Ambitious ideas invariably lead to positive outcomes. Sometimes it may not be the targeted outcome, but the results justify the effort. This was the case with a client who is a leader in manufacturing technologically advanced two-wheeler automobiles. An engagement to enable automobile component traceability began for the client after it anticipated regulations related to emission standards. Compliance with the regulations would require traceability of the components which the client sourced from over 700 suppliers. Since the core and the heart of the products were in the hands of suppliers, the client set out on the ambitious task of digitizing the complete value chain. Suppliers with manual, legacy, semi-automated and digital systems were met, comprehensive process maps were prepared and an assessment made on how to connect the systems at the client’s main manufacturing plant to suppliers. But given the nature of the size and operations, several suppliers were unable to support the required model. The client then decided to zero in on a new strategy. “What if we start backwards?” asked the client. “What if we begin with digitization at the point where the products are assembled?”
Launching digitization at the plant was a good idea for two reasons: one, the client had poor visibility into the 1000+ components that went into manufacturing its products; two, the roadmap for the digitization of suppliers was already in place and had the potential to deliver better ROI once the macro problems were solved.
The inability to respond to market needs
Poor visibility into component availability was impeding the manufacturer’s ability to respond to market needs. They could not change manufacturing plans at the pace demanded by businesses. If their assembly lines had to shift to a different model, it would take planning supervisors 30 to 40 minutes to arrive at a go/no-go decision.
The process to arrive at a decision itself was clumsy, manual, and imprecise. An army of about 150 employees, specifically responsible for this task, would physically locate the required components in sub shops and storage. The process would take 30 to 40 minutes before a decision could be taken to shift (or not shift) production to the new model.
The outcome of this time lag was a large productivity loss. The assembly line had a takt-time of 18 seconds for a two-wheeler. The 40-minute loss translated to about 133 fewer vehicles coming off the assembly line, for every unplanned changeover. The solution was to put in place a real-time digital system to drive material management and track material movement.
Real-time visibility is the way forward
An engagement that began with the need for traceability/product genealogy (vendor, manufacture date/time/lot, invoice, purchase order, and inspection report) ended up with real-time inventory visibility and component movement being the problem to solve.
The client now wanted material availability at the click of a button. This meant that a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) would have to capture every aspect of component supplies and production.
The goal ITC Infotech set out to meet is for the Production Planning Supervisor to answer the question, “Can we change production to a different product now?” in a few seconds.
To enable this, ITC Infotech implemented:
- A logistics execution template to achieve full material synchronization and pull-based manufacturing driven by the main assembly line
- A complete overhaul of the quality inspection process with automated inspection, real-time data capturing, and closed-loop monitoring
- System based production planning, automated order dispatch to respective shops, and minimal manual transactions to achieve standardization on the shop floor
- Real-time visibility into critical machine data and KPIs through automated data capturing from PLCs
The underlying challenge of automation
The underlying challenge in implementing the solution was interesting. The client’s assembly line had around 100 operators using manual techniques, with clockwork precision, to produce a vehicle every 18 seconds. ITC Infotech could therefore not implement any process that added work to the assembly line. Data capture and system update had to be automated so takt-time was not affected.
The automation to capture data related to material movement and usage was implemented by leveraging new techniques like embedding QR codes to tag products and capturing maximum information at points either upstream or downstream of the main assembly line.
Riding into the future
With the new system, the plant has demonstrated a 100% improvement in traceability standards with zero impact in the takt-time on the main assembly line. Productivity has been enhanced by 5% through eliminating Non-Value Added (NVAs) processes—at the plant, the client now has 150 employees available for more productive work. With better visibility into the production life cycle, there has been a reduction in inventory. And with the MES system improving processes adherence, compliance standards have improved.
When the client implements its original traceability/product genealogy plans for suppliers, it will be a considerably simpler task. It will provide the intended end-to-end visibility into component movement.
Vipul Niranjan – General Manager, MES
Vipul Niranjan is a General Manager in the Manufacturing Service Line of ITC Infotech. In his role, he works with customers in implementing digital solutions on the factory shop floor with a specialization in MES/MOM platforms. He has 9+ years of experience with having worked in the Manufacturing sector for over 5 years in core operations and supply chain roles. He has successfully led and executed large MES projects for customers in the CPG and Automobile industry. He has been instrumental in shaping up the overall MES capability at ITC Infotech.