Full stack automation operational, workforce benefits

Full stack automation can help manufacturers be more flexible and ready for automation changes and can give engineers better, more accurate real-time information.

By Sean Murray April 22, 2022
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles

There’s a mindset shift that needs to occur within the manufacturing sector from a hardware-centric approach toward a full-stack automation solution using intelligent software.

This delayed shift is partly due to the struggle of knowing where to begin. Some manufacturers have trouble figuring out a path forward as they navigate through all the noise and buzzword explanations for how and why they should adopt a digitized approach to their factory production and operations.

This hesitancy can be paired with a lack of knowledge and trust in a modern solution because, historically, this industry has had siloed areas of expertise. Hardware experts had their lane and software experts had theirs. Adopting a full-stack approach, however, organizations take a leap of faith and put their trust in a combination of experts, hoping the new solution they’re advocating for will deliver real benefits.

While it can be confusing, getting over these hurdles and trusting the process and the promises of next-generation manufacturing solutions can get manufacturers ready for the future.

Full stack automation operational benefits

The adoption of today’s automation solutions can optimize operations in multiple ways. First, automation provides flexibility versus full-on customization. Customization means a provider builds a unique solution for a factory or a specific line, and to change or revise it, often involves building another version. This is an expensive and outdated way of working.

Flexibility gives the manufacturer the ability to adjust to get the data they need; they can adjust a line’s parameters or even deploy a new product variation quickly. Intelligent software allows teams to be more responsive and agile.

Manufacturers today want to know what they don’t know. They want flexible dashboards that provide high-level operational insight. This means another attractive benefit is gaining the advantage of data-informed decision making (think: performance benchmarking, trend analysis, traceability insights), which undoubtedly results in positive business impact.

That said, high-level insights only provide a portion of the bigger picture. Teams may have challenges they don’t yet realize are challenges. An intelligent automation solution takes insights to a deeper level, with more detailed, more meaningful data that previously has been difficult to gather and analyze.

Consider a manufacturer that builds 100 products with a 2% overall inefficiency rate on each product. A 98% efficiency rate may seem like a great result, but if they’re able to compile all the data from the build on all 100 products, they may realize the 2% drop is always coming from the same line or the same part, and it’s an easy fix. Today’s data insights provide specific data analysis for everything in one view.

Full stack automation solutions also can help ensure business continuity and resiliency. The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on many challenges within the industry, including the fact that data is needed for both profitability’s sake and to make business decisions for problems we cannot predict. What if all parts from one supplier are no longer available due to supply chain issues, or if a manufacturer must figure out how to keep things running with 20% fewer workers due to the labor shortage? There’s no one set way to for overcoming these issues, but data-driven process improvements provide manufacturers with insights they need to assess options and make decisions quickly.

Four full stack automation benefits for the workforce

When manufacturers embrace digital transformation, workers will feel the improvement in their daily workloads. Here’s what a full-stack approach can do for a few roles within a factory:

  1. Process engineers can access real-time monitoring and insights into where line efficiencies can be implemented and where potential bottlenecks may occur before they happen. For example, they may realize the first shift has a 90% efficiency rate, but the next shift drops to 78% efficiency. They can assess where the issue is occurring and fix it.
  2. Quality engineers can receive real-time notifications to help lower defect rates and address issues earlier to minimize waste. For example, they can be notified if yield drops below its set target rate and then assess the problem causing the failure and quickly fix it to eliminate end-product quality issues.
  3. Plant managers can leverage personalized dashboards to enhance and assist with decision-making processes and conversations more easily. They no longer have five, 10, or 20 data points to compile and then interpret in a relevant viewpoint. Instead, it’s done automatically for them.
  4. Senior leadership can understand which plants are performing well versus those underperforming. With a full-stack automation solution, they gain an understanding of what the challenges are within their operations and how they can be addressed, from fixing scrap issues, preventing materials shortages, and avoiding profitability concerns. What’s more, modern technology enables them to grow their business in a more efficient way while also creating attractive jobs for workers looking to reskill for better and more fulfilling careers.

What the manufacturing industry is beginning to recognize is the tangible benefits of today’s technology solutions outweigh the perceived risks. Manufacturers contemplating making the shift and embracing a full-stack automation solution need to understand taking this step is less of a leap of faith and more like a sure thing. Operations can not only improve, but the workforce will see and feel short- and long-term benefits.

Author Bio: Sean Murray, vice president customer success, Bright Machines.