Benefits of agile manufacturing for smart factories

Bring your lean production system into the digital age. Implement an agile production system to improve worker productivity and save costs. In this article we define the key characteristics of an agile production system, introduce our four-step approach for implementing such a system and list the expected benefits.

Lean manufacturing is about removing waste in all planning and production processes. By adopting lean manufacturing processes, organizations usually improve material handling, reduce inventory and improve quality with the ultimate goal to increase customer satisfaction. But in challenging times such as now, the requirements for manufacturers are changing. 

The corona pandemic and volatile market conditions require new ways of working in manufacturing. Of course, the top priority is to ensure employee safety while maintaining efficient operations. In addition, factories have to cope with changing customer demands and disruptions in the supply chain while asked to deliver high product variants in small lots and just-in-time. This is where agile manufacturing steps in.

What is needed now? Manufacturers need to adapt their production systems to pave the way for future-proof operations. The time of static resource planning and standard operating procedures is over. Dynamic shop floor management for faster processes and the ability to react to unforeseen events become critical factors for successful manufacturing operations.  Lean manufacturing systems must be transformed into agile production systems for agile manufacturing. 

As this may sound very buzz-wordy, I would like to give you a few examples of how to create an agile production system in a short time and what the expected benefits look like.

What are the key characteristics of agile manufacturing?

For us at WORKERBASE, agile manufacturing is about the following key requirements:

  • Create and adapt production processes flexibly: an agile production system provides the ability to define, build and deploy production processes in only a few minutes. Smart devices such as smartphones, tablets or smartwatches provide an easy-to-use interface to such processes and allow the collection of real-time process data with manufacturing apps. As a result, you get a powerful tool to quickly react to the ups and downs every production facility has. This is in contrast to traditional ERP and MES systems where it usually takes weeks to implement change requests. With an agile production system, no IT department is needed for simple changes. 
  • Continuously improve with real-time data: real-time process data is used for fast improvement cycles. Data analytics is the basis for predictive analytics operations and enables organizations to react to incidents even before they happen. By using smart device, your employees collect all sorts of production data directly from the shop floor and you gain complete transparency about the status of your production.
  • Deploy employees effectively: the skill-based coordination of work allows to schedule the right task to the right people at the right time. This ensures the best-qualified people are working on the right tasks. In addition, your operators can pull training sessions on-demand, which enables you to upskill people while operations are running. This increases overall productivity and flexibility and leads to a more resilient production setup as you can distribute crucial skills among your workforce.

How to implement agile manufacturing in a short time?

By using a modern IT system such as the WORKERBASE Connected Worker platform, an agile production system can be implemented in a short time. WORKERBASE provides mobile workflows on smartphones, tablets, and smartphones to create easy-to-use manufacturing apps  for industrial workers. The Connected Worker software integrates with your existing IT systems through standard interfaces and automatically manages all workflow steps. With the AppBuilder, digital processes can be built without programming in a matter of minutes. This usually includes business rules that assign workers to jobs using a wide range of criteria such as availability, location, skillsets or output of other workflows.

The implementation of the WORKERBASE Connected Worker solution usually involves four steps:

  • Select template: Select from a library of proven app templates, e.g. for machine interruptions, machine setup, support call, material management etc.
  • Create manufacturing apps: Modify apps without programming using a web-browser. Set-up  business rules to create multi-user workflow chains
  • Execute workflows: Share work instructions on smart devices. Collect data from manual processes.
  • Manage work in real-time: Assign tasks to the right person, at the right time with the right context information. Analyze data and dynamically improve processes.
Four steps to implement an agile production system

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Benefits of agile manufacturing 

With an agile production system, you can transform static operational processes into flexible production processes and create a connected Workforce. Here are a few application examples:

  • Machine interruptions: Get rid of static Andon boards and use mobile devices to alert operators in real-time in case of machine downtimes.
  • Material management: Implement efficient just-in-time material management processes by sending a material request from tablets and sending those requests on the smartphones of the right people. You can improve queueing and routing by optimizing pearl chains and delivering materials just in time.
  • Machine change-over and setup: Use step-by-step on the smartphone for efficient machine setups and change-overs. Thus you can react to unforeseen events and implement efficient SMED routines.

The business benefits of an agile production system are multifold and add value on multiple levels:

The individual worker becomes a connected worker and gets personalized instructions on his personal device. Connected workers are empowered to work smarter and can solve potential problems in innovative ways. Through mobile training on the smartphone, continuous learning is enabled. Employees can pull a training session in line with customer needs and can self-train for new skills on-the-job.

For teams, increased collaboration usually results in better team performance. Teams are transformed into a Connected Workforce. Know-how sharing and supporting each other is facilitated. The automatic and flexible coordination of tasks allows working in larger and more diverse teams. 

For the company, an agile production system results in increased factory output, better workforce utilization, operational flexibility, reduced production costs and increased customer satisfaction. Companies can produce more with reduced costs:

  • Increased factory output by improving productivity and OEE
  • Better workforce utilization by skill-based work coordination and training-on-the job
  • Increased operational flexibility by reducing lot sizes, change over and waiting times
  • Reduced production costs by less WIP and inventory
  • Increased customer satisfaction by improved quality and schedule adherence

If you would like to hear more about the benefits of agile manufacturing, manufacturing apps and our Connected Worker platform, please contact us. We look forward to talk about your individual requirements.

In the meantime, you might want to check out the following examples for agile production apps:

Examples for agile manufacturing apps

  1. Andon system: the WORKERBASE Andon system allows to manage operational issues on the shopfloor and shorten response times. Operators can send each other messages through tablets and recieve such messages on their smartphone. Compared to traditional ANDON systems the  efficiency of  operations can be greatly improved, in most cases by 20% or more.
  2. Multi machine operation: Alert operators in case of machine downtimes, especially for machine parks across larger distances. This reduces reaction times by alerting the operator on his smartphone.
  3. Machine change over: Leverage digital devices to enhance and document machine changeover processes
Digital Andon solution summary

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