On the Path toward Operational Excellence in the 21st century and...

On the Path toward Operational Excellence in the 21st century and Shaping the future of Manufacturing

Christian Haupt, Director of Global Business Development Technology, STAEDTLER

Christian Haupt, Director of Global Business Development Technology, STAEDTLER

Published in 1990, “The Machine that Changed the World” has set the standards for organising operational processes according to Lean philosophies. Later onwards and still today, countless companies have adapted their business systems to organise processes more flexibly and efficiently according to Lean criteria.

In the mid-seventies started, with a higher impact throughout the first decade of the 21stcentury, enhancements in the Information Communication Technologies (ICT) contribute to reaching another level of efficiency and flexibility.

Those advances in connectivity, additional to big data and the expansion of the (industrial) Internet of Things have led to new use cases of intelligent manufacturing technology. By now, data is ubiquitous across the organisation, and the convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) enables opportunities that have not been possible before.

Already a higher number of companies (e.g., McKinsey Lighthouse Manufacturers) moved beyond their pilot areas for the deployment of Industry 4.0, smart or virtual factories initiatives. However, the majority is still in the beginner phase. Since the variety of keywords regarding smart factories is enormous, what technologies should you focus on to stay ahead in the productivity frontier? Which processes to select to start your journey? Who to assign responsibility to?

Here are a few recommendations based on my experience.

1. Ideally, combine the ownership for continuous improvement, digitalisation, and automation in a holistic view.

Continuous improvement aims to improve processes/systems according to Lean/ Six Sigma/Operational Excellence philosophies (eliminating waste). Similar automation and digitisation are aiming to improve processes/systems based on technical enhancements. Do not divide responsibilities (continuous improvement engineer, automation expert, digital transformation expert, etc.) because you do not have the right skilled people. Always combine ownership; you also only have one process!

"If you have chosen your pilot area, it is all about choosing the use cases for new technologies and bringing technology to the people"

2. Always start in a Pilot area before scaling, but chose the area carefully.

Implementing new technologies (Robotics, 3D Printing, AGV, etc.) or improving business processes(Pull Systems, Shop Floor Management, etc.) is always challenging. There are resulting questions regarding the technology/systematic, the process changes, and always something happens which has not been foreseen. Before implementing, the technology should be tried out in a pilot area. This area needs to be chosen carefully regarding the people involved (open mindset), the technological scope, as well as the environment. Ideally, the area should reflect an entire business process (to see the business impact as a whole) and not only a silo within the process (e.g., a functional department). A good starting point for identifying the area would be based on the Porter Value Chain Analysis. In any case, avoid functional silo thinking!

3. Start with Lean tools to focus on the process—have the end in mind.

If you have chosen your pilot area, it is all about choosing the use cases for new technologies. Looking to your process through the eyes of Lean is enabling you to dig into improvement opportunities. Value Stream Mapping is the perfect tool to screen the process regarding the efficiency level, opportunities for improving flexibility, and the potentials to increase employees’ motivation. Afterwards, it is the starting point to think about technical enhancements: Assembling the part and moving it into the box could be done with a collaborative robot. Moving the box to the storage area could be done with an AGV. Supervising the press with a Manufacturing Execution System could show potentials for improving efficiency. And so you will always find opportunities. The key to success is a combined exercise from the people responsible for the production and continuous improvement, learning to see process opportunities.

4. Technology scouting and maturity assessment provide a vision.

In parallel to the shop floor initiatives, it is imperative to pursue a systematic technology scouting. This is important for various reasons. First, it ensures that people stay ahead of technology. They understand technology as well as use cases. Deploying a maturity assessment for various technologies helps build a holistic view of possibilities and deploy them accordingly. Exemplary for the dimension of intelligent maintenance, the data-driven aspect is shown below. Also, it is essential to show a vision to the people, to challenge and stimulate continuously. Technology scouting enables you to stay ahead of technology and continuously analyse your processes according to use cases.

5. Develop People at the same pace than improving processes

Technologies play a crucial role in the interaction between people and equipment, and they need to be adapted to fulfill people’s needs. Overall, Digitalisation not only changes the way of working, but it also accelerates the speed of change that people are facing. This leads to three new capabilities that need to be tackled: new skills and competencies, leadership styles, and organizational capabilities. It is all about bringing technology to people.

Bringing all Together: People – Processes – Technologies

• Always combine ownership; you also only have one process!
• In any case, avoid functional siloed thinking!
• Learning to see process opportunities.
• Technology scouting enables you to stay ahead of technology and continuously analyse your processes according to use cases.
• It is all about bringing technology to people.

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