Automation in Action
Earlier this year, the Conference Board of Canada held the Business Innovation Summit 2013: Innovation for the Corporation. The two-day summit, held in Toronto, focused on how to re-think, re-new and transform innovation in Canada. One thing the participants were clear about: the time to innovate is now. If Canada is to prosper in the future, companies need to close the innovation gap. “One of the resonating themes of this Summit, that I agree with wholeheartedly, is we have many prescriptive reports about the nature of the innovation gap and how to close it. The real challenge is to get on with it,” Daniel Muzyka, president and CEO, The Conference Board of Canada, told attendees. “A focus on cost-cutting and efficiency has helped many Canadian organizations weather the economic turbulence, but this approach will ultimately render them obsolete. Only the constant pursuit of innovation can ensure long-term success,” he added. There are statistics that back up this need for innovation. Key findings of the Conference Board’s Innovation Metrics for Management 2012 survey found that firms that both allocate time for innovation and manage their processes get improved results. It’s time for Canadian manufacturers to take innovation to the next level. Implementing new technology and processes, along with creative problem solving are just a few of the ways companies can be more innovative and succeed in today’s economy. The stories below offer some advice to help manufacturers make it happen. Just call it “Innovation 2.0.” Related: The next dimension in manufacturingIt’s a small worldUpping your gameThriving in a new reality This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
Resistance is futile. 3D printing is here to stay. And if you want to reap the benefits, like reducing production costs, time and waste, it would be wise to welcome this technology with open arms. 3D printing isn’t a new technology. It’s been around as long as the Internet. But it’s been garnering more media attention in the last couple of years thanks to expanding technology. The equipment has become more affordable, efficient and accessible, making it an intriguing option for progressive manufacturers. The idea of printing a replacement toothbrush from a desktop machine could entice home users to invest in their very own 3D printer. But hobbyist use isn’t what’s getting all the attention. Industry experts think 3D printing could revolutionize the manufacturing industry. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing uses design information from a CAD file to build up a solid object, layer-by-layer, using plastics or powders. There are many processes that can be used to print materials made from metals, glass and even bio-materials, but the most well known process of fabrication is called fuse deposition modelling (FDM). This process uses a heated nozzle that deposits fine layers of plastic on a build platform. From a simple aircraft bracket to a complex organ to replace a failing one, the possibilities for 3D printing are endless. And there are unique processes used to produce this wide array of products. One 3D printer manufacturer, Stratasys, offers three types machines, using three different printing technologies. The first is Solidscape technology, which uses wax to make patterns and is often used in the dental and jewellery industry. The next is PolyJet technology, which employs an inkjet process to create objects from fine layers of photopolymers while simultaneously curing them with ultraviolet light. Finally, they employ the most common method, FDM technology. The latter is what Jeff DeGrange, vice president of direct digital manufacturing at Stratasys, calls the holy grail when it comes to potentiality. “[FDM] can be used for making functional prototypes as well as items that would be going into manufacturing, whether it be manufacturing tools or end use parts,” he says. Waste, cost, time reduction and customizationIncorporating 3D printing technology into the production line could reduce costs by reducing manufacturing waste. Traditional subtractive manufacturing creates objects by carving them out of blocks of material. This method leaves as much as 90 per cent excess waste materials behind, according to a report published by Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) titled “3D printing and the future of manufacturing.” On the other hand, additive manufacturing creates objects that retain all the materials used in the building process. An example of the cost savings from the report showed that by using FDM to build a specialty part, costs could be reduced from $10,000 to $600. Not only can costs and waste be reduced, but production time can also be significantly decreased. For example, a series of parts used to create the body of the Urbee, a two-passenger hybrid car, was printed in a matter of weeks. “[It] would have taken an estimated eight to 10 months of work for two people using a more traditional manufacturing technique,” says Vivek Srinivasan, Australia regional manager for CSC’s Leading Edge Forum and a contributor to the 3D printing report. While cost savings, waste reduction and decrease in production time are enough incentive to consider embracing 3D printing in your production line, Jarrod Bassan, a senior consultant with CSC in Australia and a contributor to the 3D printing report, believes we will see companies using 3D printing to gain a competitive advantage through direct manufacturing. “It will allow some manufacturers to offer customization where their competitors cannot,” says Bassan. “Or offer products that have some inherent advantage which is only possible because of printing.” An example of customization using additive manufacturing is Invisalign, a company that makes clear orthodontic retainers that are an alternative to metal