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Monday, 03 August 2020 07:45

How to Keep Up Production During COVID-19 Using Smart Factory Tech?

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COVID-19 has made working from home and digital collaboration new norms in enterprises. In pulp and paper, however, most processing plants do not support remote working, just yet. Because of the pandemic's lengthened impact, producers must hurry up to enable their organizations and facilities with new, flexible ways of working to keep the production running to meet increasing demands.

Kari Terho, the General Manager of Elisa Smart Factory, the industrial data analytics company explains why flexible ways of working in pulp and paper are critical post-COVID-19, and introduces an easy Smart Factory approach! 

Why Does COVID-19 Hit So Hard on Processing Industries? 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of suppliers, producers, and their customers have suffered material losses. Productions and shipments have slowed down and even stopped.

We've seen epidemics, pandemics, and other global disruptions several times before. What's so different this time around?

Earlier global disruptions have only affected specific, typically offshored production units of the supply chains in Asia. The damages were then signaled upstream, hit producers and companies elsewhere, eventually stopped productions, and canceled shipments globally.

COVID-19, however, is the first pandemic, which has directly and simultaneously impacted multiple parts of the supply chains globally. The unthinkable has become a reality for many manufacturers and processing companies.  Their primary plants have had to be closed down, and this has impacted on the alternative back-up plants and suppliers.  

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Lock-down Impact 

Why did the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic hit industrial companies so hard? It wasn't just the halted production lines; it was the simultaneous staff lock-downs, measures of social distancing, and other employee safety procedures. Pulp and paper processing require people to be on-site physically. Operators keep an eye open and run machines, while maintenance staff maintains and repairs them. Many factories and plants are not designed to be managed remotely and lack the digital tools and infrastructure that are needed to support such activities. Consequently, according to Gartner, up to 50 percent of the production workforce has been unavailable during the pandemic.

For the first time in manufacturing history - demand, supply, and workforce availability are affected simultaneously!

A Simple Smart Factory Approach to Secure Production Amid COVID-19

Here's a three-step Smart Factory technology approach to digitalize processing and provide the pulp and paper organization with tools that enable flexible remote working and seamless virtual collaboration.

What is the major hurdle to the success of digitalized manufacturing and processing? Quite simply, it is the obstacle of data silos.  Many processing companies have the first-hand experience of working in a siloed organization. The first step of turning a factory or plant pandemic-proof is to tear down the data silos!

Integrate Data to Enable End-to-end Visibility

There are several stakeholders involved in each industrial organization: from procurement to material planning, production planning, sales, finance, fulfillment, and more. These teams are working in their own silos; they have siloed processes, databases, systems, and dashboards. While these might work individually, the systems do not communicate well across department borders. The production machines generate massive amounts of valuable data, also. However, this data is very difficult to collect due to the various machine-specific formats and interfaces.

This has resulted in all these important data left to reside in isolated silos. The information cannot be correlated, cross-referenced, combined, or harmonized to give an important end-to-end view on the production process, inventories, and material flows.

Tear Down the Walls of Data Silos

Start by gaining access to the data residing in the silos – i.e., production machines, systems, and other departments. This data, which is in different formats, will have to be harmonized, integrated, analyzed, and then opened for use by various applications, such as a digital twin, or a performance monitoring platform.

In practice, this will involve connecting machines and core systems - such as ERP, MES, PLM, and automation systems via a purpose-built smart factory analytics layer. This will handle the continuous stream of data generated by your machines and systems. It will collect, integrate, and analyze all the structured and unstructured data that has been collected from an unlimited number of sources.

This will result in valuable insights and can be created simply by integrating the disparate data points. The ERP systems will tell operators the inventory levels and delivery lead times; MESs will track and manage production information in real-time to provide information gems about traceability and performance; and the PLM systems will include all the information, related to a specific product, from concept to production.

Once all data is merged, a manufacturer can then gain a solid foundation for optimal digitalization. Production lines can be automated and robotized, and management will have full control over the processes, even if they are based in remote locations. Maintenance needs can be predicted and better managed.

Facilitate Virtual Collaboration via a Factory Digital Twin

It is clear that the "new normal" will require smarter ways of working, and also a higher degree of digitalization in processing companies – such as a "virtual shift" – a team of specialists who connect remotely to be available 24/7 to supervise processes, guide and support the reduced personnel present on-site.

But how can the virtual and physical shifts collaborate efficiently?

If the teams can see the production area, lines, and machines on a visual, online 3D digital twin, collaboration becomes easy. The digital twin factory is based on real-time data, and it shows what is happening in the "real" factory, either on a specific line, or a machine at any given moment – so that operators and management can make fact-based decisions.  

Enable Remote, Real-time Process Monitoring through Performance Dashboards

Can managers and supervisors keep an eye on the processes when locked-down at home?

They can. It works by working with role-based performance dashboards, which collect data from all data sources and display it on a single intuitive view.

Managers can monitor the most critical production key performance indicators (KPI) and compare these against set targets in real-time. Supervisors have end-to-end visibility of the inventories, machines, and processes via performance dashboards, and can continuously optimize material flows.

Digitalization makes processing more resilient against severe disruptions by facilitating flexible ways of working. New processing tools can include digital twins, remote diagnostics, preventive maintenance, predictive analytics, virtual collaboration, and more.

In Conclusion 

COVID-19 has pointed out hard lessons to industrial processing companies. We now realize that production is highly networked – and components and raw materials are sourced from all over the world. Factories and plants cannot be dependent on staff being on-site physically, any longer. Luckily, Smart Factory technology exist to enable transformation towards more flexible ways of working!

About the Author:

Kari Terho is General Manager of Smart Factory at Elisa Corporation, the leading ICT service provider in Finland. Prior to joining Elisa Smart Factory, Kari held various leadership positions in service management, and was responsible for sales and business development at tier one wireless service providers, and at global blue-chips - including Hewlett-Packard. Kari holds a Master of Business Administration.

About Elisa Smart Factory:

Elisa Smart Factory is a leading provider of artificial intelligence and industrial IoT software for industry manufacturers, processing companies, and pharmaceuticals including Metsä Group, Danfoss, ABB, Bayer, and Procter & Gamble. We connect to any data source, harness streams of data, and combine data analytics and machine learning to create outcomes like increased uptime, production quality and yield.  Being part of Elisa corporation, we have decades of experience in managing vast, highly automated network infrastructures as well as predicting and preventing disruptive incidents. Our aim is to use this expertise and become the leading provider of factory digitalization solutions in Europe and beyond. For more:

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