Design Thinking and Lean Methodology in Industrial Automation
Published on : Thursday 04-05-2023
The rise of industrial automation: a brave new world or a dystopian dream, asks Dr Ravi Prakash Mathur.
Industrial automation, as we know, refers to the use of technology and control systems to automate and optimise industrial processes, such as manufacturing, assembly, and material handling. This can include using robotics, sensors, and software to monitor and control machinery and equipment, as well as data analytics and artificial intelligence to improve efficiency and productivity.
Industrial automation is on the rise due to several factors:
1. The need for efficiency and productivity: Companies aim to boost output and cut costs, leading to automation for streamlined and efficient operations.
2. Technological advancements: Progress in robotics, sensors, and software enables automation of numerous previously challenging industrial processes.
Other factors driving industrial automation include global competition, labour shortages, safety concerns, quality control, and Industry 4.0 technologies like IoT. The global market, valued at USD 172.26 billion in 2022, is expected to grow at a 10.5% CAGR from 2023 to 2030.
Segmentation includes automation technology types (PLCs, SCADA, HMIs, DCS and robotics) and industry verticals (automotive, food/beverage, pharmaceuticals, and aerospace/defence).
Before beginning automation projects, organisations must however evaluate processes to identify areas for simplification and waste reduction. This ensures only efficient processes are automated, preventing the amplification of inefficiencies of the underlying processes. In automation, automating a mess, results in a faster, larger mess. In a dystopian future with poorly considered industrial automation, machines perpetuate waste and under-performance, turning the automation dream into a nightmare. However, through thorough process reviews and quality data investment, we can optimise efficiency and achieve productivity gains, avoiding this outcome.
Process improvement frameworks: from overwhelming to overachieving – how to walk your way to workflow success
If you've ever felt overwhelmed by the idea of improving your workflow, you're not alone. However here are a few popular frameworks that can be used to analyse processes and identify areas for simplification:
Six Sigma: This methodology is widely used in manufacturing and service industries to improve process efficiency and eliminate waste. It involves a data-driven approach to process improvement, focusing on minimising defects and variability while maximising efficiency.
Value Stream Mapping (VSM): VSM is a tool used to analyse the flow of materials, information, and resources through a process. It helps identify areas of waste and inefficiency, as well as opportunities for process improvement.
Business Process Reengineering (BPR): BPR is a methodology that involves the redesign of business processes from the ground up. It aims to improve organisational performance by optimising end-to-end processes and eliminating non-value-added activities.
Theory of Constraints (TOC): TOC is a management philosophy that focuses on identifying the most significant constraint in a process and optimising it to improve overall system performance.
Design Thinking: Design thinking is a human-centred approach to problem-solving that involves empathy, ideation, and prototyping. It can be used to identify user pain points and generate ideas for process simplification and improvement.
These tools are practical ways to streamline processes and eliminate waste, and they don't require a degree in rocket science to understand. Process improvement frameworks may seem daunting, but what really makes a difference is a logical mind that can grasp the basic elements of how workflows are created. With a common-sense approach anyone can relate everyday experiences to them and make sense out of seemingly complex processes.
Material movement strategies in industrial processes – from buffet dinners to assembly lines-lessons from everyday life
Process flows in the industrial world can relate to formats and ideas that we see in everyday life. Sometimes we think that industrial workflows are too complex but at a fundamental level, they are just a series of activities organised in a certain way. Let us take some simple examples.
When entering a restaurant for dinner with friends or family, we often encounter decisions to make. One such choice is deciding between a buffet dinner or an à la carte meal. While a layman will look at this situation as a choice about what he wants to eat, about price, etc., a supply chain planning mind might see the situation as a decision between ‘Made to Stock’ (MTS) vs ‘Made to Order’ (MTO) strategy. An industrial engineer however would see this as a design decision for movement of material.
In one format the material to be consumed (food) is stationary (laid out on the serving station) and the person who has to consume the food is moving along a line of dishes. You can think of this as an assembly line working in reverse.
In the sit-down dining option, the man is stationary at the table and the food is served to him in sequence. In some formats or cuisines, more than one item can be served together at the table. So, in a very generic way, one dimension of the process flow is deciding which element to keep stationary and which part is to move from one point to another.
Consider another everyday experience: shopping at a supermarket versus shopping at a neighbourhood grocery store. In the supermarket scenario, customers navigate through aisles with a shopping cart, selecting items for purchase. In contrast, at a neighbourhood grocery store, customers typically request items at the counter, and the store attendant brings each item individually to the billing counter. These contrasting methods illustrate different approaches to material movement in retail environments.
Now let us consider a warehouse operation where ‘n’ number of SKUs must be picked from ‘N’ number of picking boxes and have to be packed in ‘X’ number of packing boxes in a way that each carries a fixed quantity of all the selected SKUs.
There can be two strategies for picking and packing in warehouse operations. The first strategy involves keeping the picking-boxes stationary while the packing boxes move past them, possibly on a conveyor belt. In the second strategy, the packing boxes remain stationary while the SKU boxes are mobile, transferring the SKUs directly to the packing boxes.
Industrial manufacturing can be viewed from a similar perspective. In the case of manufacturing the same discussion applies for the process of bringing material to a workstation or a machine for the purpose of assembly or conversion. A manufacturing process is not only about the manufacturing technology but also about the engineering design for the flow of material that makes manufacturing possible.
When designing a material movement strategy, it is important to consider the specific needs of the production process, as well as the types of material being moved. Consider the variations in material movement such as frequency and order size. Identify critical paths for different options and select the one that optimises flow continuity and minimises time. The ultimate objective is to enhance efficiency, decrease errors, and reduce waste in the manufacturing process.
In conclusion, industrial automation has become a key driver for increasing efficiency and productivity in the manufacturing industry. However, it is important to remember that automation can only deliver the desired results if the underlying processes are efficient and free from waste. To ensure that automation works as intended, organisations should invest in conducting thorough design and process reviews.
Dr Ravi Prakash Mathur is Vice President Supply Chain Management and Global Head of Logistics, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. A supply chain and logistics professional with 30 years of work experience; ‘National Thought Leadership’ Awardee; expertise in handling Global Logistics, Digital Supply Chain Planning Systems and Procurement; proven track record in leading Supply Chain Transformation; published author with academic paper available on HBR stores; Visiting Faculty at Business Schools; Member of Academic Boards; Blogger, Speaker, Trainer, Digital Innovator and Influencer.