braces. Patients are provided with a series of removable, customized retainers. Each retainer gradually realigns the teeth, and is changed every two weeks for a new, customized retainer. This is something that is only possible through 3D printing.Even airplane interiors can be customized using 3D printing technology. “You can actually make a very customized interior as far as closure panels that can then get decorative treatments to make them very customized for the pilot,” says DeGrange, who spent 20 years in the aerospace industry while working at Boeing. Mobile warehouses and keeping manufacturing at homeIf you’ve ever had an appliance break down, you know the nuisance of waiting for a repair person to come out to your home, diagnose the problem and book a return date after the faulty part has been shipped to their warehouse. DeGrange thinks 3D printing could eliminate the hassle of the wait time. With information like the model number of your appliance, the repair person can build the part that needs replacing right on the spot. “The van of the repair company could have a 3D printer and they can just download the file right there in their van and build the parts that they need to fix your dishwasher,” says DeGrange. Then there are cars. Depending on the make, its service life can be anywhere from five to 20 years and it will eventually need spare parts. “Rather than having a big warehouse of spare parts not knowing if you have too much or not enough, you can just pull up your CAD file and print out whatever quantities you need on demand where you need it,” he says. If a manufacturer offers 3D printed replacement parts for their products, not only can they can save on storage and transportation costs, they are also able offer their consumers convenience, and happy consumers are repeat consumers. Another benefit DeGrange sees in 3D printing is keeping manufacturing right here in North America. A lot of jobs are sent to low-cost countries like China, Mexico and India. “We do that for a host of reasons, but ultimately it’s cost,” he says. “And you have humans in that loop. [Additive manufacturing] is basically reducing the amount of humans in that loop.” Thanks to 3D printing, you no longer need to rely on cheap labour. All the information to build a product is in the CAD file. “You could integrate so many things in the CAD file that typically would take minutes or hours to assemble downstream and that’s why you ship things to China. Now you can bring all that home, integrate it upstream in a CAD design,” he says. DeGrange offers fuel injectors for jet engines as an example of how labour intensive some products are to build. To begin assembling a 42-part jet engine fuel injector, you put part one and part two in a welding station and weld them together. Then those two pieces go to another welding station and another two pieces are welded together. Now it’s a four-part piece. This continues from station to station with people welding at each one of these stations. “Now you can combine all 42 parts in a CAD design and build it with an additive process, in this case it would be a direct metal process,” says DeGrange. “It goes right from the CAD file to the machine that integrates all those parts together so you remove the need for having all the different tooling stations and all the people who would have to weld at those tooling stations.”Potential piracyWhile 3D printing is an exciting innovation, it’s not without its drawbacks. Since printing information is digital, it’s easily transferable. This means digital piracy is a possibility. However, the prognosis need not be bleak. Manufacturers can take steps to protect themselves, says Michael Weinberg, vice president of Public Knowledge, experts in copyright, telecommunications and Internet law. We see examples of successful management of digital piracy when we examine the last 15 years of online distribution. iTunes, Netflix and Amazon customers have proven more than willing to pay for digitized content, says Weinberg, as long as there is a way for them to do so. “The best and only real way to combat piracy is to give your customers an easy way to buy legitimate copies in the format they want,” says Weinberg.For example, manufacturers could offer downloadable CAD files for replacement parts that would cost less—not to mention take less time—to purchase and ship the part directly. That would be preferable over the litigious alternative, says Weinberg. While it can be helpful to register copyrights for things that are copyrightable, patent things that are patentable and trademark things that are trademarkable, Weinberg says that can’t be your only strategy. “Suing individual users online is a strategy that failed for the music industry,” he says. “It is unlikely to start working anytime soon.” Weinberg adds that manufacturers who choose to embrace 3D printing are much more likely to prosper in the long run. Tania MacWilliam is a freelance writer based in Milton, Ont. This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
