Smart Manufacturing is more than just systems
Tanja Rauniaho-Mitchell shares how smart factories need a balance between people and technologies.
With the increase in the complexity of the supply chain more and more manufacturers are pushed to change the way they produce. As the market changes the industry needs to find a way to better understand what is happening and how to deal with its bottlenecks. A new way of thinking and looking at problems and possibilities is surfacing with the aim to turn manufacturers ‘smart’.
Smart manufacturing is gaining popularity amongst companies as it promises to bring multiple benefits whilst keeping the core business inhouse. It aims at creating an environment where the manufacturing process is well-controlled and delivers high value by continuous adaptation.
More than technology
Adapting to fast changes in demand is a hurdle for many businesses and by utilising technologies like Big Data, Robotics and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) systems, manufacturers expect to solve many of their current headaches. Digitalising the factory however is a multistep process that requires commitment and in-depth understanding of why it is important to embark on such a journey.
Manufacturer challenges are related to reducing machine downtime, increasing production quality and yield...
Tanja Rauniaho-Mitchell, Head of Product Management at Elisa Smart Factory, points at how crucial commitment is. ‘It is very important that the company management is committed to transferring the factory into a smart factory, or otherwise the project never takes off,’ she explains. Elisa Smart Factory is a start-up in Finland focused on building more factories around the world that use digital technologies in order to drive their decisions and achieve their goals.
The start-up is part of one of the most successful Finish companies - Elisa, that has over 135 years of history in the telecommunications, ICT and digital services. Elisa has started its journey into turning ‘smart’ in 2011 by undertaking a digital transformation of its network designed to deal with the increase in mobile traffic. The company uses its own experience to create the platform for Smart Factory as a proof how such implementation can be done. The transformation turns out successfully and today over 4 million daily network checks are performed by robots that detect problems before them occurring. This means potential troubles are dealt with so customers do not realise there was a fault in the network. The result is that the company manages its vast network with the same man power as in 2007 while the mobile traffic keeps increasing.
Based on this Elisa is helping manufacturers all around Europe to incorporate smart technologies in their supply chains and factories.
‘The first, and most important step, is to identify a challenge to solve. Usually manufacturer challenges are related to reducing machine downtime, increasing production quality and yield,’ continues Rauniaho-Mitchell. Once the challenge has been identified it is time to think what the end goal is and what are the KPIs that will determine success.
And here Rauniaho-Mitchell talks about the importance of commitment and sharing the need for such transformation with everyone in the company. She says it is impossible to succeed without having everyone on board. ‘As the employees are the most important asset, most companies need an internal transformation effort to make people think differently about data-driven performance,’ explains Rauniaho-Mitchell.
AI and automation will not displace people but combine their capabilities in new ways ...
The starting point for the transformation is the level of data sophistication or how much data is being collected by the company. When there is plenty of data Elisa can get a ‘jumped start’ and start analysing the history of the manufacturing processes straight away. In most cases, however, there isn’t enough available data so the first step is to start accumulating it.
Usually such large tasks as collecting data and analysing it are seen as a therotory reserved for large companies with big budgets and many operations spanning continents. The Finish start-up however is certain that this is not the case when implementing smart manufacturing. Even though smart manufacturing relies on technologies like IIoT and analytics, technology is not the only factor that defines success. Rauniaho-Mitchell talks about a balance between people and technology that is the key. The company culture will determine what happens and how beneficial the final results are. ‘It’s important to remember that all the integration and use of technology is rendered useless if it is combined with employees who don’t fully understand how it will make their job easier, not harder.’
What smart manufacturing brings is a connectivity between different machines in order to improve visibility and overall performance in the whole supply chain. The process includes changing the way machines work but also how factories respond to the change in demand. Demand volatility has always been a huge problem for manufacturers and it is increasing in recent years due to the way consumers have shifted their shopping habits.
‘Connecting factory machines, and other systems and equipment with the digital realm allows manufacturers to collect more data, analyse information faster and make better, data-driven business decisions. This empowers factories to boost overall performance and make better quality products while reducing waste,’ says Rauniaho-Mitchell.
Smart Factory offers its clients an end-to-end visibility to production processes and provides them with real-time insights of what is happening and why something is happening in their production. With help of predictive analytics, they can then start optimising the production by predicting what is going to happen. ‘We help our customers to increase machine uptime, improve quality and yield,’ explains Rauniaho-Mitchell. This is done by connecting to clients’ data sources (machines, devices, ERP, MES, PLC, Automation systems, etc.) and collecting data. After that the data is integrated, analysed and visualised with 3D digital twin and analytics dashboards.
Start-ups have an edge over large corporations...
With the increase of smarter and more capable machines in the manufacturing process the conversation shifts to the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it will transform the way we work and live. According to Rauniaho-Mitchell AI will make people even more important. ‘AI and automation will not displace people but rather combine their capabilities in new ways to create new forms of value and new opportunities. The manufacturers that identify how to empower their workforce through AI applications will create the greatest value going forward,’ she believes.
As a start-up that is part of a very large corporation Elisa Smart Factory is in a position with many other companies with its size. ‘When it comes to agility, start-ups have an edge over large corporations – whereas large corporations many times sit on resources which start-ups can only dream of,’ Rauniaho-Mitchell answers when asked where the place of start-ups is in the corporate area. She believes that the way to create innovation is hidden in the collaboration between established firms and start-ups with new ideas. Successful collaboration depends on each side learning to understand the interests, expectations, incentives, culture and work ethic of the other. It depends on the two parties identifying the most appropriate proven collaboration model for their situation and clearly defining roles and responsibilities.
Tanja Rauniaho-Mitchell is Head of Product Management at Elisa Smart Factory. She has vast experience in the communication sector, as well as procurement and marketing. She describes herself as a very motivated and result-driven person. She has held global and regional roles in big corporations and startups in Mobile, Telecom, Cloud Software and Health and Wellbeing industries. What motivates her are new challenges and the opportunity to problem solve by using her creativity.