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Smart Tools: Are You Equipped to Win the Manufacturing Game?

By: Sylvie Couture

March 16, 2020

Smart Tools: Are You Equipped to Win the Manufacturing Game?

Today’s Smart Manufacturing ideals and principles help manufacturers maximize and optimize the resources they have. Smart Manufacturing is about more than just increasing your productivity. It is also about remaining competitive and viable within your industry. Think of it like trying to win the 100m freestyle while wearing an 1890’s wool swimsuit when your competitors are wearing LZR Racers. You might beat your personal record, but chances are someone else is going to win the race.

So how do you do it? How do you make a place for yourself in this latest industrial revolution? As cliché as it may sound, you start by equipping yourself with the right tools for the job. Along with barcode readers, we also have ToolConnect and DataConnect from the VKS Connect line-up of add-ons that can connect your workers to their tools. Keep reading as we examine the use of VKS and Smart Tools, a winning combination that will help your organization achieve the results it has been hoping for.

Popularized in the mid-1800s, the term “Industrial Revolution” encompasses the technological, socio-economical, and cultural changes that industries are experiencing and how it affects the world around them. Today, nearly two centuries later, we find ourselves in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Although drastically different from the days of coal and steel, the challenge manufactures face to adapt to these new ideologies and methodologies is just as intimidating.

An Introduction to the Principles of Smart Tools

Here at VKS, we consider a Smart Tool to be a device which is capable of communicating results to another system, and who physically ties the activity performed with the device to other processes.

Now that you know what we are dealing with, here are some of the basic examples of how smart tools can help an organization:

  • Eliminating data input errors: Since the data is communicated directly from the device to the system, the risks that were associated with manual data input are eliminated. The risk of manual data entry errors is particularly high when operators are required to enter long identification codes by hand.
  • Enhanced Traceability: Since all the data entered into a guidebook is permanently stored in the production reports, organizations can easily find the records of the tool’s results. VKS’ intuitive filters make the search for information fast and efficient.
  • Increase in Quality: In many cases, the data gathered by the Smart Tools can be used to control the operator’s actions within the guidebook. Such configurations allow operators with “the correct” tool input to continue while redirecting operators having received “the incorrect” input to the processes put in place.
  • Consolidates Information: Since the data from the smart tool is communicated and stored within VKS, this enables organizations to centralize where their information is kept. There is no need to run around trying to find where the information is stored since it all can be found in the VKS production reports.

You Might Already be On-Board If You Have Barcode Readers

As intimidating as some of the smart tools on the market might be, a majority of manufacturers already work with this well-known tool: The barcode reader. The first smart t ool to be used in VKS’ guidebooks, this tool plays an important role in reducing errors caused by manual data entry.

Barcode Use Example:

An operator arrives at their work station and scans the station’s barcode. This opens the guidebook associated to that work station. Once the guidebook is open, the operator scans the barcode associated to the work order they will be completing. This will associate the work performed with the open guidebook to the work order, recording it all in a detailed production report. From there on, the barcode reader can be used to scan-in part numbers that will also be added to the production report. The scanned data can even be configured to be considered as “unique” within the system, ensuring that the same codes are not accidentally scanned twice.

The use of barcode readers not only reduces the risk of manual error, but it also saves time and enables you to add extra quality assurance measures to your process.

Monitoring the Players with ToolConnect

Torque Tools

ToolConnect was the premiere feature of the VKS Connect suite. This feature allows manufacturers with IoT torque tools to program their tool requirements into a smart controller that then communicates with VKS.

This enables organizations to create guidebooks that only allow the operator to advance when the proper torque has been applied to the proper bolt at the proper angle. This allows manufacturers to be confident that assemblies have been properly mounted and that the required guidelines have been met.

ToolConnect Use Example

An organization requires that the bolts being used on a metal casing must be tightened at a 90-degree angle to 26Nm. Therefore, the floor supervisor will program the tool’s controller to the proper parameters. Once the operator starts the job requiring the torque tool in question, the advancement of the guidebook is controlled by the data received from the tool controller. If the tool controller reports that the proper parameters have not been met, the operator will not be able to advance within the guidebook until the issue has been resolved.

Once the work order has been completed, the supervisors, as well as the quality assurance teams, know that all of the bolts have been properly tightened, increasing their accountability and decreasing the time needed to verify the quality of the work done.

Sorting the Puzzle Pieces with DataConnect

One of the main Lean Manufacturing principles is “Identifying Value”. As we have mentioned in previous blog posts, although it is wonderful that there are now so many ways to harvest data from the production line, the real challenge lies in knowing how to sort it, store it, and use it to your advantage. This is where features such as VKS’ DataConnect can play a pivotal role in your company’s production data management.

DataConnect is one of the newer VKS features and allows organizations to retrieve information from a third-party database and turn that information into an active part of their digital work instruction guidebooks. Once in the guidebook, the information imported from the database can be used to control the operator’s actions and guide them towards the proper processes to follow. Like all information imported into a guidebook, the results gathered from the database are stored within the production report, giving you quick and easy access to this information if needed.


DataConnect Use Example

Meter test benches are common in the electronic manufacturing industry and are used to perform voltage tests on electronic devices and components. Today, most of these benches come with their own software that allows you to capture the test results and store them in a database. With the use of DataConnect, VKS lets you retrieve test information from that database by using stored procedures. That data will then be used to control the guidebook flow and make operators aware of whether the part they are working on is viable or if it needs to be re-examined.

A concrete example of this would be a technician soldering a component onto a PC Board while following a VKS guidebook. Once the component is added, the technician uses the test bench to test the board. The results of the test are then relayed to the VKS guidebook where a “passed” test will allow the technician to move forward, whereas a “failed” test will redirect the technician to the proper procedure to follow. The results of the test bench are then integrated into the guidebook’s production report where they can be easily accessed.

As illustrated by the example above, this type of smart tool not only helps you pinpoint the information you need, but it also helps you consolidate the data and use it to improve your production quality by catching defects before they get to the end of the production line.

Be sure to also read: 3 More Ways to Use DataConnect

Ever-Evolving Strategies with Pset

With the evolution of technology being in overdrive, new types of smart tools are appearing ever day. Just like you, VKS is also in a constant state of evolution to meet your latest needs in smart tools.

Later this year we look forward to releasing our new Bi-Directional ToolConnect feature that will take integration possibilities one step further.

This new enhancements will allow organizations using ToolConnect to push the Pset directly to the controller for tasks completed with torque tools. As already mentioned above, the tool settings were previously entered in the tool’s controller by the operator. Now, they will be sent directly from VKS, reducing the number of elements you need in your setup, therefore streamlining your process.

In addition to centralizing your efforts, this new feature will also increase your accountability and traceability. Not only will you know that your organization’s specific settings are being observed, all data collected from the tools as well as the settings of the bi-directional tool will be recorded in the production reports.

Your Turn

From the common barcode reader to ToolConnect’s upcoming Pset addition, there is no wrong place to start playing the smart manufacturing game. If you have never considered it, now is most definitely the time to start. Here at VKS, our Customer Success Specialists will be happy to help you find out which smart tools best suit your needs and your resources.

Remember: you can’t win if you don’t play.

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