Smart Factory Insights: The Costs of Legacy Thinking

As humans, we learn facts, gain impressions, create solutions, put practices into place, and move onto our next challenge. Over time, our intent is to create a legacy of value, but in many cases, we are creating legacies in a different sense. Our knowledge, experience, and creations age or become superseded, but there is resistance to replace or update. An increasing gap develops between perception and reality. Younger, more agile peers take advantage, get ahead, and we look away, thinking that they don’t know what they are doing. Though a natural human phenomenon, decision-makers in manufacturing today need to bear this mind more than ever.

As a civilization, we have achieved so much—men on the moon, supercomputing power in the palm of our hands, and we’ve even made the planet just a little bit warmer. In manufacturing, we benefit from faster, more flexible automation; smaller, lighter materials; greater throughputs; near-perfect quality; and decreased costs, with a supply-chain to die for.

Our intent was to create excellence. Being in control in manufacturing is paramount, having removed as many unknown sources as possible of variation and change. Practices put in place address challenges that once plagued operations, and that maximized benefits and profit. It has meant we took our eyes off the ball.

The world is going through another fundamental change. In fact, this time, a few different interacting changes, are occurring at the same time. Whether it is global or local politics, a pandemic, or bad weather, the message is finally getting across that there really are fundamental challenges ahead, not the least within manufacturing, which of course, brings new opportunities.

In the manufacturing world, the advancement of software within inspection, test, and assembly machines, as well as operational and business solutions such as MES, MOM, and ERP, has been radical over recent years. It is more difficult to see the progress of software changes as compared to machine hardware technology, which you can see and for which there are clear specifications. Most of the software value is not visible, with thousands of elements that contribute, which are not, however, practical to detail and explain. Even the human interface, the shopwindow of software, has shrunk in significance. Advancement of software brings more automation of decision-making, and even “creativity,” but less human interaction and involvement. One manufacturer was unhappy when they upgraded their product design data import from Gerber to the use of IPC-2581. Instead of a screen full of options and configurations needed to cope with the randomness of Gerber and the myriad associated supporting files, there was just one button, labelled “Import 2581.” The feeling of being in control on behalf of the user is replaced by the cleverness within the software and the data format itself. Which do we think is the quicker and most reliable?

More and more, we see advanced technologies being embedded within software. Incredible improvements in factory management, active quality, supply-chain, and even image sensors and inspection algorithms, often go unnoticed and are taken for granted, certainly lacking appreciation of value. Vendors often attempt to recreate that feeling of interaction, making eye-catching game-ready graphical displays in the hope that people will notice that the software is there and doing something.

Against this backdrop, it is difficult to assess progression and therefore the need for modern software, to make confident, justified decisions that create changes in current manufacturing practices. The purchase and use of software very often is based on information and perceptions dating from many years ago. Even in a period of months, values from software become significantly enhanced. Another factor, however, is that not all vendors are keeping pace, and setting the state of the art for the industry. Vendors are also subject to the same difficulties in making paradigm-changing choices in the development of their products. We see many large software platforms, popular in the industry, date back decades since their initial creation, which will never be able to evolve quickly enough. Progressive vendors have reinvented solutions that take advantage of the latest technologies, such as standardized IIoT messaging, and use it to create previously unachievable functionality and automation. It is essential to regularly reset perceptions and take a fresh look into which software solutions have really evolved and which companies are driving the industry, helping manufacturing adapt and recover, knowing that perceptions of limitations from years ago have long since been addressed. Today’s software technology, architecture, and reliability is a long way ahead of what you might expect.

As most manufacturers now scramble around for materials, machines, and spare parts, as well as skilled and experienced labor, remember that the most modern software from machine vendors, MES providers, and others are likely to be far more advanced than you realize, which reflects on the ability to cope much more easily with the business-related changes and limitations that are being forced upon us all. The argument that any change, including that of new software, brings its own variations and challenges, as well as thinking that it may be too late now as the global challenges are already with us, are not valid. The amount of control and visibility that the latest software provides is at least an order of magnitude greater than the work and effort to introduce the software.

