, It’s Time for a Lean Manufacturing Makeover, “While the concept and best practices of the Lean production system remain intact, the implementation on the plant floor faces a major facelift. That’s simply because the entire manufacturing dynamic has transformed to include new technology, new global competition, new government regulations, and a hyper-connected world of intelligent devices and social networks that enable seamless communication between companies and their customers.”

Thomas argues that in order for manufacturers to remain agile, Lean methodologies must adapt and change, otherwise organizations will remain stuck in the 1950s and competitors will vault ahead.

Lean-Here to Stay

So, are Lean and Kanban still relevant? In a word, yes.

Kanban is just one of the methods a manufacturer can utilize to create a lean facility operation. It is, however, a step towards the right direction and a step worth taking. Lean has proven to be a very powerful tool for improving manufacturing performance: higher throughput, lower costs, faster response and increased agility. Lean can be applied to direct production, supporting services, administrative and engineering activities, and just about anything else.

Lean is a singular focus on improvement, and making the most of all resources—from materials, equipment, and technology to the skills and experience of employees. Kanban has branched out of the manufacturing world and has been used as another method for applying agility to an organization. It’s commonly used for customer service teams, business teams and even in people’s personal lives to manage their small business or home life.

lean manufacturing freepoint technologies

Lean manufacturing has a proven track record in improving manufacturing performance.

Lean Manufacturing is as relevant today as it was nearly 70 years ago. And Continuous Improvement is achievable through the repetition of these principles. Lean Manufacturing even impacts Six Sigma, as Lean Six Sigma has evolved into an approach taken to reduce waste, improve efficiency and drive profitability. Worldwide, companies today are looking to their supply chains to find cost savings. Those cost savings can be found by negotiating purchase prices with suppliers, but they can also be found in process optimization. If through the Lean process of waste reduction, you can drive manufacturing cycle times down or reduce scrap — you’re saving your company money beyond the basic cost of goods reduction.

Today’s manufacturers need to be up-to-date on practices like Lean Manufacturing, IIoT, Predictive Maintenance, Machine Learning and so much more. Have questions? We have answers. Contact us today.

 

Kanban & Lean Manufacturing: Are They Relevant Today: Part 1

While there is no such thing as “the perfect production system”, Kanban is an uncomplicated yet effective system for creating products.

What is Kanban and Lean?

The word “Kanban” is of Japanese origin and literally translates to “signal card.” Its literal meaning is that of a flag or sign, when you see that flag you know that it is time to manufacture the next part. Kanbans can take many forms, but in most production facilities, they will use Kanban cards or bins to control the process.

Kanban is a visual manufacturing production scheduling system for lean manufacturing and just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing. As part of a pull system, it controls what is produced, in what quantity, and when. The goal of Kanban is to identify potential bottlenecks in your process and fix them so work can flow through it cost-effectively at an optimal speed or throughput. With Kanban, you only produce what the customer is asking for and nothing more. It is a system of signals that are used through the value stream to pull product from customer demand back to raw materials. A Kanban system ideally controls the entire value chain from the supplier to the end consumer. In this way, it helps avoid supply disruption and overstocking of goods at various stages of the manufacturing process.

Lean manufacturing or lean production involves the minimization of waste within a manufacturing system without sacrificing productivity. So Kanban is a method of lean manufacturing. 83% of teams practicing Lean use Kanban to visualize and actively manage their work.

The Origins of Kanban

In the past, shopkeepers had to retrieve each customer’s items

Interestingly, Lean Manufacturing and the Kanban concept all have their origins starting with the American grocery store chain, Piggly Wiggly in Memphis Tennessee, back in the 1940s.

If you were to travel back in time to the early 1900’s, you would see products stacked on high wall-shelves behind the main counter. Products were retrieved for you buy a man standing behind the counter who was known as the “store clerk.” Women, who did all of the shopping, would bring in their grocery lists, and the Clerk would gather and assemble all of their items.

But it was Piggly Wiggly, the first true self-service grocery store, that changed the way people shopped for food. Instead of putting the burden on the shopkeeper to retrieve each customer’s items, the customers were given the opportunity to peruse the aisles and pick out whichever goods they wished.

