factory shop floor assembly line transformation paperless

Digital Transformation of the Shop Floor is Well Overdue

So, let’s start with a few frank observations. Firstly, don’t waste time thinking your ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) vendor can solve critical business issues with a bastardisation of their finance, procurement, or planning system.

I simply do not understand. Manufacturers do not think twice about investing in ERP, Customer Relationship Management, Computer Aided Design, Product Lifecycle Management, Machine tools, the list goes on…

Yet, you give your operators on the shop floor, pieces of paper in a plastic wallet, or at best a very large complex PDF to try and navigate the build process. What the heck?!

Should a 2019 shop floor look like this?

You invested significant amounts to find new opportunities for your products, but your processes bear no resemblance to the expected efficiency and productivity of today.

Production and manufacturing engineers and management are asked to use Word, Excel or PowerPoint to create a build standard (work instructions) to assemble products. They must build them to a specification and test, as well as manage the governance and quality processes; all with pieces of paper or a set of disparate documents, such as PDF, Excels, etc.

Ask your finance director or CEO to use paper to manage the finances of the business. I can probably tell you what the answer will be, but it’s not appropriate to document the response here!

Significant investments have been made in complex systems, such as SAP, Oracle, Infor, Epicore, JD Edwards, and SolidWorks amongst others, to manage business and engineering requirements. Yet, ERP or design and product lifecycle management vendors do not solve the critical business issues that surround the use of paper or Word, Excel and PowerPoint on the shop floor.

If this resonates and you are wondering how to transform your shop floor, let me share a couple of other points.

Transition from paper or PDF based work instructions

Implementing a paperless work instruction solution can be very straightforward if you focus on the critical business issues. Our customers were experiencing a range of critical business issues:

• The use of paper PDF-based work instructions had a direct impact on quality.
• Build standards / work instructions were not being followed due to the cumbersome management and use of paper or very large PDF documents.
• Quality thresholds and confirmations to enforce accountability for the operators was non-existent in the build process.
• Data collection was in disparate places, or paper-based and not easily accessible.
• Reporting of production performance, build and quality data was time-consuming and not real-time.
• Issues in production was managed in yet another Excel spreadsheet.

Focus on these critical business issues must be the priority. Integration for integration-sake should come later once business results have been achieved.

The good news is gone are the days of ERP-type implementation schedules, resource requirements and costs. The new world is app-based, and agility is a given. Going from paper or PDF-based work instructions to an electronic work instruction process can happen quickly, in some cases in a matter of days.

Which work instructions solution is right for your business?

There are a few key considerations to support the selection of a solution partner.

Remember you are not just replacing Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Take the opportunity to consider the end-to-end process, as new solutions enable a concept of a ‘Digital Traveller’ that enhance the ERP and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES).

Check and validate how your processes can be replaced or updated. Identify any new opportunities that may arise from the transition. Migrating to a data driven process is a major change from a document-based process, so you will need to ensure you pick the runners in production and then transition over time. Supply chain and sub-contract manufacturing can also be pulled in to your quality and build processes.

Consider the ergonomic implications as input devices, such as scanners, screens and layouts for operators, will be required for different configurations, depending on the type of work being completed.

A significant point, how do you manage your product variants from a work instruction perspective? For example, how will the system manage many 100s or 1000s of variants? Will you need to generate each variant separately or does the system support variance?

If you have variance in your products, you will need variance to be supported, otherwise you will need an army of production engineers creating a separate work instruction for each variance. Modern systems should be able to hold characteristics which dynamically generate the work instruction.

Equally important, ensure that you understand how quality data is defined, managed and captured in the build process.

Finally, updates to content. How does the system enable fast updates whilst maintaining the document control processes? Change is constant, so you need to see how change is implemented.

As an engineer and advocate of digital, I believe there is a fantastic opportunity for manufacturers to invest in the shop floor. This advances their own, as well as the industry’s productivity. Significantly, it engages shop floor operators, an undervalued point, whom given the opportunity will enhance quality and provide feedback. This ultimately affects the bottom line and enhancing your brand, whatever you manufacture!

Case study: ProPhotonix

ProPhotonix saves significant administrative time by implementing AssemblyX paperless work instruction software

 “The simplicity of AssemblyX is brilliant and great customer service.”

Previously using a laborious work instructions process, LED and laser manufacturer ProPhotonix moved to AssemblyX, to find they saved 20 minutes a day on administrative tasks alone.

