Ryan Duguid, SVP of technology strategy at Nintex, takes some time to talk to Manufacturing Business Technology about how automation on the manufacturing floor can help standardize inspections ultimately minimizing defects, warranty claims and costly product recalls.
Following that, Thiago Roveri, Director of Quality at Hillphoenix, and Mike Walsh, Office 365 Consultant contractor for Hillphoenix, discuss why they automated the manufacturing floor and how it has improved supply chain operations, reduced warranty claims and increased profits.
Manufacturing Business Technology: What are some ways manufacturers are automating their operations?
Ryan Duguid: There are a lot of way manufacturers can implement automation to improve their core processes. Assembly automation around the manufacturing process probably comes to mind, but where Workflow automation software comes is the other aspects around a manufacturing operation.
The most important objectives of any manufacturer is to bring in supplies, manufacturer and assemble their products and get them out the door to customers as quickly as possible. Manufacturers need to avoid delays in inventory, machine maintenance, assembly downtime, quality issues, procurement and more. Delays will slow down their ability to produce and affect downstream operations to distributers and customers. Companies like Lippuner, a Switzerland-based energy firm, and Buckman, global specialty chemical provider, use process automation to automate procurement process, safety inspections and more.
In addition with connected devices, manufacturers have the ability to monitor the physical condition of their equipment. They can determine limits to equipment condition and with process automation can trigger the response to address them if they’re reached. This allows them to respond more quickly to equipment issues and avoid unexpected delays.
Process automation can be used as the oil that keeps the manufacturing plant running successfully. Manufacturers need to keep employees engaged, motivated and productive. If people leave you, they need to backfill as quickly as possible. If issues with equipment arrive, they need to be fixed and made operational as fast as possible. Scheduled maintenance needs to be factored in so things can be addressed before they become a problem. Process automation is the oil of that engine. A lot of people in manufacturing may focus on the core process of the thing they manufacture — intelligent process automation can address everything else that goes into the operation.
Manufacturing Business Technology: Why are firms hesitant to automate?
Ryan Duguid: I don’t know if I’d say they’re hesitate to automate. I think it’s more about perceived cost and risk.
People might take no action to automate because they think the cost is too high, risk is too high, they’re uncertain of the benefits, or they know they can just do nothing and maintain status quo. At the end of the day habits are the hardest things to break. It’s probably more of a resistance to change.
Cost is no longer a reason not to automate. Workflow automation software is in the cloud which means you don’t have to manage the infrastructure around it so the typical pain around implementing new technology is eliminated. And because it’s a consumption and subscription based model there isn’t a high upfront cost. You can start small and scale as necessary.
The risk is super low. Intelligent process automation enables a whole new class of people to go and solve their problems. Often with other software the person building the solution is not the one with the problem, so requirements don’t translate as they should. With Workflow automation software the person with the problem who understands it has the power to automate it, so the risk of not getting what you thought you’re were paying for is much lower.
There’s definitely a fear that automation equals less jobs. While some corporations deploy automation techniques as a way to reduce labor costs, intelligent process automation technology is designed to bring out the best in people by delivering important top-line benefits like accelerating innovation and higher employee and customer satisfaction.
Research shows that happier employees are more productive, deliver better customer service, and produce better quality output and stay. The potential to retain loyal customers and increase revenue has infinite upside, while reducing costs is finite and offers diminishing returns. It is possible to achieve higher employee satisfaction as a result of automating, orchestrating and optimizing businesses processes with the Automation Platform, which is a massive benefit to any company, and a metric that everyone in the manufacturing industry can appreciate
Manufacturing Business Technology: What do these companies have to gain from automating their manufacturing floors?
Ryan Duguid: Overall, automation drivers operation efficiencies to manufacturing floors — less down time, faster processing of returns, improved inspection processes, streamlined procurement and more. Organizations should also consider what it looks like to have happier employees, happier customers and a faster pace of innovation.
As I mentioned earlier the types of problem Workflow automation software helps solve improve employee satisfaction which is tied to productivity, better customer service, better quality output, and improved retention. Automation helps provide a better customer service — from handling returns more effectively to shipping a higher quality product to the customer in the first, etc. Process automation helps you create happier customers, which become return customers who spend more money with you and spread word of mouth. It also helps you drive a faster pace of innovation. Ideally, this would be getting that next product built and on your production line to grow your business.
Manufacturing Business Technology: How can this help with warranty claims?
Ryan Duguid: The obvious is being able to handle them faster. Workflow and process automation can be used to streamline these claims and process them faster. Take a typical warranty process for example. If the product is defective the customer has to go to the manufacturer’s website to register the complaint. From there they go through a process of troubleshooting that they have try before they can send the product back. Once it’s eventually sent to the manufacturer, there are more manual processes depending on the product that they go through to address the claim — creating more opportunities for the process to be delayed. It’s a slow-moving manual process that ultimately hurts the customer experience.
With process automation tools, the manufacturer can solve this process by adding reminders to employees to inspect or replace products that come in, trigger escalations, and even provide a way for customers to track the status of their claim or return. Larger manufacturers are probably already doing this, but for smaller organization it’s likely all manual. Using Workflow automation software, smaller companies can easily build and use a solution to address these issues.
Ideally, automation can even help reduce the number of warranty claims. This would start on the manufacturing floor during the inspection process. Intelligent automation can be used to standardize the process and ensure accurate collection of data, and tracking over time. If a manufacturer notices an influx in warranty claims over a certain time period, they can review returns data with information from the inspections and perform a root cause analysis of the problem. This can allow them to prevent future returns and be proactive about addressing the problem with other customers that have product from the same time frame.
A Case for Automation
Manufacturing Business Technology: What inefficiencies led you to automate?
Thiago Roveri: The project was implemented based on the two foundations of the Lean Six Sigma Culture: eliminate waste and reduce defects. The inspection of our final products is one of our most critical quality processes. Before the intelligent automation solution, this process was completely paper-based to the extent that hand written notes were used to record quality findings and then recorded and managed through excel spreadsheets. This manual process increased the risk of errors, work wasn’t standardized, inspection time wasted on paper forms, limited tracking records, hefty excel files, and more. Additionally, it hinged the ability to readily analyze inspection data.
Mike Walsh: From an IT perspective the main improvement was transitioning from what was an entirely paper-based process to a digital process. Company inspectors also speak varying levels of English, so the basic misunderstanding of a hand-written note about a particular part could result in inaccurate inspection. The process was dependent on deciphering handwriting and unstandardized terminology.
Analytics were also hinged as the data from inspections were copy and pasted from excel spreadsheets sometimes up to 24 hours after the inspections were done.
Manufacturing Business Technology: Can you talk more about the benefits of automating your manufacturing operations? What problems did it solve?
Thiago Roveri: Implementing this project helped us:
- Embrace the digital era
- Improve the accuracy of the data
- Reduce the risk of errors
- Standardize the inspection process
- Increase the efficiency of the inspection by eliminating non-value-added activities
- Make the data readily available for analytics
- Reduce cost and improve our customers’ experience by improving the quality of our products
Mike Walsh: Now things are standardized and trackable. With just-in-time reporting the company can know something is happening as it should, or shouldn’t be right away. It also reduces the risk of miscommunication caused by the handwritten information. Company inspectors are enabled to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively, and the organization can respond quicker than before to any issues.