How to manage complexity in high-mix, low-volume environments
Consumer behavior is becoming increasingly demanding. People and companies are not looking for off-the-shelf products, but they want to have the product variation that best fits to their needs and requirements. Needless to say that the delivery should be fast or just in time, in good quality at a good price. In order to meet these requirements and stay competitive, production companies must be able to master the high-mix, low-volume (HMLV).
What are the challenges in HMLV environments in manufacturing? Production operations with high variation of products combined with low volume and low batch sizes create a complex manual assembly process and work preparation. Frequent transitions between products and variants require the ability to quickly and efficiently change over setups.
The following article explains how shorter change over time, more flexibility & higher process reliability can be achieved due to several aspects:
1) Seamlessly switch between production setups
2) Reduce switching costs for operators
3) Use data transparency to improve process
1) Seamlessly switch between production setups
Smart factories and assembly processes require cleverly designed physical setups.
Connected tool integration allows settings, calibration, and configuration information to be saved within the software and automatically updated and transmitted so that each screw and rivet is tightened according to specifications. Because tool settings and requirements are automated and monitored, operators don’t have to remember the required torque, parameters, etc. for each step in the process. Pick-by-light applications, rotating assembly towers, and other smart devices can be integrated to reduce the time that operators spend searching for assembly parts – a leading cause of slowdowns in manual assembly processes.
During assembly, input from smart tools or sensors, like scanners or cameras, can be used to advance work instructions and reset tools for the next step in the process. Similarly, triggers can be set to move between different products and variants. Smart device integration and work instruction management make the physical changeover between one production order and the next one as seamless as moving from step to step within an assembly process.
Digitizing your workplace also allows you to change the layout of workstations with just a few mouse clicks, for example from a single workstation to a small production line, giving you the flexibility to change and manage the output of your products.
2) Reduce switching costs for operators during assembly
By coupling smart devices and digitized work instructions, complexity during changeovers will be reduced for the employees, and best practices according to Poka-Yoke principles can be applied. This not only increases operator effectiveness by reducing time but also assures quality standards are adhered to and reduces errors and rework.
In most HMLV environments, operators aren’t exposed to single products or variants long enough or often enough to become experts. Therefore, assembly steps that can’t be physically automated must be communicated via work instructions.
Manual work instructions support the workers to get their job done, but still comprise many uncertainties and time loss in changeovers: is the appropriate document and the right version at hand, which parts are already assembled, what’s the next step. The resulting insecurity and the pressure to do everything right and quickly can negatively influence the well-being of the operator and thus the quality of work.
Digital work instructions reduce cognitive switching costs, allowing operators to maintain their workflow. Workers are guided step by step through the assembly process. Each executed task is confirmed by the operator to proceed to the next task. If desired, operators can add comments to the work instructions during assembly to improve work steps or the workflow. The instructions are accompanied by pictures or graphics, which makes the instructions easy to understand, even for new employees. In this way, also complex assembly tasks are carried out correctly.
3) Use data transparency to improve the process
The digitalization of production does not only increase flexibility by making changeovers more efficient from both a physical and human perspective, it also helps strengthen capabilities for the future.
Production data from the digital work instructions and all connected tools and devices, from DC screwdrivers and cobots to measuring systems and testing machinery, are collected at every step, providing unprecedented transparency into operations. This data can be used to monitor and assure quality and can also be used to enable continuous improvement initiatives to design assembly processes to be even more flexible and efficient in the future.
High product variation combined with low volume and low batch sizes creates a high complexity and work preparation.
Using standardized workplaces with guided work instructions and connected smart devices and tools
- Flexibility and productivity increase
- Quick changeover
- Reduction in set up time
- Every operator can produce any product
- Higher shop floor space utilization
- Controlled process flow
Capitalize on Smart Factory Assembly’s FlexibilitySmart Factory Assembly’s emphasis on flexibility starts with the system itself. A wide range of smart assembly devices and tools can be connected, across a single workstation or your entire production floor, making it easy to design a custom solution that works for your operations. The integrated work instruction management interface and production data dashboards can be customized within the system or integrated into your existing software.
With its connected assembly devices and tools, digitized work instructions and protocols, and easily accessible production data, Smart Factory Assembly enables smooth physical changeovers and supports operators in moving seamlessly through and between production orders. By reducing complexity, Smart Factory Assembly increases flexibility, transparency, and quality – no matter where you are on your digitalization journey.
Capitalize on Smart Factory Assembly’s FlexibilityBy reducing complexity, Smart Factory Assembly increases flexibility, transparency, and quality – no matter where you are on your digitalization journey.