Manual work instruction complexity

ProPhotonix manufacturers optimum LED or laser solutions for global customers across a variety of sectors – industrial, medical, and scientific equipment manufacturers. Headquartered in Boston, US the firm has two manufacturing subsidiaries in Cork, Ireland and Stansted, UK.

The company previously used Microsoft Office to create and track all work documents. “We used Excel as a control system, which contained a list of all the work instructions with a hyperlink to each instruction,” explained Zita Jeske, Quality assurance engineer, ProPhotonix.

“Often users were uncomfortable and apprehensive about using Excel. And, updating all these documents was a very manual process – it took a significant amount of time.”

“Version control was challenging because when network connectivity to the server was lost, a local version was saved to the user’s desktop. This meant it was disconnected to the central document, so extra steps had to be taken to ensure workers were always using the latest work instructions.”

ProPhotonix locked down all work instructions to be read-only, but occasionally workers navigated around this and changed links or made notes, which meant it was not consistent with the original. “Ensuring compliance was a laborious task. Version control and history of the document was difficult to manage. If a change was required, we often had to hunt down any paper documents, finding them on people’s desks,” commented Gary Cunningham, NPI Lead,Prophotonix.

Paper-free, digital environment

The goal for ProPhotonix was to continue to reduce paper from its operations. Although using a digital-based system, many users printed out instructions. Gary explained: “we wanted to ensure that we had robust systems, so we did not make mistakes. Part of this was removing the paper lingering in files that were no longer applicable.

“We looked at a number of solutions and settled on AssemblyX because of its usability and cost. Some of the systems on the market are incredibly expensive and overly complicated.”

AssemblyX is now in use on a couple of ProPhotonix product lines and they intend to roll it out across all operations. Senior management havebought into the system, as they can see the impact it is making across the business.

“The digital screens save time and energy, engineering time is reduced, and the system ensures that the right document is being used. In AssemblyX, documents cannot be altered, and the user interface is much easier, improving efficiencies,” said Gary.

Controlled compliance and creation

AssemblyX has helped ProPhotonix tackle quality challenges, ensuring that old documents are not used, and all work instructions are accessed from one single location. Trackable version control has significantly reduced man-hoursfocused on administration tasks.

“20 minutes per day has been saved in administration – copy/pasting, tracking documents, getting sign off…AssemblyX has enabled us to create work instruction documentation much more quickly.”

“The work instructions can be standardizedfor certain process, so things like health and safety are automatically populated. The system only allows you to input one point per step, so it is concise and clear,” added Zita.

“Yet from a compliance perspective,the biggest benefit is control, control, control…”

ProPhotonix staff have provided good feedback on the new system and find it easy-to-use. “We are excited by the modules coming up in AssemblyX digital for manufacturingexecution and we are looking forward to growing together,” finally added Gary.

 

For more information about AssemblyX, please get in touch.

Download the case study.

Stegia case study

Case study: Stegia

Stegia introduces efficient scalable manufacturing with AssemblyX

Faced with increasing complications of scaling assembly line operations using paper-based work instructions, Swedish firm Stegia has introduced digital manufacturing instructions with the implementation of AssemblyX.

Cluttered paper processes

Manufacturing electromechanical motors used in a range of products from door locks to cash handling, Stegia has manufacturing facilities in Sweden and China. However, Stegia’s paper-based system for manufacturing its innovative technology products was causing complications.

“We had a very manual process and version control was challenging,” explained Mats Sandvik, Lead Electronic Engineer. “The assembly instructions for each product would be printed out and we had to ensure it was stored in the correct place.

“Paper caused some clutter and we did not have a consistent approach to how our instructions were put together; created in a mix of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Also, the images were not always clear, and the documents used different sized text.”

Employees were unable to efficiently build, added Production Manager Mathias Dragovski: “The paper instructions used to produce a lot of questions from employees, so the line manager was required to be there to support production, answering the flow of ambiguities. There was always the risk that everyone could interpret the instructions slightly differently, so we needed to transform our operations.”

Scaling delivery

Stegia’s smaller manufacturing lines are based in Västerås, Sweden, and higher-volume assembly is located in Shanghai, China. Stegia recognised that they required a system that would allow production to scale. “Our lines are flexible with employees working an occasional week, and some on a one day a month, or two days a week basis,” said Mats.

“When we looked for a new system, we needed one that enabled our workers to pick up where they left off. We did an online search for digital work instructions and AssemblyX was at the top of the list.”

AssemblyX was implemented in 2017 and is currently in use on two product lines, but Stegia intends to expand across its operations. Mathias explained: “The benefits of using the AssemblyX system for production has been clear.

