Futurist interface

How to Blend Industry 4.0 and Scientific Molding Strategies to Maximize Profits

Imagine having the ability to cut machine downtime in half and solving problems instantly through real-time, root-cause analysis, rather than reacting to it hours or days later. Industry 4.0 systems add this capability to your injection molding toolkit.

As manufacturing evolves, many companies see and hear more about Industry 4.0. This is about more than just the “next big thing” — Industry 4.0 represents a new production model and, for some people, a new way of working. As manufacturers begin to integrate these new systems, many questions arise on how they will impact an organization and how organizations should adjust to that impact. It is important to understand that scientific molding depends on the strategic implementation of data-collection systems. Failure to record information meticulously not only reduces a company’s ability to successfully replicate production runs, but can lead to inconsistent changeovers, ultimately leading to failures in production capacity.

Plastics injection companies offer an even bigger challenge than other manufacturers for modernizing production system requirements. Reproducing successful runs is key to financial success: A typical molding process has more than 400 potential metric changes that can lead to scrap, poor efficiencies, and unplanned downtime. Industry 4.0 recordables can provide better informational resources quickly, eliminating a stuttered approach and increasing profits.

This article will outline the basic concept of Industry 4.0 monitoring systems. It will also define how, if used properly, they can improve overall yields while minimizing detrimental impacts on the normal plastic injection production system.

Image: Rymden/Adobe Stock

Overcoming the resistance to change

Many companies start the journey of implementing Industry 4.0 systems by asking a simple question: “How does this system drive performance metrics in my plastics facility?” Axiom Group Inc., a Canadian supplier of injection molding services to automotive OEMs, developed an in-house system now being used by many other plants in their own ways to produce quality parts efficiently. The Industry 4.0 approach proved to be the solution for eliminating guesswork from its automotive production environment.

Driving Industry 4.0 standards via new processes throughout all levels from production to leadership is certainly a challenge. People at all levels are resistant to change,

There is no question that workforce training is paramount to ensuring the success of data recording and process validation. Production environments require a collage of people from different backgrounds and experience. Each job classification has its own set of rules and metrics that defines department success.

It is important to understand that every methodical approach entails a learning curve that must be patiently acknowledged and followed. Due diligence of management first must be focused on training all employees in the use of Industry 4.0 procedures and the application of scientific molding principles. The training must be followed by policed monitoring to ensure that production understands and performs the policies being implemented.

World-class performance is not an easy mountain to climb — many necessary steps must be taken to reach the top. True process standardization can only be achieved by establishing the key metrics that define successful repeatability. Those same metrics can be used to identify changes within the established production system. Industry 4.0 systems customized to a plastics processing facility’s specific needs provide key measurables quickly, while expanding the amount of data available to be used for comparison.

A company’s success or failure is largely dependent on its approach toward unplanned maintenance, downtime, and scrap. Paper-based data recording systems cause companies to fail to recognize real-time losses as they happen. Companies find themselves depending on incomplete, and potentially corrupt, data that too often are recognized long after failures can be addressed and corrected. Management leaves the office banking on the hope that off-shift production continues to produce parts through the night.

Imagine having the ability to cut machine downtime in half and solving problems instantly through real-time, root-cause analysis, rather than reacting to it hours or days later. Industry 4.0 systems add this capability to your molding arsenal. Production assessment and solutions shouldn’t require a week of information gathering to identify problems and develop solutions — decisions need to be made as quickly as needs arise.

Historical challenges

For decades, manufacturers have used paper-based systems for monitoring production metrics, scheduling production runs, and reviewing performance and throughput. Such manual production reporting has allowed companies to look elsewhere for continuous improvement. It has also created the false analogy: “Why fix what isn’t broke?” Initially, this assumption can make the argument for an Industry 4.0 system more challenging than initially expected. When companies begin the trek toward integrating an Industry 4.0 system, it’s never going to be a completely smooth transition. In fact, the beginning likely will be a battle that may appear more daunting than anticipated.

But it doesn’t have to be daunting, or even overly ambitious. It will take some planning and execution. Human beings are creatures of habit, so asking them to change the way they’ve been operating for years will require a carefully thought-out process that involves working with the system supplier on building strategies and implementing these strategies to monitor their effectiveness. After all, your staff will be using these new systems to become more effective at their jobs — you need their buy-in to ensure the system is being used to its fullest potential.

As many suppliers offer new digital gateways for managers to access their data, it’s devastating for a management team to fumble with attempting to introduce five different Industry 4.0 systems that are burying them and their team in information. Any system must centralize all data points and simply have one goal — to make the lives of the organization’s employees easier through speed and accuracy. If too many systems are introduced all at once, it will be nearly impossible to get buy-in from staff.

