Georg Frey of Lignum Consulting.
Georg Frey of Lignum Consulting.

Is Industry 4.0 the right thing for a smaller woodworking operation?

Georg Frey of Lignum Consulting spoke about how industry 4.0 can optimize any size plant at the recent Wood Pro Expo in Charlotte.

Frey discussed everything from workforce development to integration of technology, including the seven building blocks that enable an organization to establish a smart factory: product, technology, strategy, data integration, organization, logistics and people.

“It is important for companies to get out of the habit of running a small shop like a traditional cabinet shop whereby the thought process is ‘give Joe a sketch and he’ll work it out,’” said Frey.

Frey asked attendees if they are ready for the connected factory. And if their organizational model is defined and can be used to drive integrated processes.

One of the key principals of Industry 4.0 is connectivity of manufacturing technologies. The goal is the fusion of production, logistics and information technologies.

Connected processes along the value chain include links between suppliers and sales, inbound logistics, production, outbound logistics, installation and services.

Frey said that Industry 4.0 applications in furniture manufacturing include creating execution systems with real-time manufacturing information, material provision logistic train system, RFID and barcode part identification, material flow synchronization, and machine availability and maintenance.

The goal, Frey said, is to manufacture more customized, more flexible, faster and more reliable. And to continuously enhance the entire process chain.

Large vs. small

The connected factory is useful for both large and small companies, but there are some differences between a large production environment and small businesses that need to be considered. Larger companies can better use product configurators for product and process data, specialists for needed positions and economies of scale to best use processes and equipment.

Frey also asked attendees to rate their own company profile by suggesting strength in product, technology, strategy, data integration, organization, logistics and people.

In terms of organization, are the roles and responsibilities clearly defined? Has the business defined and documented processes for the main functions?

Does production information fully support and align the manufacturing processes? Are scheduling rules in place? Is a functioning continuous improvement process in place?

As far as equipment is concerned, the key concept is to develop the ideal level, not necessarily the highest possible level, of integration of the main equipment based on the process requirements.

Data integration

Frey said that the upfront effort of data generation requires time and effort, therefore the data must be utilized well throughout the processes.

Whether fully automated or with people who bridge the media breaks in the applications, it is important to establish a seamless data integration throughout all system layers.

It is also important to look at the entire process chain from order generation to product and process data generation all the way through to the machine integration.

Can the data model be used to generate product and process data? Do the systems provide all required information with the least amount of data generation effort? And are the functionalities of the different software layers clearly defined and system components used at their strength? Also, is there an interconnected, integrated, automated data flow from dealer to factory to final consumer?

Automation and integrated processes require fewer, but higher skilled and highly motivated people. A shift will take place from shop-floor workers to support functions.

The company must actively search and acquire the talent needed to drive integration. There must be a formal system in place to continuously train and educate the people instead of passing on tribal knowledge on the job.

In summary, Frey said that Industry 4.0 is here to stay for industry and smaller business.

Contact him at Lignum Consulting Inc., phone 919-415-4242,
e-mail: [email protected].

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