Stegia

 

“It is much easier for the operators to follow each task.
The instructions are clear, with images to underpin the instructions, so there is no ambiguity. We also embed video to record more tricky assembly steps. And training new staff is much easier too, especially with the use of touch screens.”

“AssemblyX enables us to be confident that we have the latest version of the work instructions on the shop floor. Version control processes are in place and any amendments can be pushed out quickly.

“If we get questions from an employee, we can go back into the procedure and adjust it to clarify the steps, releasing a new version instantly. This allows us to manage risks and work more efficiently,” commented Mathias.

 

Impressed customers

AssemblyX has enabled customer audits to go more smoothly. “Many customers are impressed with the AssemblyX system. It makes us look much more professional than the previous binders full of paper,” commented Mats.

Stegia 

 

 

“Our paper-based system caused confusion and limited our shop floor productivity. With a clearer set of instructions in AssemblyX, not so many questions are asked of the managers, freeing up their time to work on other tasks.”

“We look forward to additional functionality in AssemblyX, such as collecting data which will enable us to have insightful visibility of our operations,” added Mats.

AssemblyX has enabled Stegia to benefit from improved document control and audit, electronic work instruction standardisation, and the ability to quickly adjust instruction versions, creating clear procedures whilst improving manager productivity.

In addition, Stegia customers are impressed when they see AssemblyX on the production line.

 

For more information about AssemblyX, please get in touch.

Download the case study

Reduce shop floor running costs

Case study: Chassis Plans

Chassis Plans improves quality scores and reduces shop floor running costs with AssemblyX

Manufacturing a multitude of custom configurations for its customer base, Chassis Plans follows extensive work procedures to ensure specific product versions are created exactly the same, time after time.

Since installing the specialist digital manufacturing execution platform AssemblyX, Chassis Plans has revolutionised the production line, increasing productivity and providing robust, detailed assembly procedures to ensure version control.

Configuration complexity for Chassis Plans shop floor

California-based Chassis Plans creates ruggedised computers and LCD displays for industrial, manufacturing and military customers, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, BAE Systems, and L3 Communications. Each customer has its own tailored designs with a vast array of custom configurations, which creates complex manufacturing operations.

An ISO 9001:2008 accredited company, Chassis Plans is committed to ensuring the highest quality controls are in place. Steve Travis, Chief Operating Officer for Chassis Plans, commented: “We have six to eight different versions of products being created at any one time. Each must adhere to strict set of work instructions and ensure the correct materials are being used.”

Digital instructions for rugged productivity

The company looked to AssemblyX, a solution that simplifies the process to author and control electronic work instructions, which can be delivered digitally to the shop floor. Streamlining operations for the execution and management of production, AssemblyX enhances quality, control and operational efficiency.

For Chassis Plans, replacing the previous paper-based process was critical to help build efficiency and support quality control process.

Steve explained: “Installing AssemblyX into our manufacturing has enabled us to have a robust set of procedures in place, so even if we build a product three years from now, we have the ability to build the exact same product.

“AssemblyX gives us insurances and enables us to be more efficient and maximise productivity. For example, we used to have another person standing watching to ensure that all instructions were followed exactly and nothing was overlooked. AssemblyX has eliminated this need, allowing us to expand our output,” added Steve.

Chassis Plans

Impressive praise for efficiencies

The intuitive AssemblyX software was a hit for both Chassis Plans employees and customers, explained Steve: “Staff found the system very easy-to-use and quickly transferred to the new way of working. Authors are able to create and update documents in less than half the time compared to the previous system.

“Shop floor users who were particularly resistant to change, proactively praised AssemblyX and have quickly adopted the new methods of working. In fact, they are helping us to capture tribal knowledge into very detailed and informative instructions.

“AssemblyX has helped to reduce the learning curve for new recruits, meaning we can bring in temps when needed, so resource matches demand. We have also received great feedback from our customers, as many require us to fulfil audits in military markets,” added Steve.

Chassis Plans shop floor

Improved quality scoring and opportunities to win more business

“Auditors have been incredibly impressed by our detailed procedures and extensive version controls, right down to the ‘Bill of Material’. In fact, because our high audit scores are inserted into vendors’ databases, this has meant we have been identified for other contracts and have the potential to win new business.”

AssemblyX has enabled Chassis Plans to raise its credibility and reputation from ensuring better controls across the assembly process, reducing operational costs and increasing productivity.

