The Information Black Hole in Manufacturing

dhavas's picture

What do you know about the status of your production floor? What is the status of the current jobs that are on the floor? What are the holdups? Are there yield or scrap problems that you don’t know about? Are your production lines and machines operating as defined on the router? In many companies, this information exists in manual logs and notes on the shop packet paperwork and is usually gathered by the Production Supervisor/Manager at the beginning of the shift. So if a rush order comes in, what’s done? Is the same information gathered again?  Unless someone goes out on the floor and gathers that information again, the current status of a job is unknown. If you don’t gather the information after the job has been released to the floor and you wait until it is completed … now there’s an Information Black Hole.

With today’s technology, the information from the production floor can be gathered with greater accuracy and with less labor cost than what I’ve just described. A common solution is to use barcodes with barcode scanners to gather and send the desired information over the company’s data network to a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and also to a company wide Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System.

For instance, you have a routing traveler that moves with a job. Typically, it is initialed and dated by the production operator as the job completes each operation. They may even mark on it the number of pieces in the job that completed successfully. Using barcodes, the traveler would have a barcode label. The production operator could scan the label when the job is started and when the job is completed. This information is then processed by the MES or ERP system so that the status of each job on the production floor can be viewed from a PC or host system workstation. Jobs moving too slowly or having production yield problems can be identified. Bottlenecks can be identified. Decisions can be made without waiting for someone to go out and physically check the floor.

We’ve talked in recent articles about gathering data on defects so that the size of the “Hidden Factory” can be reduced. When the job is completed, defect barcodes could be scanned and quantities keyed in at a terminal. This information is then gathered by the MES or ERP system to be used in preparing the Pareto analysis that we have talked about. Such data could be used at a start-up meeting for the shift to rapidly respond to problems that are just developing on the floor!

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is frequently used as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). It is calculated by multiplying three measures of performance: the Availability of the machines and work centers of the plant, the output Performance of the machines/work centers and the Quality output of what’s been produced. The data gathered using the barcodes can be used to compute this indicator for the plant or company management to monitor faster than any manual system.

Today, many machines/work centers have computers as part of the machine or available for work center use. For those machines/work centers, the information about availability and output performance can be automatically sent over the network to the MES and ERP systems to alert the maintenance and plant supervisor of problems with the equipment on the floor. Of course, that same information can be used in computing the OEE for a machine or operation.

Then finally, barcodes can be used to keep track of your inventory just like it is done in a supermarket. A barcode is put on the pallet or box of material before it goes to stock. The barcode is scanned. A barcode with a stocking location may also be scanned and the quantity keyed into a terminal. The barcode is then scanned again when the material is removed from stock and the quantity removed is keyed in. This information can be sent over the network to the ERP inventory tracking system. Now you have real-time information as to your inventory levels too.

The technologies supporting what we’ve talked about have come a long way in the past decade or two. Barcode scanners can now be wireless so that they are quite portable. Also, RFID tags are another technology available to automatically record the movement of material through a “portal” without requiring that a person actually scan a barcode. Networks have evolved that can operate on the factory floor without interference from the electrical noise from the production machines, and display technologies have been developed for terminals that are robust on the factor floor and readily used by the production people.

If your “Black Hole” is causing you problems in meeting deliveries or preventing you from having the information you need to schedule or improve your operations, maybe now is the time to look into what’s available to easily gather, store, organize and display accurate data cost effectively.