Many small manufacturers are being left behind in the race to Industry 4.0. But what does that mean? If by “Industry 4.0” we mean factory automation, sensors, big data, predictive analytics, and robots, then yes, some small manufacturers cannot afford the latest high-tech gadgets. Argolytics was founded to provide small manufacturers the tools to leverage the power of data analytics without up-ending their entire business model or manufacturing floor.

Data collection is the biggest hurdle for any manufacturing operation wanting to analyze their production data. Most smaller facilities (and, not surprisingly, many of the large ones too) are recording their inspection and measurement information on paper. If there isn’t someone willing to transcribe all of those hand-written notes into a computer program, talk of powerful analytics is impossible.

At Argolytics we are digging into the seemingly intractable problem of data collection and developing novel solutions. Almost everyone carries around a powerful data collection tool in their pocket every day – their smart phone. How can that reality be leveraged on the shop floor? Or, considering some operations are too dangerous or environmentally unfriendly to electronics, can we marry pen and paper data collection methods with scanning and digitization technology? These are problems the Argolytics team is solving. Our spring 2020 release of TRENDABLE™ quality control software will include data capture technology specifically designed with these challenges in mind. Our goal is to help small manufacturers gather information about their processes without forcing them to change their processes.

Another challenge of a quality program for many small manufacturers is the lack of a full-time Quality Manager on staff. In a small company, managers often have to wear many hats and many times the quality hat lands on the head of the Plant Manager. In addition to juggling demands of day-to-day operations, the Plant Manager has little time to spend crunching numbers and pouring over spreadsheets.

The current release of TRENDABLE focuses on making analysis of quality data easy for busy managers. TRENDABLE pre-selects the most common output for quality reports so a non-statistician doesn’t have to fiddle around with confusing settings. Simply upload the measurements data, select from your list of stored tolerances, and TRENDABLE automatically generates control charts and capability histograms with statistics such as Cpk and Ppk. TRENDABLE includes several novel features such as drawing tolerance limits directly on control charts so you can see when parts go out of spec, keeping track of capability statistics over time so you are alerted when Cpk approaches 1.33, and saving your product tolerances so you don’t have to reenter them every time.

Analysis of quality data is a requirement for small manufacturers who want to differentiate themselves from their competition. Plus, once an organization can visualize their production data, patterns become evident which leads to gains in efficiency and ultimately cost savings.

Cloud computing and cloud storage are also terms associated with Industry 4.0 that can be a showstopper for small manufacturers. At Argolytics, we often hear concerns about data security and risk management given that TRENDABLE is a cloud-based application. We agree with small manufacturers, cloud storage doesn’t make sense if the plant has already invested in their own onsite servers, databases, and back-ups. So, we address this concern in two ways. First, TRENDABLE does not save the measurement data uploaded to the system. As soon as the report analysis is created, TRENDABLE clears the cache and is ready for the next raw data upload. Only your tolerances are stored for easy analysis of future data. Secondly, since the raw data is not stored, TRENDABLE has a convenient “Export to Microsoft Word” function for all reports.

The first steps on the road to Industry 4.0 don’t have to upend an organization. Simple tools to collect data from the shop floor, a straight-forward analysis package so you can visualize improvements, and a safe place to store it all are key to getting started. At Argolytics, we believe data collection and analysis are not just the purview of the big multinational manufacturers. Small manufacturers can incorporate data collection techniques and leverage state-of-the-art analytics to improve their manufacturing processes and perfect their product. Small manufacturers don’t need to be left behind by Industry 4.0, in fact, they can lead the charge.

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