Singapore Manufacturing Consortium

Dedicated to Bringing Industry 4.0 to Singapore and Abroad

Singapore Manufacturing Consortium 

A collection of only the most technologically advanced, industry proven, tested and deployed members dedicated to bringing Industry 4.0 to Singapore and abroad.

Back to the basics using technology

Back to the basics using technology

Technology in Industry 4.0 should help in getting the basics of operations right

Contributing Writer - Chaitanya "CK" Kaligotla

I distinctly remember my first day at Toyota, more than a decade ago, as I began an internship with a group responsible for process engineering. What struck me then, and which I keep with me now, is the simplistic idea to get the final assembly process efficient, effective with maximum quality. The final car assembly line would send a fax (a simple one page fax) at the 10th minute of every hour, to all sub-assembly stations surrounding the main assembly line, and to suppliers in a 15 minute radius of the Toyota Factory. The fax simply contained the order of the assembly line (the make of the car, the color, and the option type) starting in the next hour. This set in motion a series of events. By the next 50 minutes, every sub-assembly station and every main supplier would have delivered (with a high degree of efficiency) pallets in the exact order to individual assembly stations along the main assembly line. And the technology that made all this possible was a fax machine! What I took away was the importance of the use of easy technology and tools to design a system that was simple, efficient, and effective while ensuring high quality, because it removed variability and made the whole process more ‘dependable’, or  reliable to everyone – the manager, the engineer and the line technician.

I have also noticed another disturbing trend - too many times, production management systems are used, and processes implemented, more for their novelty and ‘alleged’ usefulness, rather than any tangible benefit to that particular manufacturing organization.  In the SME segment especially, most people are weary of implementing large expensive technology (like ERP systems) and often make do without them. Some go in for cheaper off the shelf alternatives or attempt to cobble together an in house solution.  Their intent is right in all of these cases – the intent to use technology to better manage manufacturing process complexity, i.e. to make the manufacturing process more dependable or reliable.
Regardless of the solution, what matters always is the ultimate objective – better cost control, maximizing profit, reliable and robust processes and high quality.  Whether or not you use an ERP system, an I.o.T system, or some other smart system, the question to ask is the same. How does this technology, how does this system help me better manage my manufacturing process?  Does it help you better visualize the process in real time? Does it help you build reliability into your process by helping you control the right metrics?  If say machine #3 in line #2 breaks down, how much time does it take for you to know about it, and how long until you fix it? Does the technology or system help you do all this easily while maintaining your objectives of cost, profit, quality and reliability? Remember the objectives. It is easy to get caught up in the wrong metrics, and from most people’s experiences - metrics are rarely questioned. 

For instance, a lot of times, minimizing cost and maximizing profitability does not necessarily equate into a better bottom line. Maximizing utilization can have negative and unintentional feedback effects to quality and other important factors. This in turn drives up your objectives of cost control / profit maximization. Understand your process and think about the right metrics for you.  When this is achieved and only when should you start looking for the technology solution to help you improve your manufacturing process. Manufacturing operations are essentially a system, and a true test of this system is efficiency, effectiveness and reliability. Think carefully on which measures in your process best reflect these principles and then personalize the use of technology, and especially production management systems to achieve your goal. Visualization is often the first step to control, and you do not need expensive systems, you need smart, simple and flexible systems, rather than a one size fits all approach.

As you design your system and chose your technology solution, it is prudent to visualize your value stream. The more you see, the more you know, as the old saying goes. The same applies to your manufacturing process.  Technology and systems in Industry 4.0 should help you integrate and personalize the visualization of your entire value stream in real time, which helps you in greater control. It is in everyone’s best interest to remember the basics of operations and processes. 

A favorite book of mine about life and machines (Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig, 2006), has a quote about the absolute test of the machine coming from the tranquility it produces.  I’d like to convert the same thought and quote into technology and manufacturing process and systems – 

"The ultimate test of a production management system (technology-process-systems) is in how dependable it is to you - the manager, the executive, the engineer and the technician. If the system is reliable, it's right. If you feel otherwise, it's wrong, until either the system or your mind is changed."

Author:  Chaitanya "CK" Kaligotla. Advisor at Arcstone Pte. Ltd. To contact the author please email