Driving Efficiencies Up, and Costs Down In The Manufacturing Sector

Manufacturing Sector

On a recent visit to a factory that produces washing powder, I was surprised to learn about the most disruptive production line issue it faced. The machine that dropped a scoop into each box regularly failed and the resolution was manual, slow, prone to error and expensive.

The scoop placer machine has one job – it gently places the scoop into a full box of powder before the box moves to the next stage to be sealed. However, this scoop placer wasn’t actively monitored, and its failures often went unnoticed for some time, resulting in manual intervention, disruption and avoidable cost. There were even times when products were shipped without scoops, incurring complaints from retailers and customers and risking reputational damage.

Using traditional methods, identifying the root cause and resolving such a problem would be a very expensive engineering undertaking. By embracing cloud technologies, however, innovative solutions can be devised to monitor, analyse and resolve such problems far cheaper and quicker than previously possible.

In this instance, over many cups of tea, a mountain of biscuits and a whiteboard, we sat with the factory manager, production engineers and IT administrator to create a design that dovetailed the factory’s SAP and MES systems. Utilising cutting-edge cloud technologies and local know-how to build a solution, the manufacturer could monitor and control the machine, whilst analysing and learning from the data to mitigate and resolve the root cause of the failures.

We arrived at a solution that involved placing a smart camera next to the scoop placer to snapshot each scoop placed in a box. We coupled this with an IoT service to talk to the PLC to immediately stop the production line when a failure threshold breached. The camera images would also be fed into Google’s Vision AI image analysis service to allow the production engineers to study the data, and with the aid of machine learning, identify defects and resolve the root causes.

The beauty of this approach is that it can be tried and tested at very little cost or risk to the factory manager’s budget. Development time and a £200 outlay for a smart camera withstanding, the solution relies entirely on cloud services, which are consumed on a pay-as-you-go basis. If the solution can’t be made to work initially, switch it off, learn what to fix, then adapt – you’ll incur no further costs.

production line

Once you’ve adapted the solution and made it work, you’ve resolved your number one production line problem at a fraction of the investment and time of traditional methods, increased your efficiency, cut your costs and gained an advantage over your competitors. You’ve embraced the cloud.

This was a single issue, with a single manufacturer, in just one of their factories. While it was a reactive approach to an existing problem, efficiencies and cost savings can be made at nearly every stage of the manufacturing design process. Proactively investing in data-led cloud solutions can revolutionise aspects of nearly every manufacturers business.

With SAP now committed to supporting SAP Business Suite until 2027 (with an option to extend to 2030), there’s no better time to leverage your existing investment to innovate. By integrating SAP with cloud services, you can quickly extend around its edges with services such as IoT, image analysis, machine learning and predictive analytics and begin to reap the cost and productivity benefits they can bring.