System Integration

Tips for computer integration on the manufacturing floor

Installing computer systems can be an arduous process for new and existing manufacturing plants; basic best practices for enclosures can help companies avoid costly pitfalls and long-term challenges. See five tips for using computers on the plant floor.
By Daniel Waldron July 9, 2019
Courtesy: Armagard

For manufacturing plants, the challenges for installing computer systems can range from the number of systems needed on site and coming in on budget to complying with health and safety laws concerning computer systems used on the manufacturing floor and how to bring an installation project together practically.

For existing manufacturing sites, the challenges may look different. One common problem, however, is knowing how to make use of current computer equipment being used on the manufacturing floor. Managers also should take preventive measures to help ensure the equipment works properly and can withstand harsh conditions.

Figure 1: Computer integration on the manufacturing floor requires planning. Courtesy: Armagard

Figure 1: Computer integration on the manufacturing floor requires planning. Courtesy: Armagard

Following a guide of simple do’s and don’ts for computer integration highlights successful best practices as well as some potential pitfalls to avoid.

Five tips for plant-floor computer use

1. Develop a strategy. A solid computer integration strategy is crucial to what a company is trying to achieve and will be the difference between a successful installation and a disastrous one. Too many manufacturing firms have attempted computer integration with terrible consequences.

A number of manufacturing plants understand and have an improved manufacturing process, resulting in reduced lead times and increased profits.

When developing a strategy, companies should follow this basic checklist:

  • Agree on a budget.
  • Check health and safety requirements concerning computer equipment integration.
  • Check environmental factors that could damage computer equipment.
  • Assess computer positioning possibilities, such as wall-mounting, floor standing or other configurations.
  • Check wiring and power outlet requirements.
  • Determine volume of computer equipment use: one per staff member or “communal use.”
  • Determine who’s responsible for integrating (in-house or supplier) and factor this into costs.
  • Agree if the integration plan will happen during operating hours or out-of-hours.

While it differs for every project, these are some of the key considerations that have occurred for manufacturing firms that have successfully executed a computer equipment integration strategy.

2. Opt for a flexible solution. The biggest mistake an IT project manager can make is to install a fixed implementation, requiring extra configuration to reposition or repurpose the computers. Inflexible installations can add costs, cause disruption and leave a trail of disgruntled staff and customers.

3. Make use of existing computer equipment. Many manufacturing firms have been led to believe they require specialist computer equipment for use on the manufacturing floor. However, that’s not always the case. Industrial computer enclosures are one example of an implementation that enables the use of office computers on the manufacturing floor.

Figure 2: Choose a computer solution for your manufacturing floor with today’s and tomorrow’s needs in mind. Courtesy: Armagard

Figure 2: Choose a computer solution for your manufacturing floor with today’s and tomorrow’s needs in mind. Courtesy: Armagard

4. Choose a solution that will improve the overall process. What works for one manufacturing floor might not work for another. Don’t believe sophisticated, specialized equipment is the only answer. Some manufacturing firms have the latest automated computer kit, but have sacrificed basic computer-based processes – such as keeping track of stock and organizing logistics – to accommodate fancy equipment.

5. Consider the application needs for today and tomorrow. A solution with minimal disruption is vital to any manufacturing floor computer integration. However, bearing tomorrow’s manufacturing floor in mind is equally important. With emerging manufacturing processes such as the Internet of Things (IoT), the need for computers on the manufacturing floor is only going to grow.

Technology is always changing and companies need to be able to keep up with the latest trends to keep the manufacturing floor moving forward. Companies run the risk of losing their market share and falling behind if they don’t.

Four things to avoid when integrating computers on the manufacturing floor

1. Don’t use office computers without protection. If using existing computer equipment on the manufacturing floor is a real possibility, don’t introduce them without an enclosure. Don’t underestimate the impact the manufacturing floor environment has on computer equipment. Dust, dirt, heat, and humidity can play their part in destroying computers, which will bring manufacturing operations to a halt, costing a company time, money and damaging the company’s reputation. 

2. Don’t assume suppliers will set up the computer system. Integrating existing computer equipment that’s already onsite isn’t as big a deal as installing an entirely new system. There’s nothing worse than having everything needed to start the project, but no one is around to execute it. Such delays will prove costly. However, all it takes is an individual or a team member to be absent to bring the project to a standstill. Don’t make the mistake many manufacturing firms have made, which is they don’t have a plan B if plan A doesn’t work out.

Figure 3: Don’t integrate computers on the manufacturing floor without protection in mind. Courtesy: Armagard

Figure 3: Don’t integrate computers on the manufacturing floor without protection in mind. Courtesy: Armagard

3. Don’t exceed the budget. Set a budget and, within reason, stick to it. Some large-scale projects do exceed budgets, but companies need to set an absolute limit. A high proportion of manufacturing firms, to keep up with trends and their rivals, have heavily invested in specialized computer equipment. While that’s okay, one cost does lead to another. It isn’t long before expenses exceed budget. Those who invest in specialist computer equipment tend to budget for the equipment only without thought for maintenance.

What often happens is, should that specialized equipment fail, only the supplier/manufacturer can repair it. This can lead to costly maintenance contracts, which many companies do not budget for.

4. Don’t exclude staff. Ultimately, it’s about the personnel using any computer equipment on the manufacturing floor. It’s good to get their input, which will help companies determine a solution that staff is comfortable with.

The final decision may rest with management. However, they shouldn’t spring new computer-based processes or systems on unsuspecting staff because this will add training time and other additional costs to the project. Including co-workers will help put them at ease about the use of computers on the manufacturing floor.

Installing enclosures for computer equipment integration

With computer equipment integration on the manufacturing floor comes responsibility and accountability. These tips are not exhaustive and will grow as the manufacturing floor evolves, and new challenges present themselves.

The common path to computer integration on the manufacturing floor tends to be the use of current computer equipment. Why? It’s inexpensive, allows companies to keep current equipment – meaning familiarity for staff – and offers more flexibility.

A purpose-built industrial enclosure represents a long-term solution that can cater for the needs of manufacturing floor computer integration, whether it’s for a new manufacturing site, or an existing facility. Enclosures are designed to accommodate current equipment and protect it for manufacturing floor use.

Figure 4: Keeping computers protected on the manufacturing floor improves productivity and cuts costs. Courtesy: Armagard

Figure 4: Keeping computers protected on the manufacturing floor improves productivity and cuts costs. Courtesy: Armagard

The benefit is the company’s costs are considerably lower than investing in specialist grade computer kit. Using any current equipment on the premises avoids the need to retrain staff for the use of new equipment. Keeping things familiar is a plus point when it comes to integrating computers on the manufacturing floor.

Enclosures also can be installed to suit the needs of the manufacturing floor, whether that’s on a wall or on a stand, providing protection that’s equal to, and perhaps even better than, that provided by high-end computer systems designed for the manufacturing floor.

Daniel Waldron, head of content, Armagard. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

MORE ANSWERS

Keywords: Integration, computer integration

Computer integration on the manufacturing floor comes with many challenges for new and existing manufacturers.

Improve the overall manufacturing process and be flexible.

Companies should inform personnel about computer and enclosure decisions and avoid going over-budget.

Consider this

What is the biggest challenge your company faced when they integrated computers on the manufacturing floor?


Daniel Waldron
Author Bio: Daniel Waldron, head of content, Armagard