Benefit of Digital Transformation in Industry

I laid out editorial direction for a magazine I helped to start with two basic ideas: contribute to thought leadership in industrial automation; and, tell stories of intelligent application of automation where the “heroes” of the story were the people doing the work not the products they used.

Seventeen years ago if you asked a company for a success story (you never get the “tried it and failed stories”) the formula was “Joe had a problem; Joe bought this list of products from his supplier; problem was solved and Joe was happy.”

Rockwell Automation has a Digital Transformation group headed by Vice President Keith Higgins. The PR folks sent me a “teaser” for an article about real-world application and benefits of digital transformation attributed to Higgins. I haven’t done many application stories at The Manufacturing Connection, so I jumped at the chance to get a real example for what companies are describing as digital transformation. I sent a bunch of questions. I received the formula company (all companies, not only Rockwell) app story.

However, reading into the story which I’m about to share were some lessons about successes from applying digital technologies and also to temper your enthusiasm lest you picture digital transformation like Clark Kent entering a telephone booth (remember those?) and emerging as Superman. While not so dramatic, nonetheless applying digital technologies can enhance productivity and therefore profitability.

This is a story about Agropur, a North American dairy processing company. Not a small one. It consists of over 3,367 dairy farmers who rely on 37 facilities across North America, processing over 1.5 billion gallons of milk into numerous dairy products, resulting in $5.9 billion in sales each year.

The company’s largest facility in Ontario had legacy industrial technologies which faced operational issues and downtime inhibiting its ability to produce the necessary data to continuously improve operations.

So, problem = downtime + inadequate data collection. Proposed solution = implement a standardized, plant-wide IT platform to collect, analyze, and understandably present data.

Agropur had already invested heavily in industrial technology at its Don Mills, Ontario facility, but none of those solutions have been able to provide it with the seamless data insights it needed to continually improve its operations. Data was not efficiently collected costing more than 2,500 hours per year and what data was collected could not be presented to management in such a way to enable continuous improvement teams.

On top of the data collection issue, the Don Mills facility’s equipment and systems were prone to failure. When the facility went down, it was forced to restore from the latest backup. That was no small feat considering there was no way to determine which of their seven maintenance laptops had the latest backup.

These inefficiencies and challenges drove Agropur to begin a search for a standardized, plant-wide

Rockwell Automation together with Grantek Systems Integration, a Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork Solution Partner, deployed the new system with Agropur.

The result was an entirely new automation system built from the ground up. The system wasn’t only focused on creating a new way to collect data, it was also focused on overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), performance, capacity and more. From my point of view, the emphasis on OEE was unfortunate, but I guess it worked for the customer.

The technology involved included the Allen-Bradley family of ControlLogix controllers, PowerFlex drives, and PanelVew human machine interface (HMI) hardware from Rockwell Automation. Running FactoryTalk View Site Edition software on a virtualized server, each HMI could establish the standard for all additional software. This system collected data from production and provided information to operators to help them improve operations.

Supervisors decided to use OEE for benchmarking using FactoryTalk Metrics software, which collected performance data to power informed decisions.

With the information solution in place, employees from across the facility could see what was occurring on the plant floor and use that data to make continuous improvements.

Benefits: The Agropur team could eliminate 2,500 hours of manual data collection each year. Additionally, significant hours were saved annually thanks to the ease of managing assets through FactoryTalk software.

As soon as information was available, teams at Agropur deployed a data-driven approach to benchmark whether new hardware would curb the usage of lubricants for the lines. Creating benchmark reports and data-driven estimates of new hardware effectiveness, they were able to reduce lubricant consumption by 30%.

Here’s a benefit that I’m shocked to learn it took all this data collection and visualization investment to figure out. Supervisors seeking to identify opportunities for increasing capacity.discovered that lunches, breaks, and meetings caused more than 33 hours of downtime. Changing schedules turned lost processing time into productivity.

Restarting Manufacturing After The Covid-19 Shutdown

Someday soon we’ll be going back to work. Some, of course, are already working in manufacturing under the new regime. Many questions lurk for those planning to get moving again.

To find out more, I spoke with Kim Wallace, executive vice president of Hire Dynamics a staffing consulting company focused on the Southeastern US.

