Q&A: How Automation Software Can Help Make Workers and Processes More Efficient
Workflow automation software helps eliminate inefficiencies caused by paper-based processes.
What common issues do manufacturers face when it comes to inefficient processes?
Ryan Duguid, senior vice president of technology strategy at Nintex: Inefficient processes can result in unhappy customers, unhappy employees, high rates of manufacturing defects, higher returns, increased employee churn with dissatisfaction, annoyed customers, low NPS, bad sentiment spreading in the market place, unhappy distributers, and the list goes on.
Another issue common in a manufacturing facility is a lack of codified knowledge. Most manufacturing organizations probably have a whole set of standard operating procedures that exist either in someone’s head, as a checklist in a spreadsheet, in a binder, or a pinned on wall somewhere. The reality is that all of these come with liabilities. At the extreme end it’s that it’s in someone’s head, they leave, and then the institutional knowledge is gone with them. If they leave in a hurry, how does someone pick up that knowledge if they’re gone? And even if its document, how do you actually know that they were following the document procedures the same? How do you know it was done in that order? How do know it was done in a consistent fashion? How do you know the documented procedures were kept up to date? The beauty of workflow automation software for this comes from the ability to codify those standard operating procedures as a workflow so you can guarantee that it happens the same way every time and more – that it happens in a timely fashion, there are escalations when need, delegations, tracking and visibility.
How are firms solving outdated problems with automation?
Duguid: In a world where everyone’s starting to connect all their equipment what really interesting is the ability to monitor the physical condition of equipment, which more and more organizations are implementing. When coupled with workflow automation software, they can use this technology to determine limits to equipment temperature or run time, and trigger an alert and kick off a workflow if limits are crossed. This makes manufacturing operations more responsive and helps avoid delays. If implemented with process intelligence, data from connected devices can also be used to more proactively service equipment. Manufacturers can have insight into how many run hours before a machine needs to be serviced and can schedule maintenance accordingly with production downtime.
Many manufacturing organizations use process automation and workflows to streamline various aspects of their operations. MAN Diesel & Turbo uses intelligent process automation to digitize its paper signature and approval processes. Buckman, a global specialty chemical provider, has found success automating its procurement and safety inspection processes.
We like to think of intelligent process automation as the oil that keeps the manufacturing plant running successfully. It can streamline all the manual processes around inventory management, procurement, inspection, scheduled maintenance, distribution, warranty claims, returns, and more.
What benefits does automation present to the warranty claims and product recall process?
Duguid: Intelligent process automation can be used to streamline these claims and process them faster. A typical warranty process is slow-moving and manual, which ultimately hurts the customer experience. Customers have to register their complaint, troubleshoot and when they do finally send the product back, they may have to wait weeks before every even know if their item will be fixed, replaced or deemed out of warranty.
With workflow automation tools, the manufacturer can make warranty claims less of a headache and a smoother process for everyone involved. Building an automating workflow to respond to these claims with reminders, escalations, and even tracking for customers can keep the claims process moving and timely. Most large manufacturers are probably already doing this, but for smaller organization it’s likely all manual. With intelligent process automation, smaller companies can easily build and use a solution to address these issues.
Ideally, automation can also help with product recalls and response. This would start on the manufacturing floor during the inspection process. Workflow automation software can be used to standardize the process and ensure accurate collection of data, and tracking over time. If a manufacturer notices an influx in defects over a certain time period, they can proactively respond to other owners of items from the same batch and provide a solution before the item fails.
What does the manufacturing plant of the future look like?
Duguid: Most folks are going to tell you it’s going to be about full plant automation and the rise of the machines. That’s not accurate. We tend to over-estimate what’s going to happen in the short term and underestimate the long term. It may be heading in that direction but is probably further out than we think. Look at Elon Musk for example, who tried to fully automate the production of the Model 3 and was faced with massive issues. He’s now come out and said that was a mistake. Automation is going to continue to increase in the pace it is.
In the foreseeable future we have to figure out how to make people as efficient and effective as possible. And we need to work out how to codify people. We should focus on how we can use technology to amplify people, not replace them. Process automation tools can make workers happier, more effective, better employees, and more efficient. I think a first stop on the way to this is implementing IoT and connected devices to bring in data from the machines and equipment because when things go wrong they need to be addressed as quickly as possible to keep production moving.
Now and in the near term future, it’s about bringing the people and machines together to work better with technology. We should focus on making people highly efficient and work more effectively with the technology and tools available today.
How does automation help you address the specific needs of your manufacturing firm?
Thiago Roveri, director of quality at Hillphoenix: First pass yield is a fundamental metric at Hillphoenix. Reaching the FPY goal is dependent on recognizing defects in the process as quickly as possible so that they can be corrected and we can drive continuous improvement efforts. The previous process required inspectors to spend a significant amount of their time doing paperwork and inspection data was not readily available. Now we can respond to quality issues quicker and our inspectors can dedicate more time to inspecting and less time to filling out paper.
Mike Walsh, Office 365 Consultant: Workflow automation software helps eliminate inefficiency caused by paper-based processes. Prior to the Nintex solution, Hillphoenix inspection processes were dependent on the handwritten notes in varying levels of English. Inspectors used different terms, and it was difficult to make the qualitative data from inspections, quantifiable to trend and analyze the data over time.
Intelligent process automation helps the Hillphoenix quality team scale and be more agile. All inspection processes are now standardized, so no matter the skill or language level the same processes occur each time. Information is captured in real time and more accurately.
What benefits have you seen after automating your operations?
Roveri: A major benefit of our automation solution is the focus it brought on the lean six sigma culture, specifically eliminating wasted time and reducing defects. Everything inspectors need to do their job is now digitized and readily available from the inspection line. Inspectors have more time devoted to actually looking at the product, making the inspection more thorough and accurate.
By digitizing our inspection process with intelligent process automation, we have improved the accuracy of our inspection data, reduced risk of errors, standardized the inspection process, increased the efficiency of inspections, and made data more readily available for trending and analytics. Workflow automation tools have helped us embrace the digital era which will ultimately reduce our costs and improve the customer experience by improving the quality of our products.
For more information, visit nintex.com.