Smart Manufacturing and Lean Six Sigma

Smart Manufacturing and Lean Six Sigma

What is Smart Manufacturing? And how is it related to Lean Six Sigma? Also called Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and Cyber-Physical Systems, Smart Manufacturing has been the topic of conversation for several years among manufacturing experts, strategists and thought leaders. What does this mean to Lean Six Sigma Practitioners? Can we leverage these new technologies to enhance process improvement efforts?

First – what is it? According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

Smart Manufacturing systems are “fully-integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network, and in customer needs.”

Just as we are seeing change in consumer products with internet connected devices in our homes (e.g., Amazon’s Echo, Nest Thermostat ) and automobiles (Ford’s Sync) the Industrial sector is going through a rapid transformation. Called the “Fourth Revolution” (hence the name Industry 4.0), where the physical and digital worlds are inter-connected so that all information about the manufacturing processes are available when and where it is needed, across entire manufacturing value-chains, and product life-cycles. Smart Manufacturing employs sensors, computer controls, modeling, big data and other automation to gain manufacturing efficiencies.

Imagine the advancements happening in just the automobile industry. When you purchase a new car, there will be a dramatic increase in the amount of data collected during its normal operation as compared to a few years ago. What can automakers do with that data to enhance the experience – and safety – of the driver? How much of this data can be analyzed and presented to the driver in real-time (fluid levels, tire pressure, engine temperature)? Can features be integrated into the design of the automobile where the vehicle automatically reacts to changing driving conditions (lane sensors, weather, traffic levels)?

Now also imagine if you are the car manufacturer and data from every car sold is collected and made available (securely) to the design and manufacturing teams. What trends and patterns can be identified to further enhance the design and manufacture of the car?

In LSS terms, this is like having real-time Voice of the Customer that is constantly being updated. What additional services can the manufacturer provide to the consumer? How can they make the car more safe and reliable? Smart Manufacturing technologies has the potential to enable answering these questions by making the product smarter, securely sharing information, and connecting the various entities across the value chain.

Two key aspects of Smart Factories:

  1. Technological connectivity of things – Also called Integrated Internet of Things (machines, material handling equipment, products), this refers to effective collection of and use of data through intelligent sensors, motors or robotics.
  2. Connectivity of shop floor to top floor – Connecting shop floor to top floor involves the analysis and conversion of data into useful information in real-time for top management.

Now back to Lean Six Sigma. LSS Practitioners can influence both these aspects of the Smart Factory. Listed below are some examples:

  • Identify sensorization opportunities for improved data collection efforts
  • Integrate statistical methods with smart systems for improved confidence in results
  • Utilize big data generated by these Smart Manufacturing systems for data analytics
  • Promote visualization of data for enhanced decision making and process control
  • Implement mistake proofing opportunities as part of the process design
  • Use technologies such as Additive Manufacturing, Robotics, Machine Learning and Automated Inspections to improve product quality
  • Use VR (virtual reality) technologies for effective workforce skills development

Two common areas of confusion about Smart Manufacturing: (a) It requires large capital investment and (b) is not easily implemented in smaller/modular industries. In fact, having an open mind to possibilities is one key element any LSS practitioner can bring to the table. For example, sensorization of equipment to better track, monitor and increase the life cycle of assets (machines, tools, material handling equipment…etc.) can be done at any shop floor with reasonable investment. Another example would be to automate assembly and inspection activities and combine data collection efforts during inspections for real-time product quality (and productivity) tracking.

In sum, the advent of Smart Manufacturing Technologies presents new opportunities – and challenges – for Lean Six Sigma practitioners. One step is to better prepare our belts by exposing them to these technologies, by adding Smart Manufacturing to the LSS curriculum, sharing case studies, and promoting personnel growth. In conclusion, I would ask…Manufacturing Technologies are going through a revolution. How are we as LSS Practitioners preparing for it?