Manufacturing 2.0 and scientific management

06 Dec Manufacturing 2.0 and scientific management

Digital technology is helping manufacturers create more real-time planning and scheduling, and is enabling them to share production data with all parts of their business

Today’s manufacturers wrestle with the same problems as their predecessors: chasing efficiencies, flexibility and healthier margins. Discrete manufacturers often encounter inefficiencies as part of their agile business models, so they are feeling the pinch more than others.

“A successful discrete manufacturer needs three vital points of information to predict its operations and adjust its margins,” says Vincent Maila, APS Consultant at nCoded Solutions. “They need to understand the cost, capacity and delivery of their environment; that is, understanding the cost of making something, the capacity of the various machines and people within the line, and accurate scheduling to meet deadlines or forewarn the customer if there are problems with delivery.”

Modern manufacturers can provide many more products than before. But their capability, not to mention profitability, rely a lot on understanding the cost, capacity and delivery of the floor. New digital technologies are making this possible and are helping manufacturers create more real-time planning and scheduling. But to grasp the power of such new systems, and the importance of establishing them, we should go back to where it all started.

Beyond the thumb

Nobody is sure when the phrase ‘rule of thumb’ emerged. It was captured in a published sermon from the 1600s, admonishing builders who “build by guess, and by rule of thumb, and not by Square and Rule”.

The world had known about ‘square and rule’ or accurate measurements for thousands of years. Those same principles built pyramids and entertained ancient Greeks. But none of them were held as standards. Standards, if they existed, lacked consistency.

For example, in the 1100s an English king declared his own arm’s length as the new standard length, a practice that mercifully didn’t stick around. Standardisation didn’t become standard, though, until after the French Revolution, during the 19th century.

It’s at this time that the combined ideas of Fred Taylor, and Lillian and Frank Gilbreth, emerged. Taylor, in particular, was a driving force behind the concept. He was a major proponent of the Efficiency Movement, which sought to establish better practices in people, industries and nations. Taylor was so influential on this doctrine, especially when applied to industry, that the movement became known as Taylorism.

“His theory was based on the improvement of productivity by using science, and not rule of thumb,” says Maila. “How do we improve efficiency and productivity by applying science to this activity or role? Taylor’s answer was to study the activities as they repeat themselves over and over again.”

Right on time

Time studies are pretty straightforward: they record how long a specific task or process takes. Motion study takes this further, offering a scientific basis and paying attention to the particular actions that took place, not just how long it took to complete them.

The two sides were at odds with each other for several reasons. But they ultimately came together into a discipline that is widely used today as part of scientific management methods. The methods have, in turn, established standards, which is what Taylor had envisioned. He used these standardisation concepts as a means of improving productivity in the workforce. Hence, Taylor was one of the first management consultants of the modern age.

What relevance does this have to modern discrete manufacturers, which already use scientific management in many ways?

“The second industrial revolution benefited directly from scientific management,” says Maila. “Taylor’s ideas helped create the management scale that modern manufacturing relies on. Without work like his and those of the Gilbreths, that may have all stalled.”

Management Science + Digital

We can apply this same paradigm to how manufacturing is yet again changing, this time by adopting digital tools for advanced management. Time studies are still typically done manually with a stopwatch, focused on one line or machine at a time. In some cases, an estimation expert is asked to predict output. Such methods were sufficient in the preceding century, but they don’t offer the agility that modern discrete manufacturers need.

“Digital’s contributions to scientific management are much better data and faster decision,” explains Lance Zikalala, MD of nCoded Solutions. “Time and motion information can be gathered from multiple machines and connected directly to management, scheduling and sales operations, and business performance.”

Time and motion studies also benefit from digital by becoming substantially richer in value. Standards can be set through studying the aggregated data from the various processes.

Digital capturing will eventually replace most of the manual study functions. It’s also a fact that some machine and product mixes operate too fast for manual time studies. Companies that do not have shop floor systems have no choice but to continue setting standards using a time study. They are also foregoing the opportunities to develop lean manufacturing.

Manual studies can still inspect production methods and apply improvements in real time. There is a need to smooth between manual and digital capturing: If processes are messy, digital capturing can produce standards full of junk. But staying manual is worse. Digital data complement and streamline manual decisions, enabling decision makers such as time officers to focus on specific problems within studied processes.

Digital tracking can be implemented in several ways, including automated systems. But these are expensive and complex, which is why an alternative has developed. Operators can manually capture their process through touch screens located at their stations, connected to an integrated floor-tracking application. Through this, a manufacturer can collect floor-time study data and use it to enhance a range of services in the business.

Zikalala sees this as the real influence of the era known as the fourth industrial revolution, or 4IR: “You hear much about technology in the fourth industrial revolution, but management sciences are also getting a lot from the change. They can be faster and more accurate, and the information they use can be captured from more sources.”

Digital measurements remove thumbsucking and enable manufacturers to share production data with all parts of the business. It’s taking the ideas of Taylor and other efficiency pioneers to the next level. This improvement is why manufacturers should take digital modernisation seriously: It is literally the next evolution in the world manufacturers created through management sciences

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