Innovation Article

Eric Stoop’s picture

By: Eric Stoop

Data can transform manufacturing. It’s also a term that continues to prompt discussions within the industry. People have been saying it for years now, and there is plenty of empirical evidence: Data are the way forward in business generally and manufacturing in particular.

But right now, when people talk about data, they often mean either data analytics or automation using artificial intelligence (AI), a technology that is ‘fed’ with data. Often, these discussions focus on marketing and the customer experience, or on cutting business costs by automating specific processes.

All of these things are important, and many of them can be useful to manufacturing businesses, but they don’t entirely represent the potential of data in manufacturing.

What’s more, amidst talk of crunching numbers and automation, it has become too easy to lose track of the human element. But most plants still rely heavily on human behavior, and on processes undertaken by people. If these aren’t done correctly, the business will become inefficient at best, and catastrophically dysfunctional or dangerous at worst.

Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

By: Thomas R. Cutler

More than 80 percent of U.S. food manufacturing plants operating today were built more than 20 years ago and may lack safety features. The average age of manufacturing assets and equipment currently in operation in the United States, according to IndustryWeek, is close to 20 years, and since 1990, the age of assets has virtually doubled.

This means equipment such as conveyors, pallet jacks, and tuggers represent myriad potential safety hazards. Addressing those issues means that more maintenance, more labor, more training, and more certifications are required, all of which come with a steep price tag.

Eric Weisbrod’s picture

By: Eric Weisbrod

The idea of digital transformation can be scary. The growth of technology is outpacing a comfortable pace of adoption for many manufacturers. But remaining content with the status quo often means being left behind. Digital transformation has become an imperative to give manufacturing organizations the flexibility and agility required to overcome business disruptions and adapt to rapidly changing and demanding global markets.

Digital transformation of quality management is a process that depends on something you already have: quality data. Your quality management system is key to optimizing all your quality operations, including supplier and materials management, production processes, quality checks, packaging, and shipping.

InfinityQS calls this holistic approach “manufacturing optimization.” It starts with improving the way you use data to answer the strategic, big-picture questions that truly matter to your business.

Limits of the status quo

The barriers to transformation are often a result of operational and resource challenges that typically boil down to one thing: everyone’s plate is already full. Whether managing and maintaining servers and IT projects, or running day-to-day production, no one has the time to take on new transformation projects.

Steve Wise’s picture

By: Steve Wise

The importance of data analysis in manufacturing operations can’t be overstated. Over the years, manufacturers have used statistical process control (SPC) methods and tools to study historical data and reveal differences between comparable items: shifts, products, machines, processes, plants, lot codes, and more.

The foundational benefit of statistical methods is predicting future behavior from historical data. That’s why control charts, box-and-whisker plots, Pareto charts, and the like are so valuable: They indicate that if processes are not changed, then performance (positive or negative) will continue as it is.

Control charts are brilliant tools for assessing performance over time, and their related “control limits” are predictions of normal future behavior. The problem is that many SPC software products struggle to move beyond just data collection to offer truly insightful data analysis.

Jason Chester’s picture

By: Jason Chester

Before we get into a case study about how enterprisewide SPC software would work on both the shop floor and the C-suite, let’s talk about a long-held bias about “blue-collar” workers: That because they’ve traditionally been associated with manual labor, they should use manual tools; “white-collar” front-office workers, on the other hand, need the slick technology tools.

Imagine walking around the offices of a large manufacturing organization and finding salespeople managing customers’ information using a Rolodex. In a planning meeting, the CEO is using acetates on an overhead projector. In the procurement office, staff are issuing purchase orders using a Telex machine.

Now imagine walking the plant floor at that same manufacturer. The production supervisor is writing machine settings for the next shift on a board next to the machine. The quality engineer is writing the results of a critical quality check on a clipboard with a blunt pencil. A bunch of people stand around murmuring, scratching their heads, and wondering why a machine isn’t working properly.