Is it possible manufacture a unique, innovative product without a plant? One Canadian company says it is. Several years ago, two doctors at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, Paolo Campisi and Vito Forte, invented a device designed to improve the accuracy of diagnosing ear infections. The invention, called the OtoSim, was shown to improve diagnostic efficiency by 44 per cent. The pair received funding from MaRS Innovation to make their product available on the market, but there was one problem. They had no plant where they could actually manufacture the product. That’s when the folks at MaRS and OtoSim put a new twist on an old idea.“We were confident about the technology,” says Andrew Sinclair, CEO of OtoSim Inc. “But the problem was converting it into a form we could actually manufacture and finding the right partners to make it.” Contract manufacturing is certainly nothing new; it’s often the bread-and-butter of most small- to mid-size manufacturers. But over the past decade, many companies have outsourced manufacturing to China. That simply wasn’t going to work for OtoSim, for a number of reasons. In the first place, the product needed to hit the market ASAP. “If you’re getting something delivered from China there’s a four, five, eight, 10 or 12 week cycle,” says Sinclair. That kind of time frame wouldn’t work for OtoSim.Sinclair says they were also still adapting and evolving the product. OtoSim didn’t have discrete material requirements, but rather certain performance requirements for each of the components. It needed to find manufacturers who could help them perfect the process of making those components. Finally, as a start-up, OtoSim simply didn’t have the volume needed to order products from China. Instead, the company turned to local suppliers to get the job done. Building relationships helps build an innovative productThrough word of mouth and networking, OtoSim found several Toronto-area suppliers to collaborate with, including MaticAir, in Concord, Ont., Formatic 2000 Inc. in Mississauga, Ont., Max Precision Turning Inc. in Concord and CompuSoft Development Ltd. in Toronto, to name a few. Using local suppliers turned out to be a boon in more ways than one. For starters, the personal interaction made collaboration much easier than it would be if everyone were separated by time and space. “There have been situations where we want to sit down with them and they can make suggestions,” says Sinclair. “It’s a whole bunch easier to do that face to face.” Keeping it local also helped improve the manufacturing process. Because of the close, personal relationship the companies were building, many of the suppliers felt comfortable making suggestions on how to do things better. For example, the team at MaticAir was able to make the device both lighter and easier to assemble with a few design changes. “They would physically get the device in many pieces where they would have to put these little tiny bolts together and put the pieces together,” says Charles Cho, vice president of MaticAir. “I suggested we weld the two pieces together and minimize their physical hand labour.” By using only local suppliers, OtoSim has been able to both keep its manufacturing costs low and get its product to market quickly. The business started in January 2011 and, within nine months, the first device was available for sale. After the pieces are made at the various suppliers’ facilities, the final assembly is carried out at SickKids. That helps keep OtoSim nimble and responsive—and able to manufacture a product without ever touching it. This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
Eclipse Automation was growing too fast. Sure, that’s a problem most manufacturers—particularly in Southern Ontario—would kill to have. Certainly the team at Eclipse certainly wasn’t complaining. But the Cambridge, Ont.-based machine builder started out a decade ago as a company with four employees and had grown to one with more than 130. After it acquired another automation company in early 2011, it certainly did experience a few growing pains. “We needed another level of management due to that growth,” says Steve Mai, president and CEO of Eclipse Automation. “It was time to re-evaluate our whole company and have a look at what our processes were so we could streamline them.” The company underwent a massive streamlining initiative to ensure every process—from the moment an order comes in until it’s installed at the customer’s location—is automated, standardized and as efficient as possible. The initiative was important to get everyone on the same page, Mai says, particularly with regard to processes and procedures. “Everybody’s trying to work towards a goal—which is creating machines—but everyone has their own perception of what that is and how that is to be done,” he says. “We had to figure out how to leverage that.” Mapping the process Mai and his team started the streamlining process by creating a giant map of every single department in the organization, along with every single process. That map, which started out on a giant whiteboard, was the jumping-off point for examining the entire organization. Once the initial map was done, Mai brought in every member of the management team and asked them to review the processes and make changes to them, looking at how each process affects each department. In parallel with that, each manager was asked to put together a training manual for his or her department. With 10 departments, including sales, applications, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, fabrication and the machine shop, this was a huge undertaking. Those manuals—documented in presentation form in PowerPoint—looked at everything from quality control to security to safety, and everything in between. “We put each manager to task to put together this training manual for their specific department and how it cross-functionally works with our software, our quality control system and our staff, as well as how it interfaces with other departments,” Mai says. Then the departments would get together and see how their work affected each other and tried to streamline the process in a way that would make the most sense. The next step was to revise the manuals based on that feedback, then document continuous improvement and open issues. Since the company uses a home-grown ERP system with in-house programmers, implementing the changes was done in-house. Streamlining processes help manage growth The initial streamlining initiative took about four months, and Mai says it asked a lot of the staff. They committed to having training sessions on the process at least two days a week. The meetings couldn’t