Meeting Increased Demand Requires Improving Productivity

By Brian McCaffrey, Production MES Operations Manager, Rockwell Automation

Growth inevitably comes with challenges. As customer demand increases, manufacturers need to produce more products, faster. For many, this requires incremental improvements to processes and assembly, as well as preparing for eventual expansion. But increasing output while maintaining low costs is much easier said than done, and often a reactive process rather than a proactive one.


The key to increasing output while also improving efficiency lies in optimizing existing assets. Employees and technology—specifically real-time monitoring and analytics—are at the heart of this process. In order for operators and employees to drive process efficiencies and make informed decisions, they need a complete and detailed picture of how factory operations—from basic information such as which machines are on, when, to details as small as the length of time it takes to install a single part. Only with both asset-specific data and factory-wide visibility can employees do their jobs more effectively and processes be improved.

Rockwell Automation needed to create high-output, low cost processes
Rockwell Automation experienced these challenges firsthand as they struggled to meet increasing customer demand for their K5700 manufacturing cell. The K5700 was their popular new product: a manufacturing system that safely regulates and adjusts electrical power from the power source to machine motors. But the manufacturing cells were selling so well that Rockwell Automation faced a growing backlog for their customers.

In order to meet increased demand, Rockwell Automation knew they needed to maximize asset utilization: this meant reducing the labor cost per unit while also increasing output. But they lacked visibility into which processes could be made more efficient and where production could be sped up. Rockwell Automation needed the ability to capture detailed data from every process and analyze the time of each production step. Partnering with PTC, they set out to build a solution that would enable them to analyze critical data and unlock the process optimization insights they needed.

Real-time monitoring and analytics solutions unlocked process optimizations
Rockwell Automation saw powerful real-time monitoring and analytics tools as the key to both increasing the quantity of output and decreasing the labor cost per unit produced. Rockwell Automation leveraged FactoryTalk MES in InnovationSuite to perform data analysis and reporting on every stage of the cell manufacturing process. With FactoryTalk MES in InnovationSuite, Rockwell Automation could visualize critical production data in order to unlock insights and determine where adjustments could be made.

The implementation team started by visualizing data around two key metrics based on electronic documented work instructions (EDWI) data: the time between units for each assembly station and time per step. EDWI captures production data down to the finest detail—for example, how long it takes to install each screw or bracket. Using that raw data, Rockwell Automation could then visualize trends and review the findings with production personnel.

Through the reporting, the team quickly discovered that there was a surplus of time between units for each assembly station and there were often more people in a cell than were needed. They used this data to improve processes for assembly and training, leading to significant changes. First, they were able to decrease their assembly stations from three to two. They also reduced the amount of people working in each cell from four to three, while making small increases to output from the cell. Finally, they leveraged the data to create step-by-step instructions around how to build the product, reducing the amount of training required for each employee.

Workers on the factory floor are on the front line of production processes—asset optimization can also be a boon for employees when it enables them to do their jobs better. When Rockwell Automation operators and employees saw firsthand how data visualization helped them do their jobs more effectively and enabled their factory floor to exceed expectations, they jumped at the opportunity to leverage the data to make adjustments. Using features that tracked their performance within the expected timeframes, they were easily able to adjust processes, raise a red flag to manufacturing engineers, or schedule machine downtime. The real-time feedback allowed them to adjust as they went, rather than waiting to find out their results at the end of the cycle.

Rockwell Automation is ready to scale improvements across the organization
In the end, FactoryTalk InnovationSuite was integral in providing Rockwell Automation with the data and granularity they needed to make important adjustments to realize their productivity and output potential. And by reducing workers per cell and they number of assembly stations required, they experienced six-figure savings in labor costs.

Rockwell Automation is always looking for additional areas of productivity improvement. The methods developed in a single factory can be scaled across the organization, potentially resulting in millions of dollars in savings. And their partnership with PTC is a key part of their broader digital transformation journey.

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