For more information about AssemblyX, please get in touch.

Download the case study

Autodesk Forge DevCon – San Fransisco June 2016

I have just returned from attending the Autodesk Forge conference in San Francisco and what a great event it was. Held at the historical Fort Mason by the bay, which served as the army barracks many years ago, the event was well organised and attended with over 1,100 developers, start-ups and business owners, looking to get under the hood of the Forge platform.

Autodesk employees and attendees were a great bunch to hang out with, as there were lots of collaborations and discussions taking place over the 2 days. The noise levels were a testament to the amount of conversations that were taking place!

Engaged in the Design, Make and Use paradigm, Autodesk are building communities for developers and start-ups alike and making their core technology available through a set of rich API’s. Not your normal superficial API’s, but really opening up their software for partners like us to build the next generation of applications, that help people and organisations solve problems to Design, Make and Use the next generation of products and software.

The sessions on the main stage were both interesting and thought provoking as technology and business leaders alike demonstrated and walked through the ways in which the Forge platform is supporting key transformational services and software, from drones using the Autodesk API’s from 3DR to Protolabs, who are providing the world’s fastest source for prototyping and low-volume production parts.

In the main hall there were a number of cool and innovative companies sharing the latest and greatest in applications that are utilising the Forge Platform. A couple to note were Dotty, who are creating an experience for boardrooms and the ability to complete a design / market requirements review using smartglasses from ODG . (This is a company Al Dean put me onto as we are also looking at smart glasses for AssemblyX Software, a killer app to support ‘Make’ / Operations that replaces Word, Excel or PowerPoint for the generation of electronic work instructions. More to follow on this topic.)

3DR Forge API

3DR using Forge API’s to connect drones and software

Sorry I digress…getting back to Dotty, the application extends to call centre support, Oil & Gas and Mining, where complex equipment needs to be maintained and serviced and planning the job in the warmth of the office, reduces safety incidents and allows technicians to walk through the assembly / dis-assembly process before setting foot into a harsh and dangerous environment. Another to note were Jitterbit who are reducing the complexity of integration and providing a smarter approach to connect to key systems such as SAP, Oracle, Autodesk and Microsoft to name a few. The premise being that you will remove all the technical nightmares that traditionally come with integration, reduce cost of ownership and enable customers to become self-sufficient. I.e Not requiring expensive consultants every time you require a small change.

There were detailed, I mean really detailed sessions on the forge API’s and code level examples of how to make a start. This was complemented with the Forge technical team, on hand to support deeper discussions on the Forge platform.

Involved in a start-up myself the finances for using forge API’s also made a lot of sense, especially if your revenues are below $100K, you can use all the API’s for free. This a great way to support the start-up community and shows commitment from the Autodesk Forge Platform to get traction and buy-in from the communities in which the API’s could form part of the next generation of applications and solutions.

Amar Hanspal and Carl Bass provided some excellent and at times brave executive insight into the thinking, but what really stood out was the commitment to make the Forge Platform and communities a success. It was muted that the success of the Forge partners will ultimately drive the success and innovation at Autodesk, a giant leap of faith!

Amar Hanspal - Autodesk

Amar Hanspal – Real Innovation with the Autodesk Forge Platform

So the Forge Platform is open for business and the communities, developers, start-ups, entrepreneurs, established businesses involved in Design ,Make and Use should definitely take a closer look at how the next set of innovative applications that solve customer problems, can leverage years of great tech from Autodesk, with what feels like a Github like force, with little capital investment required, other than intellectual capital!

Final thoughts on the event for Autodesk to consider – Take the event to Europe, it might rain, but I guarantee there will be plenty of willing participants and opportunities for Autodesk to engage the next set of European Forge platform partners. If today is anything to go by make it July!

Bathelona

Look forward to the next Forge Platform event and showcasing our own progress with the forge API’s, in providing frictionless integration for production engineering and the factory, surfacing data in key factory processes that engage the shop floor, provided by AssemblyX and the Autodesk’s Forge API’s.

Below is a sneak preview of where AssemblyX is using the Autodesk Forge Viewer API model viewer to connect documents from PLM and make them available in an electronic work instruction process for the shop floor. Look out for more exciting developments over the coming months where we will take a look at other API’s including PLM360.

 

Using Autodesk Forge API's to connect PLM360 content to the shop floor processes.

Using Autodesk Forge API’s to connect PLM360 content to the shop floor processes.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions or comments on info@assemblyxsoftware.com or call us on +44 208 242 1619.