interrupt production, so they either ran from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., requiring participants to come in early, or from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., and participants had to stay late. “There was a four-month commitment of extended hours and time for everybody,” Mai admits, “but when you compare that to the frustration of trying to run your department inefficiently, the upside is far greater than the downside.” One of the benefits of the initiative is improved morale, Mai says. “There is frustration in growth, period. That’s the way it is,” he says. “But people are happier now.” The company is also seeing a number of financial improvements since undertaking the initiative. “We’ve been able to streamline certain processes within the company. There was a lot of redundancy, so we’ve been able to identify that,” Mai says. “Because we moved responsibilities from department to department, we basically were able to place some of them where they were most efficient. It saves time and it saves money.” The initiative also gave everyone in the company visibility into the entire operation, something that gives Eclipse a competitive advantage. “There are very few companies that can, with confidence, answer certain questions about the process flow and have documented it to that level,” Mai says. “A lot of companies have one or two individuals who know the answer, but not everybody else knows the answer. “If you ask me a question about our process right now, I know the answer. But you should be able to walk out anywhere on our floor and ask anyone the same question and they should know the answer. Now they do.” Of course, like any good program, the work is never really done. Mai says the goal in 2013 is to automate the entire process in the ERP so that staff don’t have to physically go through manuals. “You’ll be able to go into our ERP system and scan through where you are in the process—like what the tasks are in there—and it will give you hyperlinks to every single tool,” he says. “That’s the next step.” The end result is that Eclipse Automation doesn’t just have a streamlined, efficient production process, but everyone in the company knows it too. If he had to go back and do it over again, Mai says he wouldn’t change a thing. Well, maybe one thing, he adds. “I would have done it sooner!” he says. “We had a very aggressive period of growth, and if we had this process in place before the acquisition, the focus of everything that happened would have been that much better.” This article originally appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
The Canadian government spends $7 billion annually on direct support for research and development. While applying for funding may be a good business practice, it’s hard to find the time and resources to do so, which is why, unfortunately, many manufacturers miss out on valuable opportunities. The good news is that for those companies that make the time to pursue funding opportunities, or who hire a third party who understands the process, there are a host of tax incentives, interest-free loans and grants available that reward innovation.Grant programs are available from provinces and some local economic development agencies. There are also interest-free loans, such as the one offered in Québec by the Ministry of Economic Development and Export for the acquisition of equipment or for hiring people. Canadian manufacturers can also apply for incentives for environmental initiatives. Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) offers funding and incentive programs for companies investing in environmentally-friendly projects. One particular tax credit is the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program. Canada’s largest business incentive program, it distributes more than $4 billion per year in tax credits and cash refunds to companies performing work. Who is eligible?Companies can apply for SR&ED incentives that cover labour costs associated with the development of a project; overhead allocation; material; subcontractor costs; and capital.Ross Cooper, senior advisor, Value Added Programs, for the Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium (EMC), says people often falsely assume that either they are eligible because they have an R&D department or, conversely, that they won’t be eligible for SR&ED because they don’t. “It goes much broader than that,” he says. “It’s about innovation, and where companies are doing things in an innovative way to remain viable and competitive in a fairly challenging environment.”How to apply for SR&ED fundingEach tax credit, grant or interest-free loan has its own application procedure. SR&ED has four segments: new product, new process, related continuous improvement of a product or related continuous improvement of a process. Once you have identified which segment you fit into, the next step is to know the criteria. “The CRA looks at all three criteria, and if you don’t meet all of them you won’t be eligible,” Cooper says. Those three criteria are:• Technological advancement. Did you learn something? You must demonstrate that, at the end of the project, your level of technical knowledge had increased. • Technological uncertainty. You must also show that the knowledge you gained was not something you could just go out and find on the Internet. The CRA wants to know if there was a technical roadblock or a hurdle you had to overcome.• Technical content. You must show, in detail, your development cycle. If it took you multiple times to get to the point you wanted, demonstrate the scientific approach you went through to learn what you learned.Tips for making your application stand outHaving the right sort of company or project is your main strength, however, how you fill out the application is also critical to whether or not you receive money:• Location, location, location: “How much you get varies from one province to another, so locate your activities where you can find good people and where you can get a good tax credit,” says Martin Vézina, partner, Global R&D and Government Incentives, National Leader, Incentives for Deloitte & Touche LLP.