As for global challenges coming to an end, many think that is unrealistic, both in terms of dealing with ongoing consequences of what has happened already—for example, with the pandemic—as well as worsening factors such as climate change and potentially political issues, which are forcing rapid change in government policy, risk management, and customer demand choices. The worst and the best are yet to come. The most modern software is your friend and ally as we face the future together.

This column originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of SMT007 Magazine.

 

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2021

Smart Factory Insights: The Costs of Legacy Thinking

12-01-2021

As humans, we learn facts, gain impressions, create solutions, put practices into place, and move onto our next challenge. Over time, our intent is to create a legacy of value, but in many cases, we are creating legacies in a different sense. Our knowledge, experience, and creations age or become superseded, but there is resistance to replace or update. An increasing gap develops between perception and reality. Younger, more agile peers take advantage, get ahead, and we look away, thinking that they don’t know what they are doing. Though a natural human phenomenon, decision-makers in manufacturing today need to bear this mind more than ever.

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Smart Factory Insights: Hands-off Manufacturing

07-12-2021

The use of automation has not eliminated causes of unreliability, nor defects, which ironically continues to drive the need for humans to be hands-on, even as part of SMT operations. There is clearly something missing, so cue our digital twin.

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Smart Factory Insights: Me and My Digital Twin

04-12-2021

A fully functional digital twin involves more than it may initially seem. At first we tend to think about access to information. There is a great deal of trust to be taken into account when creating a digital twin, as there is scope for its use both for good and evil.

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2020

Smart Factory Insights: Changing Roles in the Digital Factory

12-01-2020

Experts once required to have a knowledge of specialized materials and processes are giving way to those experienced in the application of automated and computerized solutions. Michael Ford describes how it is time to reinvent the expectations and qualifications that we seek in managers, engineers, and production operators to attract and support a different kind of manufacturing innovation.

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Smart Factory Insights: Smart Factories—Indirectly the Death of Test and Inspection

11-04-2020

In the smart factory, test and inspection are reinvented, contributing direct added value, playing a new and critically important role where defects are avoided through the use of data, and creating a completely different value proposition. Michael Ford explains how the digitalized Deming Theory can be explained to those managing budgets and investments to ensure that we move our operations forward digitally in the best way possible.

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Smart Factory Insights: Trust in Time

08-05-2020

We’ve all heard of “just in time” as applied to the supply chain, but with ongoing disruption due to COVID-19, increasing risk motivates us to return to the bad habit of hoarding excess inventory. Michael Ford introduces the concept of "trust in time"—a concept that any operation, regardless of size or location, can utilize today.

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Smart Factory Insights: It’s Not What You Have—It’s How You Use It

06-03-2020

According to the reports, all the machines in the factory are performing well, but the factory itself appears to be in a coma, unable to fulfill critical delivery requirements. Is this a nightmare scenario, or is it happening every day? Trying to help, some managers are requesting further investment in automation, while others are demanding better machine data that explains where it all went wrong. Digital technology to the rescue, or is it making the problem worse?

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Smart Factory Insights: Seeing Around Corners

04-20-2020

Each of us has limitations, strengths, and weaknesses. Our associations with social groups—including our friends, family, teams, schools, companies, towns, counties, countries, etc.—enable us to combine our strengths into a collective, such that we all contribute to an overall measure of excellence. There is strength in numbers. Michael Ford explains how this most human of principles needs to apply to IIoT, smart manufacturing, and AI if we are to reach the next step of smart manufacturing achievement.

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Smart Factory Insights: Size Matters—The Digital Twin

02-01-2020

In the electronics manufacturing space, at least, less is more. Michael Ford considers what the true digital twin is really all about—including the components, uses, and benefits—and emphasizes that it is not just an excuse to show some cool 3D graphics.

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Smart Factory Insights: What You No Longer Need to Learn

01-14-2020

Naturally evolving layers of technological applications allow us to build and make progress, layer by layer, rather than staying relatively stagnant with only incremental improvement. To gain ground in manufacturing, Michael Ford explains how we need to embrace next-layer hardware and software technologies now so that we can focus on applying these solutions as part of a digital factory.

