Next year promises to be a turbulent one for manufacturers, with Brexit, skills shortages and the Fourth Industrial Revolution vying to take centre stage in industry leaders’ minds.

Manufacturers would be forgiven, then, for being side-tracked by trying desperately to deal with all this and neglecting their day-to-day operations – including their business infrastructure. This needn’t be the case, though, says Martin Bailey, marketing manager at 123 Insight. A carefully implemented MRP system can mitigate the effects of any of the potential headaches and turn them into opportunities to grow your business.

Simplifying stockpiles

One of the key concerns for manufacturers in the run-up to Brexit is the need to stockpile key components to mitigate against supply chain issues. “This is impacting on their cashflow as they have to invest a lot more in the sheer amount of stock they keep,” says Bailey. “However, 123insight allows them to have full visibility of fast-moving items. Not only will it help deal with the Brexit fall-out, but 123insight can also highlight where you are likely to be affected and allow you to put plans in place to mitigate against this. It gives our customers the ability to make snap decisions – providing understanding in a sea of uncertainty.”

An MRP system is an unheralded weapon against Brexit confusion, continues Bailey. “MRP can offer so much in terms of information,” he says. “It can mitigate against the effects of Brexit by keeping control of your stock – you’ll know what you need if there’s a company push towards stockpiling as a good MRP system will give you the visibility and flexibility you need, as well as being the backbone for the rest of your business.”

Implementing Industry 4.0

2019 has the potential, says Bailey, to be the year the Fourth Industrial Revolution begins to take steps towards the mainstream. However, this will only take place if the industry looks past the buzzword.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is still a mystery to many,” says Bailey. “Lots of people are looking to implement it, but don’t necessarily know what ‘it’ is. At its core, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is about taking information from sensors and doing something with it – not just passively monitoring machinery. Companies are investing in sensors, but don’t know what to do with the information they produce, or how to take advantage of data to streamline the business.”

Again, 123insight can be harnessed to help with this. Take Welshpool-based die-casting firm, Dynacast, as an example. Their customers often order thousands of parts at once, some weighing as little as half a gram. As a result, it’s vital that Dynacast have an accurate and automated method of correctly counting parts by weight. The company has integrated its weighing scales to 123insight. The operator scans the bar code of the works order and the relevant quantities for each line item are displayed. As components are placed into the packaging an on-screen counter shows the real time number of parts in the box, based on weight, versus the number required. Once the desired number has been reached the item is signed off as complete and 123insight is immediately updated. Another 123insight user, Canyon Europe, linked their machine monitoring Data Acquisition System (DAS) to 123insight using the company’s Software Development Kit (SDK), reducing paperwork and providing live data to the shop floor.

It's examples like these that show the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, says Bailey. “123insight provides a simple way of tying it all together in a way that isn’t going to become redundant as systems are upgraded. People want to take the next steps towards automation, and along the easiest route. It therefore makes sense to utilise 123insight as a data ‘backbone’, either by extracting information to pass onto another system or for getting information into.”

The information highway

Successfully implementing automation in 2019 won’t be a case of just plugging a sensor into a machine and looking at the output, though. “Before any company can embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution, they have to get their infrastructure in place,” warns Bailey. “You may have a very advanced machine on the shopfloor, with top-of-the-range controls. However, unless it communicate the information it’s collecting back to somewhere, it’s just a high-tech island that is unconnected to the ‘mainland’.”

Bailey compares the necessary infrastructure to a motorway network, connecting towns and cities to each other. “It makes sense to have a common network – or motorway – for all the data coming from your shopfloor. You can then plug any new machinery directly into that existing network.”

One such company that is harnessing its data motorway is Dorset jetboard manufacturer, Mako Board Sports. They use 123insight to monitor the performance parameters of the boards during manufacture. This can then be cross-referenced during maintenance and repair to see how performance is fitting within the company’s parameters. “We wouldn't be able to bring customer's boards back and keep traceability without 123insight’s Service and Repair functionality,” says Adam Collins, Mako’s operations manager. “We knew that customers would send products back for service and repair but we needed a tool to track it, so we relied on 123insight to provide that functionality. It’s essentially two production lines that support each other, keeping our production line going but also bringing boards in and taking them through the service and repair loop.”

Push it to the limit

Any company should be looking to get the most out of its MRP system, says Bailey. Whether you are like Dynacast and Canyon, using it to ensure quality and control costs, or Mako Board Sports, using it to monitor performance through a product’s life, it’s vital that an MRP is used to its maximum. “Any company with an MRP system should be aware of its capabilities – both in terms of what it can do and what it should be doing,” warns Bailey. “There are a lot of companies out there that are still stuck in the past, running massively out of date system, even on long-since retired platform such as DOS or VAX. If their system fails, their business goes with it.”

“The companies that haven’t yet made the leap to MRP are the ones that have the most to benefit. There’s so much more they can achieve as a business, once they have their production under control, their stock levels monitored and so on, without the company wasting a load of resource on doing all that via a legacy, paper-based system.”

Bailey ends on a word of warning for all manufacturers. Next year will see major technological leaps, but only for those who are prepared to embrace them. “Some see increased technology as something that’s out to get them, Big Brother-style – especially when it comes to shopfloor staff,” he says. “Operators are measured by performance and if they see new systems to measure them, they can have concerns. By correctly using technology to enhance your operations, such as providing incentive schemes based on skills and/or throughput, for example, your shopfloor staff will feel the benefits as well – making it easier to implement more technology in the future.”