• Get help. Consultants have the full-time task of helping manufacturers know which funding they would qualify for and how to increase their chances of getting it.• Tell the truth. What you claim in your application must be accurate. SR&ED applications go through a series of reviews. Canada Revenue Agency can at any time request a formal technical and/or financial review of the company. “CRA is looking at these projects much more closely and folks are getting surprised,” Cooper says.• Consider it a business proposal. The government’s goal is to help companies remain competitive and viable. “From a government’s standpoint,” Cooper says, “they want to know it’s a return for them by making that investment. By supporting that, you keep people employed and paying taxes. It really is their way of supporting industry and remaining competitive in a global environment.”• Assign the task to a good writer. The wording you choose can make all the difference between qualifying and not qualifying. For example, Cooper says, “They don’t want to hear, ‘we took on this project because the product we’re producing meant we were losing our margin and had to remain competitive.’ But if you said, ‘Our customer is requiring this new product that we technologically did not know how to make, but we had to go through this development cycle to determine how to overcome that barrier, and here’s the scientific approach we used…’ they’ll be much more convinced that you’re innovative.”• Document everything. For the SR&ED program, the CRA will look at things like revision levels within your drawing system, scribbles on napkins, notes in a logbook that say you did a trial on this day and that day and even emails. It’s also a good idea to take photos of your first trial and what you ended up with, and of the second, third and fourth trials. Support your claims with as much proof as possible.Michelle Morra is a freelance writer from Toronto.This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
Innovation. It’s a widely used term. One that’s thrown around quite often in manufacturing circles. And when our board members got together in April for the sixth annual roundtable meeting, everything seemed to circle back to innovation as the solution to what ails the manufacturing industry. But how can we bring about innovation within Canadian manufacturing? Here, our board members offer their views. For more details on the discussion, check out the cover story in our June 2012 issue.
For managers in advanced manufacturing, knowing about the latest and greatest components and materials being created by their suppliers gives manufacturers a distinct advantage over less curious competitors. At the supplier end, knowing what advanced manufacturers want to make tells the suppliers where to concentrate their innovation.And, of course, it continues up the sales chain; retailers and business-to-business vendors can learn what their customers want, and pass the word back to manufacturers. "Please make this. Our customers will buy it."Your car interior: brought to you by WoodbridgeBecause Woodbridge Foam Corporation is the largest moulded plastics producer in the world, when you sit in almost any car you'll probably be surrounded by Woodbridge products. And because car companies are headquartered in many different countries, Dr. Hamdy Khalil, global technical director for research and product development, and his associates leverage their partners in ways that reflect different national traits.He understands different cultures and is well travelled. He's a graduate of two Egyptian universities, and holds a PhD from Windsor University.He said traditional national traits were weakening, and there were always exceptions to the rules, but basically, the relationship between suppliers and car manufacturers could be fairly easily categorized along country lines.Car culture: Germany, U.S., JapanIn broad strokes, the German car companies call in the suppliers, one firm at a time, and discuss with them the whole development of a component, ranging from concept through materials to final assembly details. Then, the Germans pick the supplier they think will yield the best result.The big advantages are that both the company and suppliers get to explore fresh ideas, and the company gets lots of design choices.And, German cars tend to have hard seats.The Americans, for the most part, continue their long-time approach to supplier relations. The car companies use their own engineers and designers to come up with the concept they want to implement, and then provide drawings to several suppliers, as part of a bidding process.The big advantages? Companies control the design and the lowest price supplier gets the work.And the Americans have the softest seats.The Japanese start their leveraging their suppliers with a request to "bring us the newest ideas, the highest technology, the most innovation." And once they get these ideas, they work with the suppliers to determine how to bring them to production, and get them installed in a car.The big advantage? Breakthroughs that lead to customer satisfaction.The Japanese seats? Like Goldilocks—not too hard and not too soft.The generally-failed Daimler-Chrysler merger and the apparently successful Fiat-Chrysler and Nissan-Renault relationships all have helped reduce the traditional nation-based automotive manufacturing approaches.Dr. Khalil said the Fiat-Chrysler relationship provided a ready-made dealer network for Fiat's return to North America, and Fiat benefited from some of Chrysler's advanced