Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog from our friend Daniel Waldron with Armagard. In this article, Daniel investigates how the US can overtake China with manufacturing productivity.

According to the 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index – developed by Deloitte and the Council on Competitiveness – China leads the way as the world’s most competitive manufacturing nation.

However, the US is closing the gap and is expected to claim the crown by 2020, according to ‘The Made in America Movement’ – a non-partisan organization lobbying for American manufacturers. Yet, is there a way US manufacturing can claim the top spot before then? Armagard investigates…

The use of advanced manufacturing technologies is said to be fuelling America’s surge towards becoming the world’s most competitive manufacturing nation. That’s according to a survey of global CEOs and senior executives. Among those technologies are computers and software, integrated on manufacturing floors for the purposes of automation.

Millions of dollars have been invested by US manufacturing firms into transforming manufacturing floors into computerized environments to improve the country’s competitive position. Similar investments have been made by other manufacturing powerhouses such as Germany, Japan, and the UK.

US manufacturers rank computer technology alongside having the right staff as a crucial driver of the industry’s competitiveness, while productivity is not far behind. However, despite heavy investment in advanced technologies, China still leads the way in the manufacturing stakes, despite the Chinese economy suffering a recent slump.

What’s stopping the US taking advantage of this?

manufacturing productivity 1Preventing computer downtime has become a key challenge across US manufacturing.

Armagard’s theory is that heavy investment in computerizing the US manufacturing floor has presented the industry with a new set of challenges. One of the key challenges is downtime, occurring as a result of computer failure.

With many manufacturing firms introducing computers to manufacturing environments to improve things such as big data collection or to tap into the Internet of Things (IoT), incidents of downtime are seriously impacting productivity.

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However, the issues don’t stop there. The knock-on effects of computer downtime extend beyond reduced productivity. Suddenly, whole projects are thrown into chaos, with downtime resulting in increased lead times, customer dissatisfaction, reputational damage and ultimately, loss of market share having failed to deliver.

Worse still, there are the financial implications that manufacturing firms have to contend with. Computers brought in to improve manufacturing productivity actually end up hindering output, which could be one of the reasons why the US continues to lag behind China in the manufacturing competitive stakes.

Although the ‘Made in America Movement’ predicts that the US will come out on top by 2020, is this based on the assumption that China won’t do anything to improve its own manufacturing cycle?

We’re not saying that solving the problem of computer downtime is the only factor currently preventing the US from surpassing China’s dominance of the manufacturing sector. However, we are saying that tackling the issue would go some way to helping US manufacturers improve manufacturing productivity.

manufacturing productivity 2Tackling computer downtime on US manufacturing floors needs attention.

The issue here, in the battle to reign supreme in the manufacturing competitiveness stakes, is not ‘who can invest the most in advanced manufacturing technologies?’ It’s ‘who can perfect the use of advanced manufacturing technologies to improve manufacturing productivity?’ This, combined with recruiting the right staff, is the formula for success.

Marrying computer technology with manufacturing productivity

However, as we made reference to earlier, there appears to be a disconnection between technology and productivity… ‘US manufacturers rank computer technology and having the right staff as a crucial driver of the industry’s competitiveness, while productivity is not far behind…’

Technology and productivity are alluded to separately in this context, but why? Shouldn’t it be the case that technology is the catalyst for improving manufacturing productivity?

It’s our assumption that this disconnection has occurred because instances of downtime involving, let’s say computer technology, has planted ‘seeds of doubt’ that technology can play a part in better productivity across the manufacturing industry.

We could be way off the mark, but let’s say we’re not, hypothetically speaking. How can the computer technology used by US manufacturing firms be improved in order to improve manufacturing productivity and dethrone China as the world’s manufacturing kingpin?

The answer lies in computer downtime prevention. The emergence of what the manufacturing sector dubs ‘Industry 4.0’ continues to gather pace and shows no signs of slowing down.

As the scramble to computerize the manufacturing floor in the name of ‘remaining competitive’ reaches new heights, one key oversight is causing manufacturing floors to unravel, before computers can make a difference. The oversight in question is computer protection.

manufacturing productivity 3Computer protection on the manufacturing floor is often thought about after it’s too late.

Marrying computer technology to the manufacturing floor should not be undertaken if you’re not willing to protect your capital investment. The stark reality is that computers, in particular, are not built to last, and their lifespan is greatly diminished when they’re put to use in a manufacturing environment.

One of the key factors that will help US manufacturing to overhaul China, in an age where the race for manufacturing supremacy rests on perfecting computer-integrated manufacturing, rests on reliable computing.

To achieve reliable computing, protective environmental enclosures will play a role in shaping manufacturing floors of the future. Computer enclosures represent continuity on the manufacturing floor, minimizing the impact of damage threats that are lethal to shop floor computers.

Dust, dirt, powder and liquid damage are just some of the elements that enclosures shield computers against, but more than that, they are the difference between preventing downtime and a downtime disaster. An enclosure is as important an investment as the computer itself, except enclosures, give you the benefit of bringing technology and productivity together to sustain manufacturing continuity.

In the race to lead the way in manufacturing competitiveness, enclosures can give US manufacturers the edge, improving computer-integrated manufacturing productivity and bringing forward the date that US manufacturing will surpass the output of China.

