Maximizing machine tool utilization can have a huge positive impact on shop operations. Shopfloor managers today are often in the dark about how frequently their equipment is actually producing value—in other words, running in cycle. If managers monitor machine tool utilization at all, it is through costly manual observation and record keeping. The information gathered in this manner lacks valuable detail, is subject to human error and is out of date by the time decision-makers receive it.
In recent years, the market has begun offering machine tool monitoring systems that retrieve performance data directly from the machine’s computer control. These systems are the first step in the deployment of the emerging Internet of Things, which envisions a model-based manufacturing world with all manufacturing assets set up for digitally-connected manufacturing across the supply chain.
Modern Web-based machine tool monitoring systems typically receive a continuous flow of information from machine tool controls, convert the information into a standard protocol, transmit the information to the cloud, and enable designated users to view and download the information onto dashboards viewable on computers, tablets and cellphones. So why aren’t more manufacturers monitoring their machine tools? Challenges and barriers to manufacturers successfully implementing an automated monitoring system are both operational and cultural.
Operationally, management must be convinced of the benefit of immediate awareness of situations that detract from machine utilization. Also, the requirements for achieving a positive return on investment from such a system must be clearly defined. In order for the system to be successful, management must establish a clear directive that the gathered data is to be used as part of the standard operating procedure for continuous improvement. The level of success at any manufacturing facility depends less on the system and more on vigorous use of the data and its engagement in improvement efforts.
Cultural barriers to implementation of an automated monitoring system stem from ingrained process ownership and fear of a “big brother” system. Often, shop foremen, supervisors and managers who have been in their roles for many years take a dim view of
any system that will reveal their individual faults. Likewise, operators may fear a system that highlights their deficiencies. Coaching from management is required to illustrate that monitoring systems will be used to determine and measure improvements in utilization rather than to collect reasons for admonition.
Today, we have a perfect storm of opportunity to transform shop operations: smarter machine controls with an ever-broadening scope of connectivity, easy data transmission, low-cost storage and processing, a standard protocol to define pertinent data, and management’s immediate access to data. A comparison of machine tool performance against clearly defined metrics is immediately and easily available, so everyone in the shop gets the same message at the same time, knows what success looks like and can contribute to shop improvement efforts.