One of the best ways to understand the concept of smart factory is to think about how it could be applied to your business. While every organisation is different, they all face a common challenge – the need for connectedness and access to real-time insights across processes, partners, products, and people.
International Metalworking News for Asia spoke with Paul Gallagher, Vice President & Managing Director for APAC at Renishaw, to learn more on how to address the challenges facing manufacturing businesses and his thoughts on smart factory transformation in APAC.
Paul Gallagher, Vice President & Managing Director for APAC at Renishaw
Challenges facing manufacturing
"There are different challenges in every part of the world. I think international logistics was one of the first challenges seen when the pandemic first started in February/March, rather than the physical manufacturing," explains Paul. Impacts were profound as supply chains were seriously disrupted and new regulations rapidly introduced.
With the stringent lockdown regulations in different countries, manufacturing plants have been forced to temporarily halt production with the necessity of the work force to remain at home. This means that there has been restricted or a total lack of production of certain goods in the early months of the pandemic.
Fortunately, businesses in most of the Asian markets are recovering, and manufacturing operations are picking up again. However, manufacturers are facing another challenge – to stay connected to both customers and suppliers, especially with all the changes happening due to travel limitations and work permit restrictions.
Paul believed that having local offices in multiple locations has really benefited Renishaw, which allow them to provide reliable and efficient customer support. "For example, in China we have 13 locations and in India we have 5 locations. It means that we are more local when it comes to local customer support. Local support is something we found important as of the moment - unless you have a local office and local people you won’t be able to react fast to support customers," Paul rationalised.
The value of smart factory transformation
COVID-19 crisis has impacted the global business and economic outlook, but whenever there is a challenge, there is also an opportunity. The crisis accelerates the adoption of new technologies, manufacturers in Asia are now more open to apply automated process and digitalisation in their facilities.
Paul said that automation has been widely adopted in the Western world for some time. "Renishaw has adopted automation process where possible and practical in our manufacturing. For example, in our Miskin plant in UK, we only need 2 to 3 operators manning a cell of 20-30 machine tools during operation. We are able to empower our people with automation tools and data insights to enhance productivity and efficiency," he commented.
Labour cost is relatively lower in APAC compared to Western Europe and North America. "Companies in Asia seldom looked at labour cost as being a hurdle to success before, but the increase in labour cost, particularly in China, and the impact of the COVID-19 crisis pushed manufacturers to explore in new technologies to substitute labour. Thus the increase in demand for factory automation," he remarked.
The Smart Factory concept is probably overused with different terminology; but really what does it mean? It means you need to make current parts and goods more effectively, and more cost efficiently in order to thrive in the new normal.
"Renishaw believes in applying innovation, and we are openly sharing our automation experience. In doing so, we aim to facilitate manufacturers to enhance their manufacturing processes and be more efficient. Efficiency and quality control together will give you better yield," Paul commented.
He detailed, "For instance you make 100 parts, and Renishaw will strive to help you achieve higher yields and the ultimate goal of 99-100 good parts. This is what we have been doing for some time, particularly in China, Taiwan and Korea; ASEAN and India are also following suit. We consult and advise customers on their manufacturing process and introduce Renishaw solutions to assist them to get that improved yield. Because historically, yield wasn’t seen as critical as costs, and expanding capacity was not so challenging. But now efficiency has become more critical; customers are more open to the changes required."
Paul cautioned that with automation you will still need people. "You can only apply automation where it's sensible not for the sake of it. This will result in a different skill set requirement within your workforce and it will evolve from what they are currently doing in today’s factories. People will take on more complex roles, while automation will conquer the tasks that are repeatable, mundane or currently impacted by labour shortage," he mentioned.
Renishaw PTSC MTEC
Key to success
Paul believed the key to success is to listen and learn from customers on what they need. "Then applying these changes via innovative management with an open mind. Leaders at every level need to be open to change because there will be plenty of challenges along the way," he mentioned. "For change to be applied, you need to inspire your team to be creative and enable them to be innovative. But innovation only happens when people are empowered to make changes they believe in."
Paul stated, "An individual may think he/she has a great idea, but others may not be convinced. So, through teamwork and discussions any idea can become reality, a real team effort. It’s not an individual thing. Solve little challenges and show people that success is possible. Then you’ll get more attention. If you try and solve everything in one day, you will fail. That’s a fact."
Business plans in APAC for 2021 and beyond
Most of us hope that the pandemic will end in early 2021, however certain aspects of our society may never return to what we used to have, we must consider adopting the new normal.
"We will probably see a mixed of remote and office working, plus more stringent safety precautions for workers and employees; and social distancing policies will remain in place for a while. However, people still need to talk and interact with others," Paul expressed.
"In the manufacturing industry, companies will most likely handle logistics and processes differently, with less human involvement," he predicted. "But one thing is for sure, manufacturers who understand and react fast to this new normal will have significant opportunities for growth. And Renishaw is ready to assist manufacturers to implement the automated process control," Paul remarked.
According to Paul, China has been the first market to show growth after the pandemic. He commented, "It has come back pretty fast and appears less affected by what is happening outside. We see China in the next six months as the key driver. Its domestic economy in the short term is big enough to drive itself."
Meanwhile, Paul said that Japan is starting to show positive signs after a slow quarter. "Asia Pacific as a whole has a positive spark, though the global situation is still full of uncertainties. We see the region has stabilised in terms of business sentiment and growth. We expect steady growth in the next 12 months - our network of local offices and channel partners support and give us a significant footprint to build from," he concluded.
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