Experiencing the benefits of continuous improvement is almost always easier said than done. It is a complex task spread over thousands of parts and labor hours. It can be a daunting task to gather the right data and enact the best actions. And without the right information, it is nearly impossible to create an effective continuous improvement plan.
But with Industry 4.0 technology, continuous improvement takes on a whole new dimension thanks to an advanced network of digital connections. These connections are spread amongst the people and systems within the entire supply chain, enabling manufacturers to gain valuable knowledge in real-time. Industry 4.0 is essentially transforming the continuous improvement landscape in ways never thought possible.
Industry 4.0 is supercharging the continuous improvement initiative, making it more achievable for the modern business than ever before!
How Continuous Improvement Works
Before we dive too deep into the new benefits of continuous improvement, it will be useful to first define a few terms and establish the right perspective. We’ll briefly explore what continuous improvement means and how to look at it.
As with anything in business, it is extremely useful to look at your business from the perspective of the customer. Since they are the ones that keep your business going, their perspective is what matters most. From here, each continuous improvement operation can be broken down into three fundamental categories:
Value Added: Any activity that adds value to the final product or service. This is what the customer is paying for. Examples of this include assembly, welding, painting, etc.
Non-Value Added: Any activity that does not contribute to the final product. Examples of this are paperwork, transportation, team building, etc.
Continuous Flow: Improvement can be accomplished incrementally or in one breakthrough moment. But it must always be continuous.
By breaking it down like this we can begin to look at our operations and evaluate what adds value, what doesn’t, and how our operation is moving forward. This helps us see potential areas that need improvement and how a plan can be accomplished.
It should be mentioned that both value-added and non-value-added work are equally important. Although the customer is not necessarily paying for these services, documentation, transportation, and teambuilding are often needed to run a successful business. So even though it may seem like a good idea to cut out all non-value-added work, it would do more harm than good. So we need to be smart with the activities that do and do not make money.
Since innovation is always moving forward, efforts for improvement need to be in a continuous flow, no matter how big or small our steps may be. Otherwise, we will not experience the long-lasting and steady benefits of continuous improvement. If you find that certain areas of your operation have not been consistently changing and improving over the years, this could be a good indicator of stagnation.
Pro Tip: One means of reducing non-value added work is to implement a paperless system like work instructions software. Having one source for SOPs, manufacturing data, and quality control documents is an incredible way to boost efficiency and save money.
Why is Continuous Improvement So Complicated?
So it sounds simple enough, right? Then why do so many companies strain to make long-lasting and effective improvements?
Continuous improvement efforts can fail for several reasons. But at the end of the day, every continuous improvement struggle can be traced back to either a lack of connection or a lack of knowledge. From these two deficiencies, manufacturers can experience the following complications:
Lack of stakeholder collaboration: Without proper collaboration, the whole perspective is lost. Essentially, your company could be leaving a lot of knowledge still on the table. This leads to an unbalanced approach to continuous improvement.
Insufficient process knowledge and management capabilities: It is invaluable to know the ins and outs of your operation and processes. If this knowledge is not available, mismanagement and ungrounded improvement plans can occur, leading to changes that actually hurt your business.
Improper process identification & prioritization: Understanding how each process fits within the whole operation is important. Improvements in one area can negatively affect other areas, resulting in a one-step forward two steps back approach.
Inadequate employee engagement: The workforce cannot be forgotten. Manufacturers need to connect to the people that create and add value. They hold a unique perspective on the capabilities and needs of your shop floor.
Luckily, the 4th Industrial Revolution is here and it’s changing how we approach and reap the benefits of continuous improvement. Imagine the potential of making valuable connections to your people and systems. You would gain access to accurate and powerful knowledge. By increasing your connections, we can effectively increase your knowledge.
Industry 4.0’s Impact on Continuous Improvement
In the current era, we are seeing new levels of connectivity across the industry. With the power of Industry 4.0, manufacturers are better able to know and connect with their people, processes, technology, and customers, making continuous improvement easier and more effective.
This modern technology is creating what we refer to as the Smart Factory. In the Smart Factory, machines and tools no longer operate singularly. Systems communicate across the internet of things (IoT) and share real-time data with people as well as other systems.
The enhanced connectivity of the Smart Factory dramatically changes the continuous improvement game.
Imagine a system that provides you with accurate data about its needs and capabilities. Imagine a system where the people that create value have a way to inform you of pertinent information in real-time. Innovative performance monitoring, predictive maintenance, inventory tracking, and quality traceability, are made available to you by the second.
As you become more connected with your operation, you gain more knowledge about what future improvements will affect the most positive change. This not only improves the current benefits of continuous improvement but also brings in new and innovative methodologies like the DMAIC approach, Statistical Process Control (SPC), enhanced workforce training, and many other benefits.
How Does This Affect the Supply Chain?
