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Jonathan O’Hare

Management

Get the Scoop on Closed-Loop Manufacturing

How manufacturing intelligence uses the digital thread

Published: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - 12:01

Closed-loop manufacturing and the digital thread are new buzzwords being thrown around a lot these days, but do we understand their significance? In all manufacturing processes, there are three key elements consisting of “sensing, thinking, and acting” that drive your manufacturing productivity. Most of us in the quality field think of sensing as only a measurement system and the results as their sole contribution; however, there is much more to consider about the function of this key element in the overall production workflow.

The importance of sensing in the closed-loop manufacturing process

In the ideal manufacturing environment, sensing, thinking, and acting are in a closed-loop system, so that each element supports the next with its output in an uninterrupted fashion. Therefore, without the sensing part there can be no information available to think about and then act upon. Together these elements form a closed-loop process that is essential for repetitive manufacturing. However, processes such as these cannot realistically exist because they cannot manage themselves in a completely closed-loop fashion. There is always a need for adjustment and for human intervention throughout the manufacturing process. It is for this reason that external workflows are needed to help support a continuous production process. With sensing, this means that implementation, execution, and maintenance of the inspection plan are all on the critical path for continuous production.

Implementing sensing

Implementing sensing starts with a good plan. A good inspection plan, like any good plan, must begin with the design requirements of the product being inspected. These design requirements come from the computer-aided design (CAD) model, and this marks the beginning of the digital thread. At this stage, the design requirements may be assumed accurate, however, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes design requirements are incorrectly represented as geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) and cause difficulties later during plan execution. Incorrect representations of GD&T can come from misinterpretation from drawings or even mistakes in the CAD’s product manufacturing information. Fortunately, this can all be prevented by using software tools to verify the validity of the GD&T callouts before they are ever converted into measurement instructions.

The inspection planning phase is one of the most critical pieces for ensuring continuous production. Not only must an inspection plan provide accurate results from which manufacturing decisions can be made, but it also must be created, executed, and maintained in an efficient manner so that production is not held up. The efficiency with which an inspection plan can be implemented has two important aspects: One is the efficiency of the technical tools in the software needed to create a valid inspection plan, and the other is the operational efficiency of creating and deploying that plan.

Advancements in software are changing the way quality managers think about inspection workflows. Software advancements enable greater usage of product manufacturing information. In addition to these technical challenges, better planning is also needed for operational efficiency. It is often that multiple company roles are involved in the implementation of an inspection workflow and for this reason there is a significant benefit in making these separate roles as easy to manage as possible.

How thinking and acting close the loop

Once sensing is implemented it becomes easy to close the loop in the manufacturing process. Sensing provides the feedback necessary to analyze the process and make decisions for maintaining performance during production. The analysis is the thinking part. Analysis often involves statistical process control (SPC) software, which requires large amounts of information for statistical certainty in calculations. This means that data acquired through sensing must be comprehensive, accurate, and timely to be effective. This is where having an intelligently implemented inspection plan is extremely important, because it is at this stage that a successful process is determined. All subsequent steps in the process depend on good information, and gathering good information is intelligence. The final step of closing the loop, acting on the analysis of the measured data, is then reduced to a prescribed response that is automatic and absolute. In summary, sensing is the most critical step because it is the prerequisite for all process control and without it, thinking and acting cannot close the loop.

Manufacturing intelligence’s role in the digital thread

How does manufacturing intelligence play a role in the digital thread? Manufacturers that embrace manufacturing intelligence solutions like metrology (the study of measurement) are a step ahead of those who overlook this powerful center of quality and productivity. The metrology options today are light years ahead of yesterday’s tools, with easier-to-use software and hardware interfaces. Advancements in the field of metrology reflect the manufacturing industry’s focus on innovation, and the plan of improving productivity in manufacturing. But there is more to the story than that. Data-driven processes integrated throughout the product-development cycle are the wave of things to come in the “smart factory,” and metrology OEMs are masters of that universe.

The idea here is that systems will continuously collect and process data during production operations, providing speed and confidence for fast decision making and rapid responses to shop floor issues. Advanced manufacturers who embrace a digital thread will make their operations more flexible and adaptable for a new level of quality control. Moreover, it puts manufacturers on a fresh path toward greater productivity and product excellence.

It is impossible to know this exactly, but making smart investments in the tools necessary to build a real-time data feedback loop into your operation is a strong first step. This is a place where strategically integrated manufacturing intelligence tools can help provide the data your organization needs to collect, understand, and act on changing conditions in your manufacturing facility.

By integrating your measurement intelligence and software suite, your operation is assured that your quality process is world class, while also driving productivity. Leveraging closed-loop corrective actions linked to engineer/operator collaboration tools, your facility has the solution it needs to deliver quality, affordable components on time.

Editor’s note: Join Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence experts Jonathan O’Hare (technology expert) and Shaun Wissner (software communications) along with host Dirk Dusharme (editor in chief of Quality Digest) for the webinar, “Sensing your Way Through Closed-Loop Manufacturing,” on Thursday, May 4, 2017, at 11 a.m. Pacific / 2 p.m. Eastern. Register here.

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About The Author

Jonathan O’Hare’s picture

Jonathan O’Hare

Jonathan O’Hare has more than 20 years of experience in manufacturing, beginning as an applications engineer at Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Co., followed by roles in product development and product management within Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. O’Hare’s latest role focuses on the development of measurement software solutions for industrial computed tomography systems in cooperation with technology partner YXLON International. O’Hare holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Rhode Island.