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2019

Smart Factory Insights: Dromology—Time-space Compression in Manufacturing

11-25-2019

Dromology is a new word for many, including Microsoft Word. Dromology resonates as an interesting way to describe changes in the manufacturing process due to technical and business innovation over the last few years, leading us towards Industry 4.0. Michael Ford explores dromology in the assembly factory today.

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Smart Factory Insights: Trends and Opportunities at SMTAI 2019

10-14-2019

SMTAI is more than just a simple trade show. For me, it is an opportunity to meet face to face with colleagues and friends in the industry to talk about and discuss exciting new industry trends, needs, technologies, and ideas.

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Smart Factory Insights: Recognizing the Need for Change

09-24-2019

We are reminded many times in manufacturing, that "you cannot fix what you cannot see" and "you cannot improve what you cannot measure." These annoying aphorisms are all very well as a motivational quip for gaining better visibility of the operation. However, the reality is that there is a lot going on that no-one is seeing.

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Accelerating Tech: Standards-driven, Digital Design Flow for Industry 4.0

04-24-2019

The term “fragmented manufacturing” is a good way to describe current assembly manufacturing challenges in an Industry 4.0 environment. Even in Germany, productivity reportedly continues to decline. To reach the upside of Industry 4.0, data flows relating to design play a major role—one that brings significant opportunity to the overall assembly business.

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The Truth Behind AI

02-28-2019

The term "artificial intelligence" or "AI" has become a source of confusion for many—heralded as part of Industry 4.0, yet associated with the threat of automation replacing human workers. AI is software rather than hardware, and it's time to put these elements of AI into context, enabling us as an industry to embrace the opportunities that so-called AI represents without being drawn in, or pushed away, by the hype.

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2018

Resolving the Productivity Paradox

12-22-2018

The productivity paradox continues to thrive. To a growing number of people and companies, this does not come as a surprise because investment in automation alone is still just an extension of Industry 3.0. There has been a failure to understand and execute what Industry 4.0 really is, which represents fundamental changes to factory operation before any of the clever automation and AI tools can begin to work effectively.

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The Truth About CFX

10-23-2018

A great milestone in digital assembly manufacturing has been reached by having the IPC Connected Factory Exchange (CFX) industrial internet of things (IIoT) standard in place with an established, compelling commitment of adoption. What's the next step?

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Advanced Digitalization Makes Best Practice, Part 2: Adaptive Planning

08-27-2018

For Industry 4.0 operations, Adaptive Planning has the capability of replacing both legacy APS tools, simulations, and even Excel solutions. As time goes on, with increases in the scope, quality and reliability of live data coming from the shop-floor, using for example the CFX, it is expected that Adaptive Planning solutions will become progressively smarter, offering greater guidance while managing constraints as well as optimization.

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Advanced Digitalization Makes Best Practice Part 1: Digital Remastering

07-02-2018

As digitalization and the use of IoT in the manufacturing environment continues to pick up speed, critical changes are enabled, which are needed to achieve the levels of performance and flexibility expected with Industry 4.0. This first part of a series on new digital best practices looks at examples of the traditional barriers to flexibility and value creation, and suggests new digital best practices to see how these barriers can be avoided, or even eliminated.

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Configure to Order: Different by Design

01-15-2018

Perhaps in the future, sentient robots looking back at humans today will consider that we were a somewhat random bunch of people as no two of us are the same. Human actions and choices cannot be predicted reliably, worse even than the weather. As with any team however, our ability to rationalize in many different ways in parallel is, in fact, our strength, creating a kind of biological “fuzzy logic.”

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2017

Counterfeit: A Quality Conundrum

10-01-2017

There is an imminent, critical challenge facing every manufacturer in the industry. The rise in the ingress of counterfeit materials into the supply chain has made them prolific, though yet, the extent is understated. What needs to be faced now is the need for incoming inspection, but at what cost to industry, and does anyone remember how to do it?

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