The New Benefits of Continuous Improvement in Industry 4.0

By: Ben Baldwin

April 13, 2021

benefits of continuous improvement

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. 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 with an advanced network of digital connections. These connections are spread amongst people and systems within the entire supply chain; enabling manufacturers to gain valuable knowledge in real-time and quickly act in ways never thought possible.

Industry 4.0 is supercharging the continuous improvement initiative, making it more achievable than ever before!

How Continuous Improvement Works

Before we dive too deep, it’s useful to first define a few terms. We’ll briefly explore what continuous improvement means and how to look at it. Each continuous improvement operation can be broken down into three fundamental categories:

  • Value Added: Any activity that adds value to the product. 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, etc.

  • Continuous Flow: Improvement can be accomplished incrementally or in one breakthrough moment. But it must always be continuous.

continuous flow

By breaking it down like this we can begin to look at our operations and evaluate what adds value and what doesn’t. This will help us see potential areas that need improvement and how a plan can be accomplished.

Both value-added and non-value-added work are equally important. Documents and transportation are needed to run a successful business. But, the customer is not necessarily paying for these services.

So, we can’t simply cut out all non-value-added processes. But we want to be smart with the activities that 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.

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?

Continuous improvement efforts struggle for several reasons. But every struggle can be traced back to either a lack of connection and a lack of knowledge. From these deficiencies, manufacturers experience the following struggles:

  • Lack of stakeholder collaboration: Without proper collaboration, the whole perspective is lost. 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 processes. If this knowledge is not available, mismanagement and ungrounded improvement plans can occur.

  • Improper process identification & prioritization: Understanding how each process fits within the whole operation is important. Improvements in one area can negatively affect other areas. This results 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.

The 4th Industrial Revolution is here and it’s changing how we approach and reap the benefits of continuous improvement. By increasing our connections, we can effectively increase our knowledge.

Industry 4.0’s Impact on Continuous Improvement

In the current era, we are seeing new levels of connectivity across the industry. Manufacturers are better able to know and connect with their people, processes, and technology.

Industry 4.0 makes 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. Innovative performance monitoring, predictive maintenance, inventory tracking, and quality traceability, are made available to you by the second.

How Does This Affect the Supply Chain?

This increased intelligence doesn’t stop at one location. It involves the whole supply chain.

Supply chain processes typically operate in disjointed efforts. This includes Marketing, Product Development, Supply, Manufacturing, and Distribution functions.

supply chain

Under Industry 4.0, each of these functions are connected and work together. They function as a digital ecosystem; enabling a community of endless digital interactions. This empowers continuous improvement to have a farther reach across the whole supply chain. Vertical and horizontal integration occurs at every level, affecting all stakeholders.

Key manufacturing knowledge is easily shared and improvement plans are 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. No human intervention is required.

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.

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 in multiple areas of production.

Here is a brief overview of the powerful new benefits of continuous improvement in Industry 4.0.

  • Enhanced Traceability:

With IoT-connected systems, tools, and equipment, every action is recorded 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.

  • Increased Productivity:

Modern manufacturers use data and powerful analytics to spot any weak points or any stalls within the production. From this, manufacturers can see how their value-added and non-value-added actions affect their operations. Manufacturers can then 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 the 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.

  • Powerful Employee Engagement:

By digitally connecting to your employees and their work, you are better able to take note of their capabilities and suggestions. Greater engagement from the people that add value to your business is an incredible asset. This 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.

Business growth

Your employees and their work are connected to one system, enabling a stronger and smarter workforce.

  • 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 and far-reaching improvements, more opportunities for growth are made available.

Pro Tip: Having tools and technology that grow and scale to 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; increasing efficiencies and reducing waste.

That being said, the current approach to continuous improvement is far different from what we have seen in the past. And the benefits will continue to grow and change as the industry needs.

Benefits of continuous improvement with VKS

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 improvements. And since these 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.

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