electronics. And Chrysler learned from Fiat's expertise in small cars, including handling and maximizing fuel economy.Lesson: pick a system…and get on with itPerhaps the most important lesson is that there are many ways of working with suppliers and customers. The actual manner of working—the German way, the American way, the Japanese way—is less important than simply picking a way, and starting to leverage these upstream and downstream partners. It’s his version of “Just Do It.”Jana Schilder is a technical writer with RIC Centre, an organization that supports entrepreneurs and innovators in Peel Region in Ontario. The organization offers advanced manufacturing facilities with people and programs to help businesses innovate and grow, including in-depth, industry-specific education programs, peer-to-peer networking events and breakfast seminars. Learn more at www.riccentre.ca.
Like many businesses competing in a global market, Sony Corporation is challenged to do more with less. The electronics company provides leading-edge products like Blu-ray Disc players, Bravia televisions, Cyber-shot digital cameras and Handycam Camcorders to consumers across the globe. In recent years, its wholly-owned Canadian subsidiary, Sony of Canada Ltd., experienced a rapidly changing business model of increasing online orders — particularly an increase in smaller orders — coupled with growth. Every day, Sony factories around the world ship approximately 1,500 products to Sony of Canada’s distribution centres in Coquitlam, B.C., and Whitby, Ont., which in turn collectively process 18,000 orders per month. Sony of Canada sometimes had trouble keeping up. The company’s growth quickly exposed the weaknesses in the paper-based and RF systems it used for distribution. Paper was cumbersome and it provided no locator system to help employees find products quickly and easily. While RF scanning was quicker and faster than paper, picking with RF consisted of too many steps, which increased the opportunity for errors. Workers had to input into the handheld unit, view the screen, put down and pick up the device, and the system was often slow to respond. Sony of Canada was looking for a way to improve its efficiency and effectiveness, service levels and costs, so that it could remain competitive in a challenging global market. The solutionAt the recommendation of RedPrairie, Sony of Canada’s WMS provider and technology partner, the company decided to investigate the potential of Vocollect Voice, voice-enabling technology used in manufacturing plants and distribution centres. “I was introduced to the voice technology at RedPrairie’s user conference and, of course, immediately I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is amazing stuff. We could certainly use it,’” recalls Rick Courtin, business process manager, Supply Chain Group, Sony of Canada. Based on observing voice in action at another Vocollect customer site and consultation from RedPrairie, the company could see that the integration of Vocollect Voice into an upcoming WMS upgrade would be an excellent way to achieve maximum payback in process improvements across its distribution operations. Handling bulky RF units, looking at a screen for instructions and inputting data would no longer slow down their distribution process. With voice, they could move to a hands-free/eyes-free environment. “With voice, the beauty of it is that it’s a very fluid capability. You don’t have to put things down and then go back to them. So you’re just basically talking and you’re walking and you’re doing the job as you go,” explains Courtin. How it works“Vocollect and RedPrairie have been long-time partners, and we work very closely together so that we can build a real-time direct interface between the RedPrairie WMS business logic and the process logic that exists inside the Vocollect system,” explains Gary Glessner, vice-president, Sales-Americas, Vocollect. “We do this because we want to make it easy for folks like Rick, Sony and our other customers to seamlessly be able to deploy voice with minimal extra effort of any kind.”When an order is sent to the WMS, Vocollect Voice translates it into voice commands, and the system talks to the worker through a headset with a microphone. “So instead of an operator having to, with an RF device, scan or look at the screen and enter key pushes to tell the computer to advance to the next step, all of that is just being done by speech commands,” explains Glessner. The system includes a text-to-speech engine, available in many different languages, which takes the data that the WMS system is sending out and automatically converts it to speech commands. The worker then responds into the microphone. Voice recognition algorithm software resides inside the voice client that runs on the mobile computing device, and it does the interpretation of what the worker is saying and turns that into data that goes back to the WMS system.The recognition algorithm that Vocollect uses is speaker dependent. Each worker will spend 20 minutes or so when they first start using the voice system to train their individual voice template, which is stored on a small computer or server. Every time the worker logs in and starts a shift, their specific voice template is downloaded to their specific mobile computer. “When that worker trains the template, they can speak in whatever accent, dialect [or] language,” says Glessner. “As long as they’re consistent, the system will consistently recognize them.” Workers using the system can also choose their own settings. They can select whether the voice is male or female, and adjust the pitch, volume and speed of the voice. Vocollect at Sony of CanadaSony of Canada uses a consolidated picking methodology — cluster picking — for processing less than master carton quantities. Initially Vocollect Voice was piloted for cluster