As technology on the shop floor continues to advance, manufacturers are becoming more aware of new software tools and mobile hardware platforms, such as tablets and hands-free smart glasses, that are making a significant impact on the manufacturing process. On the market today, there are a variety of wireless software applications and tools available that are making processes more efficient by incorporating the use of Electronic Work Instructions (EWI) and data analysis functionality. Designed to capture step-by-step actions, EWI are readily available to everyone who may need them on the shop floor via tablets or wearable electronic devices, and can significantly reduce the difficulty and time lag involved in keeping instructions up-to-date. With the use of EWI, manufacturing companies are able to eliminate the need for paper instructions and can begin their transition from a paper-based environment to a digital one, which will ultimately encourage enhanced productivity, improved operations and traceability, cost-savings, and increased customer satisfaction.
While it can be tempting for manufacturers to quickly transfer to a digital environment in order to start reaping the benefits, it is important to understand that not all of these software applications are a “one size fits all” package. There are several considerations that must be taken into account before implementing any new type of technology at your plant. To better understand the employee experience with implementing some of these new software tools in manufacturing environment, the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech recently worked with three different companies over the course of six months as they each investigated a different Software as a service (SaaS) platform. After conducting these implementations, GaMEP identified some of the challenges that the manufacturers faced and as a result came away with some lessons learned and tips for those who are looking to implement EWI through similar software applications.
Understand your budget and what it will get you.
Before you sign off on purchasing a new software package, make sure you understand how this new technology can truly tie into your current system and what exactly is included in the package you are purchasing. If you are going to need integration with existing ERP systems and data import/export through the software, this must be accomplished through API programming. This additional programming may not be included in the basic software and can be costly ($10-50k) if you do require customization by the vendor. Be prepared to discover that not all standard reporting and visualization of results will meet all your needs and customization may be required to display data in the format required for the operation.
Be aware of the learning curve.
If you choose to implement EWI using smart glasses, be prepared to find that this technology may have a learning curve when it comes to navigating within the software. Detailed drawings or verbose work instructions have viewing limitations that must be taken into account when designing work instructions. Note that it may take some additional time and training before your employees become proficient using these new tools.
Find comfort in the cloud.
Understand that once you start using EWI, you will be moving from paper to digital storage, particularly through cloud-based technology. If you are not yet comfortable or familiar with storing your data and programs in the cloud, take some time to educate yourself on this process and decide if there are items that should remain stored outside the cloud, such as signed documents that could pose legal ramifications with noncompliance if stored digitally. Additionally, it is recommended that you have security measures in place to protect your data from getting into the wrong hands and to back up information regularly to ease the recovery process in case of a system crash.
Confirm a strong Wi-Fi connection.
If employees are going to be interacting with mobile electronic devices, a strong Wi-Fi connection throughout your plant is crucial. These devices will not be as effective if your plant is riddled with dead spots. Make sure you explore your plant to confirm there is a reliable Wi-Fi connection in all areas where employees will be using their tablets or smart glasses.
Evaluate your instructions.
The level of detail in your instructions may help determine which device will be the best fit. Smart glasses may be better suited for more simple instructions while tablets will be able to accommodate more detailed instructions. Especially in a case where there is a high product mix, you’ll want to choose a tool that will be able to handle communicating many different steps or part numbers.
The numerous benefits that result from implementing EWI are a strong incentive for manufacturers to make the switch to a digital environment. However, it is also possible for there to be some confusion as to whether your company is truly ready to make this transition. GaMEP, as an unbiased party to any technology in the marketplace, can assist you in this process by conducting a gap assessment to provide you with technology knowledge and recommendations. Following the assessment, you’ll be better prepared to determine what new technology you can implement that will align with your organization’s goals and make a large impact on your production and bottom line.
For more information on how GaMEP can help you integrate technology solutions, contact:
Don Pital, Growth Services Manager
Expertise includes: Ideation Process Management, Lean Product Development, Quality Management Systems
Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech