Implementing a standardized machine setup is essential for precision manufacturing. It is the foundation for all the work and value that you produce. This is why it should be considered one of the most fundamental activities within manufacturing. If your machine setup is performed incorrectly, then how likely is it that your product will be fabricated properly?
Not very likely.
In manufacturing, we have quality standards for almost any product on the market. It’s how we examine which products go out to the customer and which ones don’t. Similarly, just as we have quality standards for our products, we need quality standards for our procedures and processes. And we need it for all of them, especially pre-production activities.
As discussed in Visual Work Instructions, Different Approaches and Use Cases, work instruction software provides unique opportunities across many industries and procedures. From pre-production activities like machine setup to post-production activities like packaging, work instruction software enables companies to standardize their best practices and ensure that every process is reaching the appropriate quality standards.
With this in mind, let’s take a deep dive into a specific application of this technology: film extrusion. We’ll see how standardizing your machine setup procedures is essential to the success of the entire process.
What is Extrusion?
First, let’s briefly explore the process of “extrusion”.
By definition, extrusion is a process used to manufacture objects with a fixed cross-sectional profile. This is achieved by pushing material through a die matching the desired shape.
Remember the simple handheld extruder from playdough? You would place the material within the extruder and then push the material (clay) through the star or crescent moon shaped holes.
When applying it on an industrial scale, there are a profound amount of materials and applications for this type of manufacturing, including aluminum and various forms of plastic. For modern industrial extrusion, pliable material, such as hot aluminum or plastic, is pushed through a hole called a die to achieve the desired shape.
Another example of this is cast film extrusion. Think of the cellophane wrap you use to cover food in the refrigerator. To create this popular product, molten polymer is pushed through a long thin die (called a coat hanger die) to produce a thin film. Downstream from the extruder are chiller rolls that control the cooling process. After chilling, there is a slitting tool that achieves the exact dimensional width.
When it comes to setting up the die, the chiller rolls, the slitting tool, and other essential parts, having the right machine setup every time is fundamental to a successful process.
Benefits and Challenges of Extrusion
One of the clear benefits of such a method is the ability to achieve nearly continuous production. As long as there's material to feed into the extruder, the machine could go forever with only minor interventions. Operators set up the extruder to exact specifications and then assume a monitor and adjust role.
For cast film extrusion, production speeds can reach around 600 meters per minute. Not only is the machine running for extended periods of time, but it is also producing material at an astounding rate. But with any high-speed continuous production, any problem in machine setup or misalignment can have detrimental consequences. This can produce a lot of defective products very quickly.
Let’s imagine that one of your employees improperly set up your cast film extruder machine. If the production ran for only 5 minutes, you would have 3 kilometers (close to 2 miles) of defective product. Not only that but the machine is about three meters wide. So you would actually be creating 15 square kilometers (just over 9 square miles) of wasted product.
This is why manufacturers involved in high-precision activities need strong standardized machine setup procedures. The above scenario could have been easily solved if your employee had followed a standardized machine setup procedure. It is incredibly important to maintain standardization when performing setup, adjustments, and inspections.
This is where Digital Work Instructions come into play.
The Right Machine Setup with Work Instructions
For extrusion, the approach to work instruction software is different from assembly work. In assembly work, setting up your workstation and machines is still important but the focus is for workers to be guided along every step of the way in the production process. But, in the case of extrusion, the extruder machine is performing most of the in-process work. This makes it harder for employees to fix issues during production. So it makes sense to get everything aligned properly and then let the process take care of itself.
The pre-production phase is one of the key areas where we need to focus our standardization efforts. By implementing a standardized machine setup, you will cut down on adverse errors and anomalies later in your process. And doing so digitally will extract value and drive compliance across your workforce.
With visually interactive software, standardization is simple to enact and simple to follow. Your operators have easy access to your company’s best practices and procedures through a visual and easy-to-understand format. So achieving a standardized and repeatable process for machine setup is easier than ever.