picking for parcel shipments because of its process fit and the high number of picks — about 65 percent of their transactions go through the parcel mode. After a short training process (as little as one hour), workers were up and running. Today, orders are batched, and a bulk pick of product is then brought forward to a staging area where the individual orders are picked, packed and shipped through the use of Vocollect.Since that time, the company has expanded voice to the cycle counting workflow, which is the process of counting inventory. Sony of Canada performs cycle counting with voice every day. Cycle counts are generated and operations staff are sent instructions via the WMS to the voice system to perform the counts. Location and SKUs are scanned and counted as blind counts. If the count does not agree with the system, the operator is asked to verify. If the second verification doesn’t agree with the system count, an audit count — performed by supervisory or management staff — is automatically generated. Using Vocollect for cycle counting has resulted in increases in accuracy through hands-free counts, and it has eliminated costly and time-consuming periodic audits for Sony of Canada.The resultsVoice picking not only requires fewer steps than using an RF device, but workers are able to perform each of those steps more rapidly and productively than if they had to hold and put down an RF device to perform their work, look at a screen for instructions and use the device to scan or key input information. “So that’s where you pick up all the productivity gains with voice,” says Glessner. “[It] is not only reducing the number of steps, but being able to do those steps much more productively and efficiently.” The ability to accurately and quickly fulfill orders, to manage seasonal volume hikes, to help the company sustain a thriving Internet business with large numbers of smaller orders, and to do more with less are all benefits the voice solution has brought.“With our old paper-based system and its inherent inefficiencies, physical inventory took us four business days. Moving to RF reduced the inventory process to just a day and a half. But with Vocollect Voice, now we spend only half a day completing physical inventories,” says Courtin.Since implementing Vocollect Voice, Sony of Canada has realized improvements of 30 percent in throughput and 15 percent in accuracy, as well as improvements in safety, with the hands-free/eyes-free feature of the voice system. Reduced training time is also a big benefit, Courtin says. It only takes an hour or so for technical training on the voice system, and about a week for the full operational training. In the past, it would take employees two to three months to complete RF scanning and operational training. These improved efficiencies have allowed the company to reduce its temporary headcount by five workers. “We’ve often had to bring in temporary help to augment the full-time staff, and we’ve basically cut right back,” says Courtin. “The efficiency gain has been such that we didn’t have to hire nearly as many temps as in the past.”Voice technology has also allowed Sony of Canada to better manage the seasonality of the business, with the peak order time being September through December. The voice system provides workers with the ability to nimbly move from one assignment to the next with no downtime, even during peak periods. Voices in the plantSony of Canada has seen such huge benefits from using voice for cluster picking and cycle counting, that it plans to expand Vocollect Voice to full pallet picks, put-away, and Less than Trailer Load (LTL) picking. (They are currently in the middle of piloting it in LTL picking.) However, applications span beyond distribution. “What we see is that companies are clearly seeing, especially in manufacturing applications, that the hands-free/eyes-free accuracy and productivity — that optimal combination of accuracy and productivity — is allowing companies to deploy voice in applications such as the feeding of assembly lines, the feeding of manufacturing cells [and] kitting applications,” says Glessner, adding that even inspection was an early application for Vocollect Voice. “It’s predominantly in use today in distribution centre operations, but…many manufacturers are discovering that in just-in-time assembly cells and manufacturing lines, voice has a significant value-add.”“There are customers that have a belief that voice adds complexity to an implementation,” says Scott Dunnington, service director with RedPrairie Corporation. “What we really find is that voice reduces the complexity. It makes for more successful projects. It makes for happier customers, happier users and better all around project results.”And Sony of Canada is proof. After using Vocollect Voice for four years, and seeing the huge benefits — including an ROI of less than one year — Courtin agrees. “I can tell you from the staff that use it that it’s very much a pleasure for them to work with that technology.”It makes their jobs easier, and they are more productive, efficient and effective — the exact combination that Sony of Canada needs to remain competitive and ensure that its products arrive to customers on time, every time.This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
RIC Centre and ABB present a six-session program designed to kick-start ideas and nurture innovation within advanced manufacturing in Ontario. At the session, "How to Evaluate Your News Ideas," presenter Paul Smith of Mississauga, Ont.-based Xerox Research Centre of Canada demonstrated how his global company evaluates the innovations of in-house scientists. The Davis campus of Sheridan College in Brampton, Ont., played host as part of the innovate>forward initiative. This video is courtesy of Manufacturing AUTOMATION sister publication Design Product News.
