Machine Monitoring: No Place to Hide

Machine monitoring will provide a fuller view of shopfloor activities. At first, this picture might not be as good as everyone thought, but that’s not bad.


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Machine control systems are now capable of (or can be modified to enable) reporting in great detail every event or activity related to the machine’s metalcutting operations. Through digital portals, operators and technicians can also provide input on their interactions with the machining process and workflow. When this flow of data is transmitted across a Web-based network to software applications that analyze and organize it, a much clearer picture of what is happening on the shop floor emerges.

First and foremost, this visibility creates an opportunity to achieve significant productivity gains and cost savings. Once-hidden factors can be discerned, measured, controlled and improved. Catching signs of impending maintenance issues before they create a stoppage is a prime benefit. Snags in setup, delays in tool availability, bottlenecks in job scheduling and other inefficiencies will be detectable and open to correction. Even shops that have been implementing lean manufacturing for a while may gain new insights into the ways value is added (or not) during a process.

However, there is another aspect to having “the truth come out.” The picture that presents itself may be unsettling or embarrassing. Many shops will be surprised that machine utilization is far less than they had assumed or expected. Some shops may discover that they put a lot of money in expensive machine options, capabilities or automation, but are getting disappointing results. Data may show that the personal work habits of certain employees are lacking in diligence or discretion, whereas an overly fastidious worker is, in fact, holding things back. Records of machine downtime may reveal a startling amount of time lost to all those optional stops originally inserted by the programmer but never removed after the part went into production.

Wise shop owners and managers must prepare for these eye-openers. Reacting positively to negative news and confidently facing the facts that cause discomfort will be a challenge. It could mean a radical transformation of the shop’s work culture is in order. Consider these thoughts:

  • Expect to be uncomfortable, at least at first. Shop visibility will definitely lead to some serious soul-searching on all levels of a company.
  • Give the truth a chance to do its own work. Dashboard displays on large monitors almost always instill more conscientious efforts to be efficient and productive. This initial uptick may be a one-time benefit, however.
  • Don’t let negative findings overshadow signs of positive factors at play. Use data as a starting point for inquiry, especially “appreciative inquiry” that focuses on using what’s good to get better.
  • Address apparent problems promptly and openly. Once a problem is identified, it “needs fixing.” Be careful to distinguish treating symptoms from finding a cure.
  • Expect to make hard decisions. Use data to back them up, but don’t hide behind the data.

Data-driven manufacturing must be supported by data-driven management. This is the path to new levels of excellence on the shop floor.