Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Connectivity implementations grounded in Lean principles ensure success


January 26, 2016
By Andrej Lorkovic Belden

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Jan. 26, 2016 – The vision for the factories of the future, where machines “talk” to machines, relies on the availability of an uninterrupted flow of data from the production floor to the back office and back again. While communications and connectivity technology have advanced, the conditions in which the infrastructure must live have not. Excessive noise, vibration, dust and, in some cases, extreme temperatures are simply the norm.  

Choosing the right partner for designing and implementing a communications network that can withstand the rigours of the production environment is critical for success in the factories of the future and requires a closer look at the role Lean principles can play in the selection process. Lean manufacturing principles create a framework for reducing waste and inefficiency while promoting productivity, quality and sustained growth.

It may not seem immediately obvious to apply the tenets of Lean processes when choosing a connectivity partner. Consider this though: when a partner values continuous improvement, optimized efficiency and quality over cost, the relationship starts and is fuelled by a commitment to satisfying the customer.

Lean cultures are problem-solving cultures
Core to Lean principles is a focus on problem-solving, manifested in:

• The use of continuous process flows to surface problems,
• A commitment to stopping work to fix problems, rather than simply forging ahead, and
• Visual control that prevents problems from hiding.  

Each of these disciplines translates into an approach that gives manufacturers peace of mind that the communications network will be designed and implemented along three key value propositions:

1. The first is to meet the unique requirements of the environment. Customization is no longer a high-cost proposition. Flexibility and innovation are possible when it comes to modifying standardized components such as sensors and valve connectors, connection technology for power transmission, LED lighting, decentralized distribution systems and I/O modules. The commitment to quality also ensures custom components meet industry standards and regulations.

2. The second is accountability for and transparency into any issues that may arise — whether it’s a delivery delay of critical information, an unexpected need to modify the plan. When milestones are at risk or missed, the work stops until the issue is resolved and the project can proceed smoothly.

3. Finally, to be delivered by a highly trained and extremely competent team. Industry expertise around best practices, innovation and regulations related to building communications networks is a given. Domain expertise in manufacturing processes in general, and the specific variations associated with end products manufactured, are essential to ensuring that the products selected, the configuration designed and the final result performs to the highest standards of reliability and efficiency.

The Lean-driven enterprise cultivates customer focus
Not all customers are alike, which means solutions shouldn’t be either. Tailored solutions — from batch sizes of just one upwards — are made possible when Lean processes define every aspect of the enterprise. Production, research and development, even sales and the back office can benefit from the disciplined framework that is the hallmark of a Lean enterprise.

When Lean principles are a cultural common denominator, all processes are precisely controlled by key performance indicators (KPIs). Backlog, delivery schedules, project delays and quality issues are recorded at every stage of production, from prototype to final product, and communicated to the customer daily. At any given time, the customer knows where things stand, what needs to happen to move things along and who the point of contact is for further information. This transparency ensures no one is surprised and that the whole ecosystem works together toward a resolution.

Additionally, the cross-functional nature of a Lean-driven enterprise makes it possible for development and production to be adapted dynamically, optimizing Lean process implementation.

Complexity requires quality be job #1
Today’s communication networks are increasingly complex, as are the requirements for performance and reliability of those networks.

All of the tenets of a Lean framework are geared toward one overarching result — quality. Buyers can rest assured that the process, from scoping to specification, design to implementation and testing to working, will include:

• Fast and articulate feedback on feasibility, including details on special requirements and fully explained budget options,
• Customized solutions that use best-in-class components and present no risk to regulatory compliance, and
• Recommendations for specification improvements that convert vision into flawless execution.

In the case of an implementation partner, a commitment to Lean principles ensures product, project and performance quality of the highest calibre.

Andrej Lorkovic currently serves as vice-president of business development U.S. at Belden for the Industrial Connectivity Business Unit ICOS, where he is responsible for the entire product portfolio of Belden’s Lumberg Automation and Hirschmann Valve Connectors.

This column was originally published in the January/February 2016 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.