Identifying Smart Opportunities
Because each company’s pain points are likely to be different, solutions will vary. However, there are a few key areas where technology is being applied in composites manufacturing facilities to improve production workflow, including the following:
- Smart asset management – By digitalizing asset management, composites manufacturers can maximize the throughput of materials to gain cost savings. For many manufacturers this is a particularly simple step, as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for tracking material are already widely available and relatively inexpensive. RFID tags create a data trail that manufacturers can incorporate with software systems to make numerous process upgrades.
Librandi says that prepreg materials offer a strong example of the benefit of smart asset management. Given the tight constraints around prepreg storage, real-time asset visibility can maximize use of the material within its shelf life. By adding RFID tags to the prepreg material, manufacturers can precisely track the time the material leaves the freezer and how long it has to move through production processes before it must be cured within an autoclave. Real-time alerts can notify material handlers when time is running out.
Manufacturers can also use RFID to track the progress of a specific manufactured component during production to help reduce downtime for production lines. Moving material more efficiently through an expensive fixed asset like an autoclave can translate into significant cost savings. When an RFID tag identifies that a part has finished curing, an automatic alert could be sent to quality inspectors or to material handlers who can then lay up the next stack.
This location information is also valuable in identifying potential bottlenecks and targeting production investments that can drive step improvements in operational efficiency.
- Workforce scheduling – Smart factories can also use data to adapt the production schedule to match what’s happening in real time on the factory floor. This allows manufacturers to respond with greater flexibility to unplanned downtime or new orders and better manage their workforce.
For example, integrating RFID data about materials into scheduling software allows a manufacturer to identify where adjustments may be needed to daily production schedules to accommodate material constraints. If data indicates that prepreg material is reaching its usable limits, manufacturers can reroute capacity to use more material and reduce waste.
- Predictive maintenance – Factories typically avert equipment problems with routine preventive maintenance, whether or not that maintenance is needed. By adding sensors to equipment to track and measure material throughput, equipment vibration and other data points, manufacturers can precisely predict when maintenance is required and reduce unnecessary downtime.