The fast-paced manufacturing sector demands proficiency and better processes, challenging cost-effectiveness and time efficiency. Therefore, digitalisation and software can be of great help to manufacturing companies overcome challenges and get better results.
Jason Chester, Director of Global Channel Program at InfinityQS, offers more insight into how Statistical Process Control (SPC) software and digital services can help manufacturers worldwide.
Can you briefly explain some of the services InfinityQS provides?
Over the past three decades, InfinityQS has developed the most recognised and capable Statistical Process Control (SPC) and Quality Management Solution available to date.
We have leveraged over 30-plus years of manufacturing and quality experience to launch the next-generation Manufacturing and Quality Intelligence Solution - Enact. This cloud-based solution provides manufacturers of all sizes, across all industries, with a cost-effective platform that can radically transform the efficiency, productivity and quality of their manufacturing operations, and at the same time reduce cost, waste and risk.
In particular, how does InfinityQS and the insight it can provide help to make cost savings, improve compliance and quality, and help with strategic decisions?
At the core is our data collection and analysis capabilities which enable manufacturers to collect and analyse data in real-time. This can help manufacturers to pinpoint areas where exceptions, problems or inefficiencies are either occurring or are likely to occur.
It is all underpinned by enabling manufacturers to model their entire processes and product specifications, quality management policies and procedural workflows, ensuring that they are followed correctly to meet compliance.
How can factories avoid implementing technology ‘for technology’s sake’ and make sure they are only using solutions that truly make a difference?
Typically, service partners are very engaged with their clients and understand the problems or opportunities they face – they can help manufacturers identify solutions to address underlying issues or objectives. As a result, all parties involved have a better understanding as to why a particular technology solution is adopted and the benefits and business value it can provide.
Enhanced client satisfaction, brand equity, increased market share, talent acquisition, risk mitigation, or even the ability to enter new markets/ new business models, are some of the benefits that sustained technology investment can bring, which are transformative in the longer-term. Ultimately, technology in and of itself rarely delivers value, it is the capabilities that it provides that adds value.
What are some examples of new technology you are seeing manufacturers use to create a ‘smart factory’?
We see new technologies emerge every day that enable the ‘Smart Factory’ or the ‘Digital Factory’ of the future –often variations of the same theme. However, it is the rapid confluence and maturity of existing technologies that is making the “factory of the future” more of a reality today. Although not ‘new’, (as technology rarely is), their combined capabilities open-up new opportunities.
The miniaturisation and commoditisation of digital sensors – and devices and networks which enable data to be instantly transmitted – can perform relatively sophisticated computational functions without a centralised service (part of the edge computing paradigm). Because of this, we’re seeing exponential growth in data volumes being generated, which require greater bandwidth to store and move data around, improving internet-working technologies.
Thankfully, the latest advancements in Big Data technology is helping us achieve that, but it is useless if it’s not actionable. The final piece, which has yet to mature, is cognitive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Prescriptive and Predictive Analytics.
Do you see any new technologies increasing in popularity for the industry over the next few years?
While we talk about Industry 4.0 and IIoT, the majority of manufacturers do not even have the basics in place to enable digital transformation programmes.
Therefore, I think that it will be core industrial information technologies that will significantly increase in popularity in the near future – foundational technologies like Data Collection, Manufacturing, Quality and Process Intelligence and Analytics technologies, precursors and prerequisites to the factory of the future.
What are the biggest challenges in introducing new technology in manufacturing?
These challenges fall into two broad categories. ‘Pre-investment’ is deciding which new technologies to invest in, which is a real challenge faced by decision-makers.
On countless occasions, I have been in discussions with manufacturing senior executives, puzzled by their poor productivity levels, or overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Yet when you step through the factory door, it is like stepping back in time to a day when pencils and clipboards ruled supreme. When you visit a very progressive manufacturer that is aggressively implementing very capable solutions into the shop floor, it has a vibrancy that is hard to portray in words.
The second category is the ‘post-investment’ decision. This is where manufacturers have decided to invest and now have to deploy successfully. If organisations understand their objectives and expectations upfront, it will help determine if the outcome is successful and what needs to be done to increase the chances of success. It is also important that everyone is involved in the project – It is surprising how many projects fail because of a lack a plan.
Is it now more necessary than ever to recruit staff who are adaptable in the manufacturing industry?
I think it is essential. Attracting and retaining the talent that will help manufacturers adapt to new IT approaches is paramount, and failure to do so will jeopardise the success of future projects.
How do IoT, IIoT and smart monitoring impact manufacturers on their automation journey?
These technologies enable manufacturers to make the transition from process automation to optimisation, the critical distinction as to where manufacturing is heading in the future.
Even though we’ve been doing automation for several decades, we still have unacceptable levels of waste amongst automated processes – while some process may be automated, it does not mean they are optimised. To achieve optimisation, we need to monitor processes closely and react to what we observe on a real-time basis.
Previously that cost of improving a process has been pretty high due to the high cost of traditional architectures, such as PLC’s and SCADA type solutions. But the commoditisation of IIoT devices coupled with cloud-computing is now lowering that bar so it is becoming impossible for manufacturers to ignore.
Finally, is there anything you want to share about the company’s future plans – will you be looking to build new partnerships, expand geographically, or add even more services to your offering?
We will be building new partnerships with a wide variety of organisations, whether they are service providers or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
We aim to create a global collaborative partner ecosystem which can support manufacturers in transforming their operations, regardless of their location, industry or size. From an Enact perspective, it is truly a next-generation Manufacturing and Quality Intelligence Platform, and we will be continuing to invest aggressively in ongoing innovations to meet the needs of manufacturers now and well into the future.