Margins are more important than ever in an uncertain economy.
While the National Association of Manufacturers Q4 2022 Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey found more than 62% of U.S. manufacturing leaders believe the U.S. economy will enter a recession this year, it also showed most will not be pulling back in areas that help increase their efficiency. This includes spending on new equipment and investing in technology, research and development.
We spoke to three WNY business leaders to find out how local manufacturers and distributors use technology and other tools like data-driven or predictive maintenance to increase equipment longevity and overall efficiency.
David Olear – CooperVision
CooperVision, a division of Cooper Cos., is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of contact lenses. The business employs some 12,000 people globally with employees in the Rochester region comprising the majority of CooperVision’s U.S. operations.
In June 2022 CooperVision kicked off a multimillion expansion project locally to expand and renovate its local manufacturing and distribution facilities in Scottsville and West Henrietta.
David Olear is associate director of operations and the plant director for CooperVision’s Scottsville Manufacturing Operations site. He shared some of the ways the site has embraced increased efficiency over recent years, including leveraging data analytics to provide minute-by-minute updates of yield information on monitors on the plant floor and using automated processes like a vertical lift storage unit to store and retrieve spare parts.
The plant’s new vertical storage carousel, “is a huge space saver for us,” said Olear, and makes retrieving the spare parts like boxes of suction cups and track system components from the warehouse much more efficient. These parts can then be used on-site or shipped to other CooperVision plants around the world that may need them.
Olear says CooperVision also utilizes a “robust predictive maintenance system that makes sure we are optimizing how often we replace parts in machinery,” such as diamond-tipped tooling and equipment overall.
Today’s predictive maintenance systems utilize state-of-the-art strategy and technology to monitor performance and equipment conditions during regular operations to anticipate system degradation and schedule maintenance. It is contrary to the adage ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it;’ — instead allowing companies to perform maintenance before a failure occurs.
While predictive maintenance has been in regular industrial use since at least the 1990s and is considered an industry standard, the past several years during this innovative time of Industry 4.0 (the digitization of manufacturing) have seen substantial developments and improvements in the use of investigative tools, data analytics, and software used for predictive maintenance tasks, Olear said.
Bill Pollock – Re:Build Optimation
Re:Build Optimation is one of two companies in Rochester that are part of Re:Build Manufacturing (Re:Build AppliedLogix is the other). The company provides complete engineering, design, fabrication, and installation of processing equipment and factory automation for a variety of industries, including aerospace and defense, cleantech, health, lifestyle, and mobility.
Re:Build Optimation uses predictive maintenance in a variety of ways, including when designing and building off-spec manufacturing equipment for clients in a variety of industries. This situation involves placing sensors on machines to do predictive maintenance and avoid catastrophic failure.
“We take the perspective that a machine that is beginning to produce off-spec product needs maintenance,” said Bill Pollock, general manager of Re:Build Optimation. “We have an IIoT [Industrial Internet of Things] based product called Process Monitor. Process Monitor is a powerful manufacturing shop floor tool for production operators and maintenance engineers to identify and quantify process and product variability.”
Re:Build Optimation has expertise in web-based, roll-to-roll manufacturing processes and builds and upgrades roll-to-roll machines for clients. Common occurrences for companies that own and operate roll-to-roll equipment are machine performance changes and degradation over time.
“As these lines run for longer durations, components like roller bearings, roller surfaces, etc. can wear and age,” Pollock explained. “These changes in the performance of the hardware can also serve to degrade the level of friction between the rollers and the web. Installing sensors on a production machine and the analytic capability of Process Monitor allow manufacturers to see small perturbations and trends in the performance of their machine in order to do maintenance in a timely way before they begin to manufacture off grade product.”
Overall, measuring critical parameters and monitoring performance so that maintenance can be done before critical failure — especially when it comes to making off-spec products — not only saves in maintenance costs, but it also can reduce downtime and in many cases save the cost of being forced to discard off-spec product made while a machine has reached a degraded condition, Pollock said.
He notes a 2017 report by McKinsey and Company that showed intelligent predictive maintenance (i.e. predictive maintenance enhanced by artificial intelligence) can increase a company’s asset productivity by up to 20% and reduce maintenance costs by up to 10%.
David Scalen – Regional Distributors
WNY distributors like David Scalen, executive vice president and co-founder of Rochester-based Regional Distributors with his wife Tracy Scalen, are also investing in more technology to increase efficiency.
“We continue to deploy more technology and invest in technology — you really have to,” said Scalen, whose company is using, “better software that reduces dependence on labor for manual tasks and allows us to redeploy those people to other areas.”
He is also seeing an industry-wide increase in the interest and use of AI, like ChatGPT — something that he believes while currently in the early stages will be “game-changing” for those distributors that embrace it and potentially catastrophic for those that don’t adapt.
Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.a