In the first example, you might think you’d traveled back in time. The scenes are absurd. But the second example is a common reality.

Eric Weisbrod’s picture

By: Eric Weisbrod

In recent months, we’ve learned that manufacturing during a global health crisis puts organizations under immense pressure to maintain operational efficiency while upholding product quality and employee safety.

Initially, organizations focused simply on taking the steps required to survive. However, as organizations around the globe have pivoted to overcome those initial challenges, manufacturers are taking the opportunity to explore how they will not just survive but become more resilient—even thrive—going forward.

Recent operational challenges have shined a light on existing process weaknesses and technology limitations. Manufacturers are taking their cue and proactively identifying opportunities to optimize processes, empower workers, and make operations across the organization more effective.

Enact, InfinityQS’ cloud-native quality intelligence platform, offers plant leadership a variety of ways to make their operations more effective. Here are six Enact benefits that can help your organization make critical shifts that are necessary for the future of manufacturing.

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Julio D'Arcy’s picture

By: Julio D'Arcy

In my synthetic chemistry lab, we have worked out how to convert the red pigment in common bricks into a plastic that conducts electricity, and this process enabled us to turn bricks into electricity storage devices. These brick supercapacitors could be connected to solar panels to store rechargeable energy. Supercapacitors store electric charge, in contrast to batteries, which store chemical energy.

Brick’s porous structure is ideal for storing energy because pores give bricks more surface area than solid materials have, and the greater the surface area, the more electricity a supercapacitor material can hold. Bricks are red because the clay they’re made from contains iron oxide, better known as rust, which is also important in our process.

We fill the pores in bricks with an acid vapor that dissolves the iron oxide and converts it to a reactive form of iron that makes our chemical syntheses possible. We then flow a different gas through the cavities to fill them with a sulfur-based material that reacts with iron. This chemical reaction leaves the pores coated with an electrically conductive plastic, PEDOT.

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Amitrajeet Batabyal’s picture

By: Amitrajeet Batabyal

Arguing against globalization is like arguing against the laws of gravity, said former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Globalization, the international trade in goods and services with minimal barriers between countries, may seem inevitable as the world’s economies become more interdependent.

Properly regulated, globalization can be a powerful force for social good. For wealthy nations, globalization can mean less expensive goods, additional spending, and a higher standard of living. For those who live and work in poorer nations, globalization can lead to greater prosperity with the power to reduce child labor, increase literacy, and enhance the economic and social standing of women.

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Multiple Authors
By: Sridhar Kota, Glenn Daehn

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed glaring deficiencies in the U.S. manufacturing sector’s ability to provide necessary products—especially amidst a crisis. It’s been five months since the nation declared a national emergency, yet shortages of test kit components, pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, and other critical medical supplies persist.

Globalization is at the heart of the problem. With heavy reliance on global supply chains and foreign producers, the pandemic has interrupted shipping of parts and materials to nearly 75 percent of U.S. companies.

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Multiple Authors
By: Tom Siegfried, Knowable Magazine

It’s Stardate 47025.4, in the 24th century. Starfleet’s star android, Lt. Commander Data, has been enlisted by his renegade android “brother” Lore to join a rebellion against humankind—much to the consternation of Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the USS Enterprise. “The reign of biological lifeforms is coming to an end,” Lore tells Picard. “You, Picard, and those like you, are obsolete.”

That’s Star Trek for you—so optimistic that machines won’t dethrone humans until at least three more centuries. But that’s fiction. In real life, the era of smart machines has already arrived. They haven’t completely taken over the world yet, but they’re off to a good start.

“Machine learning”—a sort of concrete subfield within the more nebulous quest for artificial intelligence—has invaded numerous fields of human endeavor, from medical diagnosis to searching for new subatomic particles. Thanks to its most powerful incarnation—known as deep learning—machine learning’s repertoire of skills now includes recognizing speech, translating languages, identifying images, driving cars, designing new materials, and predicting trends in the stock market, among uses in many arenas.

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