She told me that after the first shock of cutting back or closing, companies began reevaluating their workforce and job descriptions. The first order of business was what jobs needed to be maintained and which employees could work from home. Then came the difficult decisions of furloughs and lay offs. Managers would evaluate balancing personnel needs per department. What is driving the frenetic activity? Cash flow. All of who have been in business know that cash is king. Many companies needed to stop the bleeding.

Hire Dynamics provides strategic consulting on workforce issues and was quickly called in to help management develop strategies for a situation no one knew how long would last.

When it’s time to start up, employees have many considerations, all of which have ramifications for the company. In some cases, going back to work could actually mean a pay cut for the employee who is better off financially to stay home. Some have childcare or elder care situations where there is no alternative to their being home to provide that care. Many will be nervous and concerned about returning to work only to become infected by the coronavirus—despite efforts to reduce the risk.

Many people do want to work, though. And companies need to get production going or die.

So, what does it take to start up again? The threat of virus spreading is still real. No one wants to have most of its workforce and its management team home sick with the possibility of several dying.

This takes a strategy. Companies such as Hire Dynamics are there to help companies plan and start up.

Wallace pointed out that most companies are worried about three things: cash flow, culture, and image. Managing cash flow is crucial for all businesses, and especially for small to mid-sized enterprises (SMEs). This calls for phased start up balancing workers with sales. As companies bring back employees and face necessity of bringing in new hires, they need to be mindful both of maintaining their culture and also developing a culture of health practices. Aware of how decisions impact their image in their communities and their industries, companies need to manage the startup well.

Strategies

Companies cannot afford for the virus to spread throughout the entire management team. They, therefore, stagger management team days at work so that if someone spreads the infection it will not spread to the entire team. Considering production people the first strategy is to adjust shifts so that they do not congregate exiting and entering. If at all possible, have different doors for entering and exiting to keep some separation.

Companies may need help with signage to direct people where and how to enter and leave. They need procedures for temperature screening employees entering for their shifts. Do managers do the screening leaving them at higher risk of infection? Or hire medical technicians?

Another consideration is sanitizing. Perhaps the best strategy is for each shift to sanitize when they arrive at their workstations and then again just before they leave. They will need procedures and training on sanitizing. Note that all this needs to be part of the clock in/clock out procedure. Speaking of company image, management must be cognizant of the impact of decisions unlike a very large company who earned a lot of bad press and congressional scrutiny by doing much of that work off the clock on employee time.

Here are some of the policy and procedure and practical help that Hire Dynamics can provide:

  • Signage
  • Sanitizing
  • Procedures
  • Break rooms (close? Eat at stations? Other things.)
  • Restrooms (block every other sink and toilet stall, etc.)

Manufacturing for Good

Here is one for all the politicians who think you can snap your fingers or wrinkle your nose and start producing overnight. This is a fascinating, first-person story about a software developer (Radek Pietruszewski) who became infatuated with 3D printing, learned CAD and CNC, joined a Hacker Space, and then saw how to meet a need during this crisis.

The Podcast is a weekly conversation between Radek and his boss Michael Sliwinski who is developer, founder, and CEO of Nozbe (affiliate link–the personal productivity app I use). They are both Polish. Radek recently moved to Warsaw to be closer to the hacker space. Michael now lives in Spain. You can also find them at @MSliwinski and @radexp. I’ve listened to them since episode 1. This is episode 206.

Oh, they speak English better than some Americans I know, a fact that also fascinates me.

206: Radek’s Face Shield Factory

Radek has started a job in manufacturing… pro bono manufacturing of face shields for hospitals in Poland.

No, really. Over the last few weeks, Radek has been applying what he’d learned about CAD, laser cutting, and lean manufacturing at the Warsaw Hackerspace to set up a face shield production line.

In three weeks, they produced over 30 000 face shields.

They had just discussed a book on Lean. The story reveals challenges and problem solving of starting a manufacturing process to make face masks for hospital people who were in desperate need. Those of us who have worked in manufacturing recognize the problems and should respect how this team of beginners creatively solved all the problems along the way.

