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Reducing Downtime In Manufacturing: Five Things To Consider

Eric Ehlers takes a look at how AW North Carolina approached upgrading the network resulting in a textbook solution that any company in the manufacturing industry can learn from. It was simple — they upgraded their servers, WiFi system, firewall, and phone system. Nothing fancy. And it saved them $1 million, just in the first year.

Toyota has long been known for its stringent quality standards and innovations in automotive manufacturing. Manufacturing is all about efficiency, and down time is the enemy of efficiency. In a facility like the AW North Carolina (AWNC) factory, one hour of down time costs the company $270,000. Part of the Aisin group, AWNC manufactures 600,000 transmissions a year for Toyota. Toyota depends on AWNC to produce 3,000 transmissions every single day. AWNC has been excelling at this — they have the best margins, yield, and quality levels of all of Aisin’s 200 factories. But an aging network was threatening that ranking. Their network was starting to go down twice a month, resulting in an unacceptable amount of downtime. The downtime, coupled with increasing cyber threats, made it clear that it was time for a new network.

The way AWNC approached upgrading the network resulted in a textbook solution that any company in the manufacturing industry can learn from. It was simple — they upgraded their servers, WiFi system, firewall, and phone system. Nothing fancy. And it saved them $1 million, just in the first year.

What can we learn from AWNC’s simple but extremely effective tech upgrade? Here are five things to consider:

No. 1 Start With A Good Foundation

AWNC did this the right way. They started by investing in the basics – and a good strong network and partner. That network will allow AWNC to make endless tweaks in its processes to improve safety and efficiency. It will also be able to leverage this modern technology to analyze energy usage and other factors that will eventually result in even more cost savings. Ultimately, the factory will be able to increase production and yield – the holy grail in any manufacturing facility. How did they arrive at this solution? AWNC asked its IT department to weigh in on business decisions.

No. 2 IT Can Give Your Company A Competitive Advantage — If You Involve Them In Business Decisions

If your organization still thinks of IT as the guys in the back office who keep the phones and computers running, you are missing a big opportunity. Expanding the role of IT to address business challenges is a must in this new digital economy. There are technology solutions that can save your business money, improve efficiency, and help you make better business decisions. AWNC benefited from all of these business outcomes with the solution they implemented by having IT work directly with the operations technology (OT) teams who understood the inner workings of the plant floor.

No. 3 Big Data Isn’t Just A Buzzword – It’s The Key To Improving Efficiency

Data can provide valuable business insights and cost savings, but it’s only useful if the collection and analysis of that data is easy, reliable, and fast. Before this project was completed, AWNC’s IT and Operations groups kept separate sets of data – now it is one big set that everybody can access. And the generation, collection, and analysis of the data is happening much faster – in minutes instead of days. Retrofitting older machinery with sensors will eventually allow AWNC to use that data to do predictive maintenance instead of dealing with unscheduled down time. The sensors, combined with WiFi that now extends over the entire factory floor, allows workers to track assets in every part of the factory in real time. They can quickly identify anything that is off spec and keep the scrap rate at a minimum.

No. 4 Security Is Paramount, Especially In The Age of Ransomware

Because down time is so costly in manufacturing, the industry is especially vulnerable to ransomware attacks. With AWNC’s new network, the entire network senses attacks -- security does not rely on disparate devices. Just after the new network was installed, AWNC was attacked (again). This attack was stopped at the firewall before it could cause any damage.

No. 5 Investing In Technology Can Save You Money, Sooner Than You Think

A successful ransomware attack that forces the factory to shut down would cost the company close to $1 million in a matter of hours. AWNC spent $1.2 million on new technology, including a secure network. Within the first year, they saved $1 million in cost avoidance and server, licensing, maintenance, and telecommunications costs. They expect to continue to save 40% of that number annually. In other words, the math adds up quickly.

Reducing down time and increasing efficiency in your manufacturing facility can be as simple as investing in a good technology foundation. And if it practically pays for itself in the first year – even better.

Eric joined Cisco in 2016, taking responsibility for marketing in the manufacturing and energy vertical. Ehlers has worked in a series of industrial technology sectors, including manufacturing, utilities/smart grid, transportation, and oil and gas, where he cultivated commercial plans to support global marketing and sales operations and establish long-term growth. Eric holds a Communication degree from Appalachian State University, and a Masters of Communication Management from the University of Southern California.

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