Key measurables in plastic injection

Plastic injection measurables will vary, of course, based on organizational needs and production requirements. Utilize the managers of process, tooling, maintenance, and production to establish the key factors that will affect your overall production success. Here is a basic list that outlines many of the metrics that define a solid molding foundation:

  • Efficiencies (quoted vs. actual cycle times)
  • Scrap
  • Unplanned downtime (maintenance, tooling)
  • Part-to-part metrics
  • Process metrics (shot size, peak pressure, fill time, etc.)
  • Mold change times
  • Tool repair
  • Preventive maintenance events
  • Scheduling
  • Rework events
  • Machine utilization
  • Quality system
  • Continuous improvement

The benefits of a phased introduction

Phased introduction of a new technology is effective for one simple reason — it drives change at a pace that allows for all questions to be answered before the technology is rolled out to the entire staff. One of the biggest risks that companies face when rolling out systems too quickly is that the “change management” aspect of the technology is lost among employees. There will be questions: Some will sound repetitive, some will have simple answers, and others will not. The role of the manager is to drive the business in the most effective way possible, while integrating a system that will give employees tools they’ve never experienced before.

As our industry becomes increasingly focused on squeezing out inefficiencies in every area, time is the biggest waste within every organization. An Industry 4.0 production monitoring system can completely eliminate time allocated for collecting production metrics while producing meticulous information. By providing a rapid wealth of information, managers can quickly identify root-cause production issues as they’re happening. Return on investment (ROI) is key to management’s control of the production system. By giving staff new tools, ROI monitoring is easier to analyze, providing better response times.

Phase 1: Start small, think big. Work with your Industry 4.0 system supplier and build a strategy for successful integration. The supplier needs to know precisely what your monitoring goals will be, so it’s up to you to ask the relevant questions:

  • How do I translate the value to my employees?
  • What effects will this have on our IT infrastructure?
  • How do I ensure the data are accurate?
  • What are the key measurables of each department?

Translating the value to employees comes from building an action plan with the supplier that includes key objectives to focus on from the management point of view, such as:

  • Building in new key production indicators (KPIs);
  • establishing measurables at the employee level.

Starting simply at first, begin to assign new duties to employees and reward them accordingly for managing their slice of the new software. If it’s maintenance resources, for example, show them that the system can alert them when a machine issue springs up, achieving a faster resolution time through instant problem identification.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Show the time-saving value to your employees;
  • promote new incentives based on metrics collected through the system;
  • reward problem identification sourced through the software.

Phase 2: Bring the department heads up to speed on the new tools and give them access to the simplest functions first. Champion the system internally and be a source of knowledge for them. Leverage the relationship with the system supplier but don’t rely on them for every answer — they don’t know your staff like you do.

Some key tactics to enforce:

  • Assign a champion internally who will help manage the system from an administrator perspective. This person should be the primary contact with the system supplier.
  • Build your rollout team(s) and set specific KPIs that begin small. For example, build logins for each member of your department. Ask each department to collect reports through the new system.
  • Slowly enforce more complex KPIs and build a plan to render obsolete any old processes. Your system supplier should be aware of these processes and help guide this strategy.
  • After one to two months, your department heads should be fully versed in the system and not require further training.

Phase 3: The full rollout. Now that you have buy-in from your department heads, it’s time to generalize rollout of the system across the company. Assign each department head as the specialist for their aspect of the system. You will also need to monitor the progress of skills integration within each group under their direction. Continually build reports, leverage new information, and ask each staff member how they are using the system.

Work with the supplier to relay active feedback and fine-tune each aspect of the system, so that it becomes further ingrained in the everyday work life of your staff.

Once rolled out, have the supplier assist in determining the ROI using your own data, and present the improvements to your staff. Take this opportunity, as well, to factor in your own staff’s KPIs and leverage their success through the system. This way, people will have the power to actively use this data for their own job performance and gains in their day-to-day work life.

Important strategies to maintain:

  • Daily stand-up meetings (if applicable) should be focused around the system to help bolster a sense of its importance to management.
  • Unfavorable trends should be identified immediately through the system and discussed as a team. Resolution and impact should be identified through the system, as well.
  • Reward employees who help identify these trends to management and create a positive conversation around the system. Use gamification, or game dynamics, to incentivize employees to reach goals and reward them accordingly.
  • Above all else, never use the system to publicly shame anyone. Always keep any disciplinary action behind closed doors. Public shaming may lead to a negative perspective on the new technology.
  • Regularly ask staff for their thoughts on the system. Engaging employees helps to ensure that it’s being updated and managed accordingly. The more integration introduced into the system, the higher value the system adds to the company strategy.

Plastic injection molding is a challenge in terms of production approach. Applying Industry 4.0 systems will provide an abundant source of historical data quickly. This type of approach is fundamental to any scientific-based company. It will consistently provide key information needed for ensuring a methodical approach to standardization. The success of any company is completely dependent upon the amount of informational data available, and how quickly it is accessed.

About the author

Garrett MacKenzie is the owner/editor of www.plastic411.com and a technical writer for PlasticsToday. His 31-year plastic injection career includes engineering and management for the automotive, medical, and handgun industries. He currently offers in-plant processor training programs and training-based webinars. E-mail training@plastic411.com for more information or a quote.

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