Industry 4.0 implementation helping enhance lean manufacturing
Lean manufacturing has become a goal for many manufacturers as they aim to become more agile and less wasteful. While lean practices can have significant benefits, complicated processes like commercial boiler maintenance and a lack of visibility can make them challenging. Industry 4.0 can help.
Industry 4.0 refers to widescale industrial internet of things (IIoT) implementation. This practice combines traditional operational technology (OT) like industrial machinery with data-centric information technology (IT) like remote sensors. It involves turning industrial workplaces into interconnected, data-driven environments, providing the visibility that lean manufacturing needs.
Here are five ways that Industry 4.0 can and will enhance lean practices.
More Data for Ongoing Improvement
Continuous improvement is a central tenet of lean manufacturing. If manufacturers hope to improve their processes, though, they need to know where opportunities for improvement lie. Industry 4.0 can provide that information by collecting data from sensors and connected machinery throughout the workplace.
IIoT devices can provide data to create a digital twin of a workplace. This digital twin helps visualize each process’s impact on overall productivity or quality, highlighting areas that need improvement. After discovering which areas need to change, manufacturers can use these digital models to find the optimal path forward.
Digital twins let manufacturers run virtual “what if?” scenarios. By adjusting various processes in the digital twin, manufacturers can see which changes will result in the most significant improvements. They can then ensure their ongoing improvement initiatives will, in fact, improve workflows.
Faster Incident Response
Continuous improvement relies on historical data, but Industry 4.0 also provides helpful real-time insights. IIoT networks can provide data as they collect it, alerting workers of notable events or readings as they occur. This real-time visibility can enable faster incident response, minimizing disruptions and waste, another lean principle.
Many manufacturing issues are fixable if employees can respond fast enough. Without ongoing data collection, that’s a significant challenge since workers don’t have the time to monitor every machine continually. Industry 4.0 solves that problem by automatically collecting data to alert workers to issues as they arise.
Some manufacturers have been able to respond to incidents 75% faster after implementing IIoT systems like this. With such significant response time improvements, facilities can eliminate many disruptions. They can solve problems before they jeopardize a product’s quality or cause significant delays.
Increased Machine Uptime
This real-time data can also eliminate disruptions and waste by improving machine uptime. IIoT sensors within machines can predict when they may fail, alerting workers to maintain them before they break. This practice, called predictive maintenance, can reduce downtime by 35 to 45%, according to the Department of Energy.
Early, specific warnings are crucial for processes like commercial boiler maintenance. Feed and return pumps, for example, are designed to match specific boiler systems, so finding the right replacement part is essential. IIoT sensors can determine which part in which system is in danger of failing, then tell workers or even order the necessary part automatically.
Another advantage of these data-based repair schedules is that they enable need-based maintenance. With this visibility, manufacturers can eliminate unnecessary repairs that traditional maintenance schedules would entail. Consequently, they minimize downtime, improving overall efficiency and eliminating time waste.
Improved Inventory Visibility
Inventory management is another essential but often challenging aspect of lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturers must keep inventory to a minimum to reduce waste, but doing so requires significant visibility into current and incoming needs. Industry 4.0 provides the data and reporting tools necessary to minimize inventory while meeting ongoing demand.
Industry 4.0 technologies like radio frequency identification (RFID) provide informative real-time data about inventory numbers and location. This timely information is a prerequisite for just-in-time manufacturing, showing manufacturers how much inventory they can afford to decrease. As demand shifts over a year, data will highlight emerging trends, letting manufacturers adjust their inventory accordingly.
This inventory visibility can also reduce time waste in processes like picking. Workers can use RFID systems to pinpoint exactly where any needed items are, retrieving them faster. The results are impressive, reducing picking time by 60% or more in some cases.
Data-Driven Quality Control
Industry 4.0 also enables more effective quality control systems. At their most basic, Industry 4.0 technologies like machine vision systems can recognize defects faster and more accurately than humans by comparing items to data on quality products. Connected technologies can go further, too, preventing defects before they arise.
Data from all of the machines in a workflow can help pinpoint the root causes of defects. Over time, these interconnected systems will recognize trends in product quality, narrowing down where problems arise. This contextual data can help manufacturers address key issues, adjusting workflows to fix defects at their source.
As with many data use cases, these analytics systems will become more accurate the longer manufacturers use them. More data leads to more context and, thus, more accurate results. Consequently, the more IIoT technologies manufacturers implement, the faster and more accurately they can address defects.
Industry 4.0 Enables Better Lean Practices
Lean manufacturing is a highly beneficial goal, but traditional processes make it difficult to implement. Industry 4.0 makes these benefits attainable, letting manufacturers experience the full benefits of lean practices. Going lean is certainly possible without these technologies, but it’s far more challenging and the results are far less substantial.
As the world becomes more digitally driven and agile, so too must manufacturers. By implementing Industry 4.0 technologies, they can take their lean practices further, meeting the growing needs of a rapidly advancing world.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, a magazine exploring how innovations change our world. She has over four years experience writing articles in the industrial and tech sectors.