How have you seen Industry 4.0 impacting manufacturing companies?
The phenomenon of Industry 4.0 is steadily transforming the world of manufacturing. Like the adoption of mechanization and mass production in the 19th century, manufacturing companies are now using computers, automation, and robotics in the 21st. We’re seeing a transition from machines with computers in isolation to machines with on-board computers that are communicating or being controlled by other computers. And this control is not generated from an operator’s input but as an automated response to data received from a variety of external, but related, sources.
It’s important to understand that Industry 4.0 is not just about automation or computers. We’ve already had that for decades and consumers are accustomed to the benefits of high-quality, affordable mass-produced parts. What's happening is that, increasingly, manufacturing is being driven by consumer demand in real time. The entire ecosystem of ordering, production, warehousing, and shipping is being driven by immediate feedback from embedded devices (the IoT) and interactive AI such as Amazon's Alexa or Apple's Siri. Consumers make their demands known, and this feeds back into the supply chain to fulfill that demand as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore, manufacturers who are best able to respond in real time to this level of customer satisfaction will ultimately be the winners.
Do you think manufacturing companies are opting to incorporate more software technologies?
As manufacturing becomes even more competitive, businesses are forced to adopt new software technologies to survive. Some of these are already familiar, such as CAD design software, ERP systems, Product Life Cycle management, etc. Important as they are, these are tools for data collection. Decisions are still made by managers crunching the numbers.
More advanced systems, such as Star Rapid’s recent purchase of a Guhring Tool Management System, don't rely on operators to look over spreadsheets and decide what to do. The automated tool vending system knows when a tool is in use when it must be sharpened, and when it's time to order a new one. That order is placed automatically with the purchasing department, requiring no human intervention. This reduces excess inventory, allocates resources only where and when they are needed, and frees up skilled operators to do what machines can’t.
How can manufacturers use computerized tracking systems to ensure optimal tool life?
A computerized tracking system helps to create a more efficient workflow through improved tool tracking and allows for more precise tool ordering based on projected future usage. When the system is computerized and automated, the necessary tools for CNC machining and rapid prototyping are easily tracked and ordered in an efficient and timely manner. This streamlined process provides manufacturers with a competitive advantage in meeting customer demands in a timelier manne
For example, a Guhring tool vending machine offers tool storage, inventory control and real-time monitoring of tool consumption. This efficient management of our software ensures that we can optimize the usage of our machines and enables on-time delivery of parts and products to our customers.
Have you seen a growing trend with suppliers becoming more involved on the factory floor?
Suppliers have always been involved on the factory floor, but as just that – suppliers. With Industry 4.0, that’s not good enough. Now it’s critical to make strategic partnerships, where suppliers and manufacturers work together to create custom solutions for unique challenges. We can’t rely any longer on the old model of stock materials being adequate for custom parts. We need to be flexible and agile not only in manufacturing but in working with other partners in the supply chain to innovate and respond rapidly to new technologies, materials, and processes.
Does a well-maintained tool impact the customer experience? If so, how?
Absolutely! A well-maintained tool ensures that it is in peak condition and able to hold precise tolerances for excellent finished parts. When it comes to customer products, it is always vital to have parts that are the perfect tolerance. With the best tools for the job, the customer receives the exact part or product they requested which creates an overall positive experience to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. Preserving the service life of a tool for as long as possible saves money and downtime on the shop floor, which ultimately benefits the customer experience as well.
Why is it important to be agile as a manufacturing company?
Within any industry, being agile is always important to meet customer demand and provide the best customer experiences. Companies can remain agile by:
- Listening carefully. Only by really hearing what the customer wants and needs can you offer solutions to exceed their expectations. Star Rapid has invested so heavily in quality control and assurance because this is an enduring and universal customer need.
- Ensuring materials testing to meet international safety and environmental regulations, ensure that all the raw materials coming into the factory are accurately tested and verified for authenticity. Using fraudulent materials that are still proliferating the supply chain is unsafe and can void regulatory compliance and certifications.
- Quality control and assurance – Every part and product can go through multiple testing and verification protocols to ensure high quality.
- Recycling and reusing – As a manufacturer, while material efficiency is a priority, some left over scrap is unavoidable. Instead of throwing plastic scrap away, categorize it by plastic type – nylon, PE, PP, UHDP, Styrene – and send it to a licensed recycler. Typically, this material is re-ground back into plastic pellets and used again with no loss in. Recycling and reusing saves money, energy, and natural resources while keeping unnecessary plastic out of the environment.
Gordon Styles is founder, and president of Star Rapid.