August 10, 2022

Benefits of using an agile production system for digital manufacturing – Metrology and Quality News

GKN Powder Metallurgy is the world leader in the production of metal powders and precision powder metal parts for the automotive and industrial sectors. GKN increases operational flexibility and worker productivity with WORKERBASE.

The production of precision powder metal parts requires different manufacturing processes: metal powders are mixed and transported to forming stations where high pressure forming is used to bind the powder particles. After a heat treatment, called a sintering process, the parts become solid and are transferred to post-processing (eg dimensioning, milling or drilling).

The availability of skilled workers is a major challenge for most manufacturing operations. Additionally, customer requirements and technology trends demand a much more agile and flexible operating model, shifting from a reactive to a more active and predictive approach. With the deployment of the WORKERBASE platform, GKN Powder Metallurgy is able to optimize its shop floor operations. Over 80% of all manual work processes are managed using WORKERBASE, enabling dynamic planning and execution of work orders. Operators receive work order assignments on their mobile devices, can collect data and post process updates for existing business applications such as real-time MES.

GKN PM is a true industry leader and has implemented many different digital manufacturing applications using the WORKERBASE platform. More than 10 different workflow applications are used in production for efficient operations, including machine downtime, changeover, carriage changeover, and quality measurements.

Examples include:

  • Quality measures: Operators receive work assignments regarding required measurements on the smartwatch.
  • Machine interrupts: Operators receive real-time alerts on their smartwatch in the event of unplanned machine downtime.
  • Cart change: Just before the unloading stations reach their trolley capacity, the trolley change is scheduled automatically using the operator’s mobile device

As a result, GKN transforms the way human work is planned and coordinated:

  • Skills are used optimally to increase productivity in the workshop.
  • Work orders are assigned based on worker skills and availability.
  • Workers can train themselves to acquire new skills “on the job”.
  • Workers at all skill levels are able to work more effectively for companies, but more importantly for their own benefit.

Success factors to boost digitization in the workshop

As with all digitization initiatives, it is always essential to focus on business impact. Otherwise, the risk of pilot purgatory is high. In the case of GKN, a clear vision and a step-by-step approach were success criteria to go beyond the pilot phase. According to Paul Mairl, Chief Digital Officer at GKN PM, one of the key success factors was starting with a clearly defined business strategy: “We derived our activity-oriented workshop concept from strategic business objectives. We wanted to move away from a role-based organization, the hierarchies that we have on the shop floor, towards an agile shop floor that allows employees to work more flexibly. We were looking for a solution that would allow us to implement the concept in a short time. With WORKERBASE, we have found such a solution. The WORKERBASE system has a very easy to use interface and works on multiple devices like smartwatch and smartphone, but in the end, the core element is the workflow management feature. We can match activities to skills and that gives us the true characteristic of being more flexible and agile.

According to Paul Mairl, the advantages of using the WORKERBASE platform are multiple: “WORKERBASE makes the whole workshop more dynamic, more agile. We react much more quickly to the ups and downs of each production. What we do is give the right information at the right time to the right people so that they can make a decision in real time. This really reduces problems, because operators can make immediate decisions. And that consequently adds value to the whole process and has a huge impact on our business.

Industry 4.0 Benefits of using an agile production system for digital manufacturing

GKN PM uses WORKERBASE for efficient coordination of manual work in the workshop. The central element is to give the right information at the right time to the right people to better manage shop operations and improve productivity. Key benefits include:

  • Increased flexibility: Allocation of work in real time based on skills and availability
  • Flow increase: Mobile workflows for machine setups, changeovers, and outage management
  • Cost savings: Reduced WIP and inventory
  • Better utilization of labor: Highly skilled work environment through continuous learning

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