The gap between computer technology and improved productivity can be closed by enclosures, and for US manufacturers, it needs to be. Computer use on the manufacturing floor isn’t going to go away, better to be prepared against downtime or face further setbacks that will leave US industry trailing behind China.

Remaining competitive in an ever-changing market requires you to constantly improve manufacturing productivity. Your computer equipment no doubt plays a crucial role in that process, right? Here’s how to keep it that way…

 So-called ‘best practices’ to improve manufacturing productivity tend to focus on the performance of people. Commonplace methodologies like lean manufacturing, Just in Time (JIT) and continuous improvement or Kaizen, which originated in Japan, provide guidelines for employees to perform their jobs efficiently and effectively.

However, your employees can only complete their tasks efficiently and effectively if the ‘tools’ they have are fit for purpose. If the reliability of computers, printers or workplace screens is a real concern for you, then that throws a spanner in the works for improving manufacturing productivity.

If you’re faced with poor performing PCs, printers or workplace screens on the manufacturing floor, chances are it’s something to do with the environment in which they are used.

Dust, water, and airborne debris – metal shavings for instance – all have the potential to prematurely end the life of your equipment, and no amount of ‘turning it off and turning it on again’ will resurrect it.

Heat and humidity can also claim responsibility for ending the life of crucial equipment. The question is how do you combat these everyday occurrences taking place on your shop floor and give your staff the best chance to improve manufacturing productivity?

Your Manufacturing Productivity Pain Points

In your workplace – dust, the use of water, airborne debris, heat, humidity or a combination of all these damage threats – are unavoidable, save shutting down production completely, which is not an option.

manufacturing productivity on the floor

Protected equipment on the manufacturing floor means improved productivity.

Leaving equipment unprotected, your pain points can potentially escalate into downtime, staff left idle, missed deadlines, loss of revenue, loss of customers, plus a damaged personal and business reputation.

That’s a lot to lose, considering that it’s easier to improve manufacturing productivity by protecting crucial equipment than it is to pick up the pieces following a sustained period of downtime.

Addressing your Manufacturing Productivity Points

Several options are available to you when it comes to tackling the issue of unreliable equipment used in harsh environments.

Option 1 – Replacement

If you have the finances to replace PCs, printers and workplace screens on a regular basis, then you’re covered. However, it’s costly and will soon take its toll on your bottom line.

Additionally, as a means to improve manufacturing productivity, it’s impractical. The constant installation and removal of equipment will be more disruptive than productive.

Option 2 – Move equipment out of harm’s way

You can shift all your crucial equipment to an area of your facility where the threat of damage is greatly reduced. However, it’s labour intensive, impractical and inconvenient, not to mention disruptive.

For the purposes of improving manufacturing productivity, relocating equipment is counterproductive. Imagine confining equipment to one area of a facility with a huge floor space and then expecting staff to traipse from one side to the other to print a label or enter data.

Option 3 – Buy in specialist computer kit

Yes, specialist ‘military’ style computer equipment does exist for use in tough workplace environments. However, we won’t draw your attention to them too much. After all, they’re extremely costly, disruptive in terms of installation plus, they’re out of your control.

Meaning that if they do breakdown, you’re reliant on an engineer to come and fix them because only the manufacturer understands the contraption. What’s more, if it can’t be repaired you’re looking at a replacement and that’s an expense you can do without.

The Manufacturing Productivity Bottom Line

To get to the root of addressing your pain points and to reach your end goal of improving manufacturing productivity, there exists option four.

Option 4 – Industrial Enclosures

The cost-effective, convenient and long-term solution for protecting crucial equipment on the production floor, and ultimately improving manufacturing productivity, rests with industrial enclosures.

manufacturing productivity industrial enclosures

Industrial enclosures, built on the manufacturing floor, for the manufacturing floor.

Versatile and long-lasting, industrial enclosures offer you the luxury of keeping your current equipment and making it harsh environment ready. They eliminate the flaws of option one because they can prolong the life of PCs, monitors and printers reducing the regularity of replacement and saving you money. From an ROI perspective, they’re great value.

The flaws of option two are dealt with because you can position equipment where it’s needed for staff to do their job efficiently and effectively.

Take a widescreen industrial computer enclosure for example, which can provide protection for a 22” monitor, a tower PC and even your keyboard and mouse. You can wall-mount it anywhere across your facility for optimum productivity.

manufacturing productivity screen enclosure

Improve manufacturing productivity simply by protecting crucial computer equipment on the production floor. Bonilait in France did just that and a thumbs up is good in any country.

The flaws with option three are also addressed. Enclosures are far more cost-effective, but the key benefit is that you remain in control. Should a computer, printer or screen stop working, you can replace it at your convenience minimizing disruption and downtime.

Whereas, you could be waiting days for an engineer to come and fix specialist kit, plus you will be charged for the privilege!

The bottom line is that you stand to gain much more with industrial enclosures in place. The alternative is that you have a lot to lose. Enclosures are the smart option. They’re convenient and cost-effective, plus they will improve manufacturing productivity and that’s a movement that you, your staff and your business can get behind.

Still trying the same old things to improve manufacturing productivity? The problem might not be people. Familiarize yourself with industrial enclosures, today.

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