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Using Technology on the Factory Floor to Fill Human Gaps

In the manufacturing sector, there’s been a trend toward having fewer people on the floor at any given time. It started with the advent of automation. Reshoring initiatives hastened it, forcing companies to run leaner operations to remain competitive. Finally, skilled labor shortages, due to several factors, have kicked this trend into overdrive in recent years. Now more than ever, companies must do more, with less.

The Future is Tech

Whether you’re frightened or excited by the idea, the future of manufacturing is technology. Staffing needs and abilities are changing, but the task demands haven’t changed. And for just about every task, technology exists that can augment or complement your existing staff.

The Role of Predictive Maintenance in Machining

Many companies still choose to run spindles and other machine tool equipment into the ground before thinking about implementing a preventative maintenance program. This is more prevalent these days, as staffing challenges and leaner budgets have become the new normal.

Here’s the reality. If your spindles are running unchecked for longer periods of time and you’re concerned about failure, and the associated headaches of downtime and unhappy customers — predictive maintenance technologies can help fill the labor gaps.

Humans have pretty good intuition, especially when it comes to how your equipment is running. Seasoned professionals can often hear or sense things that others can’t. But limits exist. We may know a machine is running hot by touching it, but we probably can’t tell why. It can be difficult to determine the source of the heat, what the precise temperature is, or how that increased temperature is impacting other components. Good news. Temperature and other sensors associated with predictive maintenance technologies, on the other hand, can. Also, as we’ve mentioned in the past, remember that if you hear concerning noises coming from your spindle, it’s often too late. The problem is usually severe, and costly repairs or replacements are unavoidable.

It’s also not economically feasible for most manufacturers to keep highly skilled, experienced, intuitive technicians on the floor 24/7, even when we’re running production 24/7. Predictive maintenance technologies empower companies to monitor spindles remotely, from virtually anywhere in the world. It has the power to give you peace of mind that your machinery is being looked after, and gives your staff the flexibility to do it reliably and remotely.

That’s not to mention:

  • One-time installation of sensors on difficult-to-reach equipment is far preferable to repeatedly struggling to do human checks.
  • Well-designed predictive analysis systems will warn you of potential issues long before they become serious ones, or even detectable by human senses.
  • Certain projections estimate that predictive maintenance can reduce a plant’s maintenance fees by 20% and its unplanned downtime by a whopping 50%.

Are You Ready?

Our natural limitations as humans, the constantly shifting workforce landscape, and the relentless march into the future combine to make the case for the implementation of predictive maintenance technologies plain. Almost by the day, it’s becoming more challenging and costly to keep production facilities staffed like we would 20, 10, or even just 5 years ago.

Navigating the future of manufacturing can be overwhelming, especially with buzzwords like Industry 4.0, IIoT, and cloud-based SaaS frequently mentioned. While these concepts are interrelated, they need not be daunting. You don’t have to dive in all at once. Start with one area that can move your production forward—predictive maintenance is an excellent starting point to ensure machinery operates smoothly.

Even in challenging environments, an efficient factory is a profitable factory.