This increased intelligence doesn’t stop at one location. It is making an impact on the whole supply chain.
In the past, supply chain processes typically operated in disjointed efforts. This includes Marketing, Product Development, Supply, Manufacturing, and Distribution functions. But recently, as new technology is helping to drive more accurate knowledge from the entire supply chain, we have seen a steady uptick in each of these disjointed functions working as a cohesive structure.
Under Industry 4.0, the supply chain functions as an intelligent digital ecosystem; enabling a community of endless digital interactions and communications. This empowers continuous improvement to have a farther and more effective reach across the whole supply chain. Vertical and horizontal integration occurs at every level, facilitating collaboration between all stakeholders.
In this way, improvement plans can benefit your whole organization, your customers, and your distributors simultaneously and consistently. Key manufacturing knowledge is easily shared and improvement plans are faster and more effective. Imagine a system where material usage is monitored and self-regulated. When resources run below a set limit, the Smart Factory informs the appropriate part of the supply chain.
This enables a smart, fast, and reliable system that cuts down on non-value-added work.
Or imagine a system that allows users to seamlessly share knowledge in real-time. Suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and customers send and receive information through an advanced network. No matter where they are in the world, your system is sharing the right knowledge with the right people at blazingly fast speeds. This provides companies with more valuable data than was ever thought possible. And companies are using this data to gain key knowledge, remain competitive, and improve their processes. Within industry 4.0, there are boundless opportunities to continually boost the capabilities of your factory and supply chain.
What Are the New Benefits of Continuous Improvement?
As companies invest in Industry 4.0 technologies, they see the increased benefits of continuous improvement across value-added and non-value added work. As we’ve stated, companies that adopt this new technology are better able to connect their operations and gather more accurate and powerful knowledge. With this in mind, let’s explore the 4 major new benefits of continuous improvement with Industry 4.0 technology.
1. Enhanced Traceability
With IoT-connected systems, tools, and equipment, every action is producing valuable data that is recordable and traceable. This enables new levels of quality control and assurance. Not only do manufacturers gain data on every product (which they can pass along to the customer), they get it in real-time.
Under this technology, when a step of production is outside of specifications, the system immediately informs the right people. This stops defects before they have a chance to occur.
This enhanced traceability enables manufacturers to improve quality with every iteration of development and production. Changes are tracked and analyzed to accurately gauge the next steps of the continuous improvement plan. So as improvements are made, you gain a complete perspective on the effects of every change. This then allows you to make new improvements faster and on a continual basis.
2. Increased Productivity
Modern manufacturers use data and powerful analytics to spot weak points and stalls within their production line. With this knowledge, manufacturers are able to see how their value-added and non-value-added actions affect their operations and use this data to optimize their employees and machines to be more efficient and more productive.
With work instruction software, all work is connected to one system. This makes it incredibly easy to take a detailed look at your operations, cut out waste, and find the best methods that suit your workers and your business.
3. Powerful Employee Engagement
By digitally connecting to your employees and their work, you are better able to take note of their capabilities and suggestions. Your employees perform the value added and non-value added work of your company. Because of this, they are a great source of manufacturing knowledge, improvements ideas, and general feedback. You can tap into this knowledge with an intelligent system like our work instruction software.
Greater engagement from the people that add value to your business is an incredible asset that results in superior work, better working conditions, and less turnover. With work instruction software, receive feedback from your employees through quality forms and performance monitoring. Use strategic workforce planning to accurately plan out your employees’ tasks and responsibilities.
Your employees and their work are connected like never before, enabling a stronger and smarter workforce.
4. Growth of Services and Capabilities
And finally, the more effective the continuous improvement plan, the greater the growth of the company and supply chain. With Industry 4.0's enhancements, your continuous improvement initiatives go further. With more effective improvements, more opportunities for growth are made available.
With the capabilities of Industry 4.0 and work instruction software, your company can grow with confidence knowing that you will never miss a beat. Every addition to your company is added to the continuous improvement initiatives of the organization.
Pro Tip: Did you know that VKS scales to the size and needs of your business? Having tools and technology that grow with your business is an invaluable part of this new era of continuous improvement..
The Future of Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement will play an important role in driving steady and modern improvements in the manufacturing industry. This includes increasing efficiencies, reducing waste, and more. That being said, the current approach to continuous improvement is far different from what we have seen in the past. And the benefits of continuous improvement will continue to grow and change as the industry evolves with Industry 4.0.
With technologies like work instruction software, manufacturers leverage data and IoT to squeeze the most out of their processes. They are increasing their connections and gaining the best knowledge.
Fast access to data, better connections, advanced traceability, and real-time data are shortening the time needed to implement long-lasting improvements. And since benefits are founded on accurate knowledge, each improvement is more powerful than the last.
Industry 4.0 has forever changed Continuous Improvement for the better.
With contributions from Shannon Bennett.