Guest Editorial
By Daniel Carranco, Global Shop Solutions
Daniel Carranco headshot
Predictable output
A quest for continuous improvement and automation for all aspects of manufacturing

anufacturing companies are living in a much different reality than they were 20 years ago. Expectations are exponentially more demanding than before due to increased competition, market conditions, access to markets and materials, and globalization. To serve these increased customer demands, manufacturers have started on a quest for automation.

Not everybody understands that automation goes beyond acquiring more equipment and machinery. It is a blend of having the right people involved, rethinking the process and using the data available. When I look at our customer base, those that are growing all have three things in common—a continuous improvement plan, a willingness to invest in technology and software, and a willingness to get uncomfortable and trust parts of their business to automation.

Getting started

The very first step in a quest for automation and continuous improvement is to identify a leader or executive sponsor. Transforming an idea or desire like automation and continuous improvement into a reality requires a laser-focused goal that is specific and measurable, and this leader will wake up each day thinking about one word—accountability. This leader must possess an overall vision of the entire process. In my experience, the best automation and continuous improvement plans are business plans with a leader or executive sponsor coming from operations, production or general management.

Automation empowers people to make more strategic decisions as they move areas of their business to machines, robots and software. Allowing multiple systems to talk to each other eliminates the need for wasteful and redundant data entry and allows staff to do what they were hired to do—make decisions, improve the business and fine tune the process. Connecting machines with software will eliminate the need for a person to move data around, and it will enable the person and the company to mine data for information to analyze. Nesting integrations with current ERP solutions, e-commerce, machine performance through monitoring systems or PLCs data retrieval are a few examples of the technologies now shaping the future of manufacturing.

Ultimately, the manufacturer will generate better customer satisfaction. They will be able to deliver a quality part on-time, every time and retain customers, grow existing customers, and win new business. The results of their continuous improvement process analysis will determine where to go next and what to look for in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Global Shop Solutions customer Cody Fast, CFO of Fast AG Solutions, says that before integration, “we were mostly in the dark when it came to knowing our costs. Now, with labor tracking, tighter inventory management and improved forecasting, we have a better handle on our true costs. As a result, we can more accurately target the margins we need to sustain the growth of our business.”

Another customer, Jason Mathern, IT manager at Kryton Engineered Metals Inc., says that his company now relies on “data rather than verbal communication, which makes everyone more efficient—we’re not always running around trying to get answers. This has produced a tremendous improvement in throughput on the shop floor, an increase in on-time deliveries—and a big jump in revenues.”

The bottom line

When we think of automation in manufacturing, we immediately tend to imagine how we can make more parts and move things through the shop faster. This is true, but I want to offer an additional angle: financial automation. We want everybody in the company, including the back-office personnel, to have the same exponential productivity on everything they do, such as managing interactions with customers, working with vendors and processing payments. We need to rethink the financial and accounting processes and make sure our financial team has the most time to do what they do best—analyzing data and providing recommendations for the strategic growth of the company. At the end of the day, analyzing margins and trends along with accounting compliance is what we should expect from finance and accounting professionals, not just a report at the end of the month.

Daniel Carranco is the director of continuous improvement at Global Shop Solutions. He leads multiple teams of manufacturing experts that deal with existing customer projects including custom development, consulting and continuous improvement.