Plant Simulation is more than just a computer application. It's a tool than can - and has - helped companies optimize their manufacturing processes.
Oakville Stamping & Bending isn't moving to China.
If Canadian manufacturers want to truly compete on the global stage, they're going to have to turn away from investments in labour, materials and energy and instead prioritize the hiring of talented employees, according to a new report issued by Deloitte. The 2010 Global Manufcturing Competitiveness Index urges Canadian manufacturers to step up investments in talent-driven innovation to improve performance in the sector and create a competitive policy infrastructure. The report reveals that talented workers capable of supporting innovation is the key factor driving global competitiveness at manufacturing companies. It warns that dominant manufacturing powers of the late 20th century are no longer leading the sector and will continue to be outpaced by a new group of leaders such as China, India, the Republic of Korea and Brazil. North American and Western European nations are expected to be less competitive in the next five years. Canada is ranked in the middle of the pack and is expected to remain there five years from now. "This finding deserves careful consideration as Canada evaluates its global competitiveness position," cautions Luc Martin, Deloitte Canada's National Manufacturing Leader. According to Martin, the study confirms that the global competitive landscape for manufacturing is undergoing a transformational shift. "The Canadian economy as a whole is in a strong position compared to other developed countries, but our average competitiveness will mean that further restructuring of Canadian companies will be needed. Investments in a skilled workforce and in innovation will be key to improving performance and keeping a vibrant manufacturing industry in Canada," Martin said. The report found that the countries with a competitive edge in manufacturing have a steady supply of highly skilled workers, scientists, researchers, engineers, and teachers who collectively have the capacity to continuously innovate and, simultaneously, improve production efficiency. In addition, the most competitive nations demonstrate strength in research and development, as well as engineering, software and technology integration abilities. For example, the report found that although China, India and Korea relied on lower-cost labor early on, the current edge shown by their manufacturing sectors is attributable to their ability to supply high-end and highly technical products. "Talent, specifically talent that drives innovations, trumps all when it comes to global competitiveness at manufacturing companies. The availability of talented people along with research and development capabilities are vital elements of the talent-driven and innovative manufacturing enterprise of the 21st century," Martin said. The report identified other key drivers of competitiveness in the global manufacturing industry, many of which are policy related such as cost of labor and materials; economic, trade, financial, and tax systems; energy cost and policies; legal and regulatory systems; quality of physical infrastructure. On this front, the report found a clear geographical divergence in the perception of public policy support for competitiveness. China is seen as making competitiveness easier compared to Europe and North America through government policies including support of science, technology, and innovation. European governments provide an edge to their manufacturing industry with the support of infrastructure development, while North America is perceived as having the most advantageous intellectual property protection policies. In North America, financial and tax systems ranked third in factors influencing manufacturing performance. The report noted that appropriate regulations and policies on corporate taxes, trade, central banking and overall financial systems foster the necessary business climate for a thriving industrial sector, while inappropriate measures in this area can stifle the manufacturing sector and be a drag on a country's competitiveness.
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