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Overall equipment effectiveness—Helping manufacturers tackle the UK productivity problem

(Image credit: Image Credit: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock)

A recent lull in growth for UK productivity has highlighted the need for manufacturing firms to think and act more strategically when it comes to boosting both their performance and productivity. While the concept of overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is nothing new, recent advances in Industry 4.0 technologies mean that process evaluation—to identify and eliminate inefficiencies—has once again become a key consideration for organisations striving for future business growth.

In today’s manufacturing landscape, the value-driven insights leveraged from technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to evaluate real-time data generated by connected machines. This is proving pivotal for driving operational productivity—from the factory to the shop floor.

Anticipating and minimising machine downtime

The fast-paced adoption of advanced digital technologies by manufacturers around the globe means that, to stay fit to compete, UK firms need to ensure they have a robust and agile IT infrastructure in place. Those manufacturers able to embrace today’s readily available Industry 4.0 technologies will be best positioned to drive up efficiencies and reposition themselves competitively in the global manufacturing market.

By deploying sophisticated sensors to harvest production data on the shop floor, and tools to extract and process this data in real-time, firms will be able to optimise machinery and reduce operational downtime and costs. Indeed, a recent 2018 survey on machine downtime revealed how the broken machines and faulty parts that hamper productivity were costing Britain’s manufacturers more than £180bn a year.

Although production challenges such as machine breakdowns may seem inevitable, having the right systems in place can help manufacturers retain a degree of control over unforeseen circumstances. The use of monitoring software, for example, gives firms the visibility needed to anticipate and solve production problems before these happen. Similarly, by harnessing insights generated from real-time production data, manufacturers can improve equipment reliability, boost longevity, and reduce waste. As well as informing future planning efforts, these insights can also enable manufactures to discover hidden opportunities—to increase business performance, quality, and yield.

According to PwC’s Digital Factories 2020 report, new ground-breaking technologies such as digital twinning can be used to create a digital simulation of facilities and environments that emulate real-life conditions. Using sensors to continuously collect machine condition data, manufacturers can use these exact digital replicas to effectively calculate component wear rates, production loads, and life spans. With access to this kind of information, machine operators will be able to proactively determine the optimal time for maintenance and eliminate the need for major repairs or unnecessary service costs.

Offering a powerful and precise method of monitoring and controlling assets and processes, digital twins can also drive the highly effective implementation of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), AI, and robotics. As technology becomes more complex and increasingly advanced, having access to this wealth of real-time knowledge means that manufacturers can utilise this data to drive specific business goals. According to research by Gartner, 50 per cent of large industrial companies will use digital twins by 2021, resulting in those organisations gaining a 10 per cent improvement in overall effectiveness.

Technology will be key to boosting operational performance

The factory floor is a fast-paced environment and the entrance of new tools and systems is making it faster still. Things can happen and change instantly—as a result, a couple of minutes’ downtime, or a piece of equipment not working as it should, can mean the difference between a satisfied and a frustrated customer, and a shipped or a missed order.

With the influx of automated and connected machinery, systems that enable the smooth running of a factory floor are becoming essential for boosting operational performance. For example, industry-specific technologies such as manufacturing execution software (MES) can eliminate inaccurate and time-consuming manual data collection by enabling real-time data to be collected directly from equipment and operators on the shop floor.

Spurred on by the advancements made possible by Industry 4.0, many savvy UK manufacturers are already adopting a data-driven approach to operational equipment effectiveness. Southco, an English manufacturer of engineered access hardware solutions, is just one company using systems such as MES to effectively optimise its assembly line. Intelligence from the MES software revealed how the business was only benefiting from 20 per cent utilisation of its static assembly lines, with some benches being used for a mere eight hours each month. Armed with this knowledge, Southco was able to deploy semi-automated plug-and-play assembly machines. As a result, average bench utilisation has increased to 60 per cent, generating significant cost savings for the firm.

Tackling the productivity problem

By maximising overall equipment effectiveness across a factory floor, British manufacturing firms can help tackle falling UK productivity head-on and pave the way for future business growth. In today’s particularly turbulent manufacturing marketplace, having the insights required to make technology work smarter will provide UK manufacturers with a prime opportunity to enable efficiency savings and unlock overall output growth. By harnessing technologies that support and enable highly effective OEE—such as AI, automation, and analytics—manufacturers can create a truly connected enterprise that utilises both people and machines to boost productivity and, ultimately, drive performance.

Andy Coussins, senior vice president and head of sales, international, Epicor Software