Adding to this, with digital work instructions, your operators always have access to the latest and most up-to-date methods. This in turn creates a stronger workforce that has the best tools and knowledge to begin production the right way.
In-Process Guidance & Troubleshooting
Extruders, chill rollers, and slitters still need monitoring and adjustments during production. These adjustments are dependent upon quite a lot of factors. This includes ambient temperature, humidity, raw materials used, etc.
That said, providing your operators with guidance and resources will limit wastes in materials, time, and products while also increasing the effectiveness of corrective measures. By capturing key process knowledge in a digital format, every working employee has access to the information they need in any scenario.
In the case of extrusion, guidebooks provide the right information for the right circumstance through interactive troubleshooting. The guidebook follows an IF-THEN model.
- If error X occurs, then implement solution Y.
- If adjustment A is needed, then perform activity B.
In a previous article, Dynamic Work Instructions & Why Do You Need Them?, we discussed how VKS can guide workers across multiple product variations based on the product specifications from the customer. Here we can do the same thing for troubleshooting and corrective actions. Employees simply need to assess the situation, input the current conditions and VKS will guide them with the appropriate instructions.
With easy access to detailed instructions and intelligent troubleshooting, your employees gain greater confidence in their daily activities.
Analytics That Work for You
Additionally, our Digital Work Instructions Software tracks and analyzes key manufacturing data about your production. After you’ve implemented the proper machine setup and production is taking place, data is constantly being retrieved and analyzed.
The ability to leverage data collection to enhance production is nothing short of amazing. With real-time process monitoring and alerts, you gain key insight into your operation. Insights like inventory, usage, composition, alignment, and more. Built-in tolerances and max limits help to inform your operators if production is not within specifications.
If errors or deficiencies occur, your operators can enact countermeasures quickly and effectively because they are informed of the deficiencies as they happen. They can do this because the data has given them the right information at the right time about where the problem is occurring.
Adding to this, with the enhanced capabilities of SPC control charts, you can even predict when problems will occur. This enables you and your team to know the ins and outs of your process like never before.
With more knowledge and insight, you and your team are better able to prevent material waste and rework.
Value for the Employee & the Customer
Digital work instructions add value for every employee within your organization as well as the customer. If your employees are better able to perform their tasks, then the customer can only benefit.
In a recent case, the operations team of an extrusion company was frustrated by their excessive use of paper forms. When customer issues arose, they struggled to trace quality records back to a specific tool, batch, or part. Finding the right paper records was simply taking too long. So the company had come to realize that their paper methods were not cutting it anymore, especially in their fast-growing industry.
But the company was able to overcome these obstacles by implementing work instruction software that relies on modern principles instead of slow and out-of-date paper records. Now, the right process knowledge, manufacturing data, and quality records are available at any moment.
This provides clear value for the machine operators while also benefiting the customer service team.
As we discussed, machine setup and other activities are clearly laid out for each procedure. This gives added confidence for you and your employees that the right procedures are being performed. Operators no longer need to fill out large amounts of paper forms. Now, they enter their data through their onscreen platform and VKS captures the data for their quality records.
Likewise, the customer service team now has easy access to all forms and files on past machine setup, assembly, and packaging. Every form is in one convenient system. No longer do they need to engage in the lengthy process of searching through filing cabinets.
Their key manufacturing data is stored intelligently and found intuitively. And this saves this company a lot of time and frustration.
Standardization & Strength For Every Process
Understanding the different implementation models for digital work instructions is essential for modern manufacturing. In any industry, employees benefit from increased access to knowledge. And all processes and procedures benefit from the digital implementation of standardization.
Take a walk through your facility. Think about how your production teams know what to do, as well as how and when to do it. Digital Work Instructions serve to unite all aspects of your facility. By empowering your workers, your equipment, and other software, machine setup and all other stages of your production are ready for success.