One interesting nugget was that they were quickly told not to go to hospital administrators. They would only be a bottleneck. So, the group actually found lower level workers and delivered boxes of masks to their houses for them to take to work and distribute.

Makes me wonder about how I’ve killed time during the pandemic.

Leadership As Getting Outside Yourself

Leadership As Getting Outside Yourself

I once wrote on leadership every Friday on another of my blogs. Then I felt as if I’d run out of anything meaningful to say. Publicists offer me books to read in order to review. I’ll share one I just received Friday–Formula X: How to Reach Extreme Acceleration in Your Organization by Jurriaan Kamer and Rini van Solingen. It was published in Dutch last June; the English edition will be available Jan. 28.

It is European, so the protagonist is known as a Managing Director rather than General Manager or COO. And the conceit regards Formula 1 racing.

I say protagonist because while the book is about leadership and organizational change, it is written as a story or “fable”. In that regard it reminds me of The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt.

The protagonist is bright, yet clueless. The story weaves business and personal problems. And it is through learning from how a Formula 1 racing team operates that he learns how to organize the company, build teams, and achieve goals. It is only out of despair that he finally wakes up, gets a clue, and builds a winning team and relationship with his wife.

Sort of a journey from micromanager to orchestra conductor, if you will pardon the change in metaphor.

Whereas Goldratt was building a Theory of Constraints for optimizing production (it’s a 1980’s book, but still valid), Formula X steps back and looks at organizing the company and all its silos and disfunctions. It’s a blend of Lean and SCRUM (from programming) and Holacracy and other newer ideas.

The model is FASTER (as in racing cars must become…).

  • Focus and clarity
  • Accelerate decisions
  • Simplify
  • Team engagement
  • Elementary physics (Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics, but don’t worry about that)
  • Rhythmic learning

The authors use such Lean principles as Respect for People, daily stand ups (quick meetings), a form of 5S, using the people to find root causes of problems along with experimenting to find solutions.

Good stuff.

The Making of an Organization’s Culture

The Making of an Organization’s Culture

Who you are is not the values you list on the wall. It’s not what you say at an all-hands. It’s not your marketing campaign. It’s not even what you believe.

Your organization’s culture is what you do.

What you do is who you are.

Thus Ben Horowitz introduces his topic–how to develop and sustain an organization’s culture.

This is not one of those leadership books where you read the first two chapters and you have everything the author intended to say. Horowitz fleshes out the concept through a series of gripping stories exemplifying parts of the process.

His examples include:

  • The only successful slave revolt–Toussaint Louverture in Haiti
  • The way of the warrior–Bushido-the Samurai Code
  • The way of the warrior exemplified by Shaka Senghor, a prison warrior
  • Genghis Khan–the way of inclusion

Elements of a successful culture can be seen in the Eight Virtues of Samurai (successful in Japan for hundreds of years):

  • Rectitude/Justice
  • Courage
  • Honor
  • Loyalty
  • Benevolence
  • Politeness
  • Self-Control
  • Veracity/Sincerity

Here are a few concluding thoughts from the book:

The most important element of any corporate culture is that people care.

Culture begins with deciding what you value most. Then you must help everyone in your organization practice behaviors that reflect these virtues.

You have to pay close attention to your people’s behavior, but even closer attention to your own.

Leadership As Getting Outside Yourself

How Competitive is Your Manufacturing Business?

Buzz words could well be the story of the year–digital twin, digital transformation, internet of things, industrial internet of things, digital thread, smart manufacturing, Industrie 4.0, etc. and ad nauseum.

I spoke to a couple of hundred elementary school students this morning about my career path of technology, liberal arts, and writing (not in those exact words, of course). In preparation, I pulled out Volume 1, Issue 1 of Automation World from June 2003. [Note: I left there in 2013 to pursue my own thing. I have no idea what they do anymore. The entire team that put this together, except for a sales person, has left. That’s the way of the world.]

I had a theme to the 10 years I was Editor of the magazine. It wasn’t just to put words between ads. Or just regurgitate product news. It was

How do you apply technology intelligently in order to make your business more competitive–more successful?

Back to today’s buzz words (marketing words?) of the year. Really, these reflect technologies and sometimes strategies that are worthless unless applied to make your business stronger.

Let us not lose sight of the goal!