Shop floor control & AI are transforming factory production
Manufacturers and their brands must stay competitive in an ever-changing business landscape, where profit margins are often slim. They need to quickly adapt their production and supply chain processes to accommodate customer demands.
Shop floor control (SFC) systems are increasingly being deployed to track and monitor production processes, floor activities, and labor efficiencies in real-time. Many SFC systems help manufacturers gain greater insights into their shop floor operations and reduce costs.
Combining shop floor control data with AI opens up a world full of possibilities. AI analyses the data collected by SFC systems, identifies patterns in production processes, and makes predictive recommendations that help address issues before they become production problems.
The need for real-time shop floor data
“The benefits that progressive factories realize from implementing the right Shop Floor Control solution are immediate and immense. Technology truly has the ability to help centralise complex operations while providing insight, empowerment, and focus on achieving greater efficiencies and profitability. In the end, everyone wins!” said Michael Penchansky, Vice President of Global Business Development for BlueCherry Shop Floor Control.
Shop floor data is an invaluable resource for understanding and improving production processes. However, the abundance in lieu of the complexity of data, its high granularity, and the growing number of sources, such as sensors, devices, and employees, make it difficult to get an accurate view of what’s happening on the floor.
The traditional approach to gathering and analysing shop floor data is time-consuming and labour-intensive. For instance, manually entering data from various sources into a spreadsheet requires considerable effort and is prone to human errors, resulting in delayed decision-making and missed opportunities.
Modern technology enables real-time data gathering and storage. Data generated by devices, processes, and business applications are transmitted directly from the factory floor to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform. As cloud technology is customisable, it can easily accommodate additional data sources while reducing the cost of data storage and analysis.
When you leverage end-to-end visibility and analysis, you can spot problems quickly. For example, brands are often blind-sided by compliance and labor-law violations in the supply chain. With real-time data, you can optimise production processes and identify compliance violations before they become an issue.
As there is too much data to be processed manually, manufacturers are adopting machine-learning (ML) and AI-driven software solutions to collect and analyse shop floor control data. ML-powered processes can ingest factory data, organise it, and mine it for patterns and trends, sending findings to management, key stakeholders, and brand and retail partners.
The more granular the data and the deeper the analysis, the easier it is to identify and address inefficiencies and detect emerging issues. Your shop floor control system should integrate with engineering, finance, and services systems such as payroll platforms to provide the necessary data. Additional integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP), product lifecycle management (PLM), and business intelligence (BI) solutions add more data for deeper insights.
The right SFC software delivers benefits such as:
- Motivation and incentives for operators
- Increased performance and overall efficiency
- ESG insights, such as fair wages for labourers
The end result is empowered operators, improved productivity and significant cost reductions.
Move from analytics to prescriptive action
While shop floor control software gathers production data, the data is most useful when it informs actionable insights and decision-making. Once you have real-time visibility into processes and key performance indicators (KPIs), you can turn the shop floor data into actionable insights. For example, you can discover correlations between production steps and process flows to optimise the manufacturing line. You can also gain insights into production schedules, product inventories, and process improvement initiatives.
When you use AI to power analytics, your shop floor control system can evolve from providing visibility into processes and performance to prescriptive actions. That means you can dig deeper into the data, find production issues, analyse variances, and see patterns. For example, you can use machine vision and sensors to identify quality issues on the assembly line. In addition, AI-driven processes can detect anomalies in process flows, alerting operations managers to take corrective action.
Software, coupled with AI can also recommend actions based on historical and current data analysis, enabling you to take proactive steps to improve productivity and reduce costs. For instance, it can predict how long a production run will take and recommend when to add additional capacity. And it can analyse past data to forecast future performance, enabling you to make informed decisions such as adjusting production schedules or ordering more supplies.
The factory of the future is here
It is now possible to have real-time visibility into manufacturing processes, from the shop floor to the supply chain. Combining shop floor data with ML/AI analytics can optimise production, identify process inefficiencies, and even predict future performance. With the right shop floor control system, manufacturers can become more efficient and competitive, resulting in higher profits.
When shopping for the best shop floor control system, look for these features:
- Ease of use – Choose a system that is easy to deploy and use: the better the user experience, the more valuable the data. Ingesting and accessing data from various systems should be seamless. You should also have actionable information at your fingertips via configurable dashboards, screen views, and comprehensive reports.
- Data integration – Adding new data sources should be simple to combine various data sources from different systems, such as ERP, PLM, QMS, Payroll, and more.
- Advanced analytics – To extract value from the data, you need advanced analytics, including ML and AI. The best way to make sense of the growing volume of data and dig deeper into production issues and variances is with the help of advanced analytics.
As shop floor control methods and analysis mature, manufacturers will look beyond cutting costs and improving efficiencies and start identifying new business opportunities. AI-powered shop floor control systems turn data into actionable insights and enable manufacturers to take prescriptive actions and optimise production. With the right shop floor control system, you can always have oversight of your shop floor performance and reap the rewards.
By Fernando Moncayo, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Inspectorio