The Piggly Wiggly at 79 Jefferson Avenue, in Memphis Tennessee opened the first supermarket, changing the grocery retail business forever

And the shopkeepers’ new responsibilities? Instead of dealing with each individual customer’s needs, they now monitored the shelves, restocking items when the “signal card” or the signal—an empty shelf—appeared. Once they saw the signal, they’d simply go to the storeroom to refill the shelf. It’s basically still the same method you see in grocery stores today. Where they might have had a few hundred items in the 1930’s, your average supermarket these days keeps over 42,000 items in stock. Each item has a place. When one is removed and its barcode scanned, an electronic record is kept, inventory levels monitored, and items are reordered and restocked based on a maximum amount of space available. So if a shelf holds ten gallons of milk, you stock to the maximum quantity stockable.

From Tennessee Grocery Stores to Japanese Factory Floors

Kanban and lean manufacturing freepoint technologies

Taiichi Ohno, Industrial Engineer, and Father of the Toyota Production System

During the 1950’s, Toyota engineers and executives paid a visit to Dearborn, Michigan to Ford’s River Rouge Factory. At the time Ford and GM were the largest automakers in the world and Toyota was not even a blip on the radar. After the visit, Toyota concluded that while Ford was massive in size and impressive, Toyota didn’t have the resources to match Ford’s production. So Toyota sought out another manufacturing method.

Just-in-Time (JIT) was implemented and designed at Toyota by Taiichi Ohno who took over 15 years to perfect their system. During the 1970’s many western visitors would bring back Kanban cards and want to implement the systems within their own manufacturing facilities, often with little real understanding of how they worked. It was not until the 1980’s that Kanban control really started to be understood in the West. In American supermarkets like the Piggly Wiggly, that Toyota managers discovered a different set of tools to govern their manufacturing processes: tight control over inventory quantities and storage space, and a better way to get service to the end-user (the milk rack). This was the origin of the material pull system. When you wander into any modern grocery store today, you are seeing the Kanban system in action.

When implementing factory floor solutions, choose a technology partner who understands lean manufacturing and knows how to enhance your technology solutions. At FreePoint Technologies, our team will ensure your plant has everything it needs to meet your demands and more. Contact us to learn more today.

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Join us in Part 2 of this blog series where we answer the question, “Are Lean Manufacturing and Kanban still relevant?”

Six Ways Machine Monitoring Can Save You Money Today

In every manufacturing process, there are two elements; value, and non-value. Both cost time and money, but only one will yield returns. Machine monitoring systems connected to IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) technology is the best way to capitalize on value-added processes.

Read more

Case Study: Machine Shop Increases Efficiency By 69% In One Year

The following case study demonstrates how FreePoint Technologies has successfully helped a customer increase efficiency by 69% over a one-year time span and saved them $325/day.

The customer is a modern machine shop located in the border region in Mexico. The shop has 4 Electrical Discharge Machines (EDM) that are critical to the company’s production. The following figures demonstrate the impact of FreePoint Technologies’ system.   

The image below (the before scenario) shows pertinent productivity information from these 4 machines from a typical day in October 2015. The blue bars illustrate the EDM machines’ run times for a 24 hour period and the white gaps indicate the setup time between each run. Both the run (blue bar) & setup times (white bar) vary depending on the job. The shop, in the before scenario, required 24 hours of scheduled production time to produce a total of 43.5 hours of “value adding” activity using the 4 machines on that day.

 

The screenshot below illustrates the exact same 4 EDM machines shown one year later (October 2016). Similar to the previous scenario, the blue bars still vary in accordance with the jobs being run on each machine, however, the setup times (the white gaps between the blue bars) are now consistently smaller than the 2015 snapshot. The result from integrating FreePoint Technologies’ system is that less time is being lost between productive “value adding” periods. For the customer, this means that more value adding activity (specifically 57 hours on this day) occurred in less scheduled production time (two 8.5 hour shifts vs. three 8 hour shifts). All of the recovered lost machine time was then aggregated, and the machines were freed up for an entire shift. Not only does this decrease production cost for parts being produced, but it increases the plant’s capacity and ability to take on more work.

 

The image below compares the month of October 2015 to the same month, one year later in 2016. As illustrated in the graph, every day of the month in October 2015 had machine activity, meaning that employees were in the shop running the machines. In 2016, the machine activity occurred only on weekdays, freeing up most weekend shifts as well. This allowed the customer to increase their capacity and take on more business. The machine’s efficiency went up from 33% on a typical 24 hour day in 2015 to 56% on a typical 17 hour day in 2016 representing an increase of 69%.

At that rate of productivity improvement, the system as implemented paid for itself in 20 days, and the cost of the ShiftWorx subscription is recovered in the first day of every month. It’s hard to beat that kind of ROI!

For more information on how a FreePoint system can benefit your plant, please contact paulh@getfreepoint.com