The importance of creating a flexible environment

As customers increasingly demand greater personalisation, manufacturers need to find ways to improve flexibility and agility on the factory floor. Dassault Systèmes’ Eric Green explains why mobile technologies offer a solution

Sean Dudley
Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley on 08 May 2018
The importance of creating a flexible environment
This article first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Record.

Increasing the mobility of the workforce is a goal for many manufacturers today. Current market conditions and customer demand is making it important for manufacturers to have a flexible approach, particularly on the factory floor.

“The challenges affecting the mobility of the workforce are driven by the challenges that manufacturers are facing to support their markets and customers,” explains Eric Green, vice president of user experience and marketing for the DELMIA product brand at Dassault Systèmes. “Consumers have gone from an era of mass production to an era of mass personalisation. This means every order is individualised and customised for specific preferences.”

This shift ultimately means that, on the factory floor, the stable production lines of years gone by, where each worker had a specific role, are starting to be replaced by what Green refers to as “flexible work cells and flexible production systems.”

“At Dassault Systèmes, we have solutions that support manufacturers, enabling them to be very flexible when it comes to moving and reconfiguring their production line based on product demand,” says Green. “To be successful, it’s imperative that the workforce has mobility solutions that allows workers to move around a factory to where these new work cells and elements of the production line are.”

Green says that with this shift in the production line, it’s vital manufacturers empower their workers with the mobility solutions necessary to do their job in this new environment.

“The use of tablets and other mobile devices – even augmented reality and virtual reality to some extent – are things we see some manufacturers taking advantage of as a way to empower their workers and support their business,” he explains. “This also presents workers with an opportunity to provide ideas and insight, which helps them be more creative and potentially improve manufacturing processes.”

In order to take true advantage of these levels of mobility, it’s vital the right software is in place. “The software that’s being used to manufacture and produce those goods – whether it’s a quality inspection, assembly or a material move – has to synchronise with the production line and be compatible with the mobile devices adopted by the manufacturer,” Green says.

This is where Dassault Systèmes’ DELMIA solutions come into their own. Green says the ultimate aim of these technologies is to empower workers, allow manufacturers to engage with their workforce and ultimately support progress.

“There are key elements to our approach,” Green says. “The first is making sure that the technological underpinnings are there and that the solutions have the ability to support mobile devices, tablets and any other form factors. We want to give workers the most suitable technology for their specific roles and give them the chance to identify new ways they can enhance and make changes to their business.”

Another element centres on a reinvention of the traditional production line.

“We have many customers today that are using our solutions to redefine the manufacturing line, and in particular the structures and processes in place,” Green says. “We also see customers using a virtual model and augmented reality and virtual reality to understand if they can move one production line from one factory to the other.”

It’s easy to forget the scale of some manufacturing projects, and Green says that enabling worker mobility on the factory floor can support their efforts from a logistical perspective.

“If you think about industries such as aerospace or heavy equipment for example, things like train locomotives and airplane structures are being created,” says Green. “When working with products of that scale, having a virtual model that lets workers get a better vision of the item is hugely beneficial. During the assembly phase for example, workers may need to go inside the fuselage or product frame. Supported with a mobile device, workers can visualise what they need to assemble and what quality inspection points they need to review while inside the actual product assembly. This is a significant time and quality improvement. Also, as data can be captured automatically by integrating machines, tools and equipment with the internet of things, workers can get insights on their devices immediately and make better manufacturing decisions.”

By adopting a flexible production line supported with mobility solutions, the benefits to worker efficiency are exponential, says Green.

“We have seen customers make significant labour savings, and direct labour can become so much more efficient,” he says. “Once a company reconfigures its production line and introduces tablets and mobile devices, people are spending more time doing value added work as opposed to literally walking back and forth from a computer work station. Our intent is to empower the worker to do their job and support their business, and with mobility solutions, this is happening.”

Green has noted other benefits around inventory, as well as workers being comfortable operating at multiple factories without the need to be trained in the specifics of each location.

“Mobility is a key element to empowering the workforce, and gives companies increased flexibility in their operations,” Green concludes. “Manufacturers want to drive productivity and quality improvements, and the mobility solutions we provide can be a key enabler of this.”

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