Automation and the Narrow Web Factory of the Future

Regardless of the type of manufacturing you perform, the age of automation is upon us and provides exceptional opportunities. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly 60 percent of current manufacturing can be done through automating predictable and repeatable human activities.

This can have a tremendous effect on how we manage our workflows and our workforce. The ability to do more with less through automated best practices has proven itself to be more efficient, more productive and yield higher quality with fewer errors. The current trends in our industry of multiple SKUs, faster delivery and higher quality—all at a lower cost—are driving our need to invest in technologies that overcome all these challenges.

Automated narrow web press manufacturing. Nilpeter’s factory of the future is up and operational today. Identical footprints are found in Europe and the US.
All photos courtesy of Nilpeter

Press Builder’s Experience

Over the last two years, our company has overcome these challenges by investing in the latest automated machining centers that are all driven by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT). It allows us to do so much more with less. We have eliminated nine individual work centers of traditional lathes, mills, computer numerical control (CNC) machines and reduced our need for the required skill and labor to run these manual machining centers.

Additionally, we have overcome our workforce challenge by reducing the need for higher skilled machinists, which are proving harder to find. We have invested in two fully automated work centers that can manufacture everything the previous nine centers did with reduced material movement and resources.

These centers are all driven by Industry 4.0 best practices and IIOT. Efficiency gains have been outstanding. We are currently achieving 36 hours of automated production, with 16 man hours, in a 24-hour day. That is 20 hours a day of uninterrupted production with no human interaction. It is a complete lights-out operation that can be monitored from multiple manufacturing sites around the globe.

Nilpeter has accomplished this while building highly sophisticated narrow web offerings at an attractive, cost-competitive position. Everything from machine design, production planning, procurement and the supply chain are now managed through IIOT automation, thus reducing required resources by 50 percent.

This entire process has been managed by material requirements planning/enterprise resource planning (MRP/ERP) solutions that drive our production requirements and are integrated at every level of production, even down to the tooling utilized by these work centers. Each tool is RFID chipped to monitor life cycle. Before anything has a chance to wear out or fail, it is ejected and replaced through an Auto Crib system that is directly linked to our supplier.

“Our industry has transformed itself from a craft requiring a high level of expertise to a predictable science based off of data and foreseeable results. Innovations have provided a safer working environment for staff and more enhanced human interaction with employees and production tools. Our culture has shifted from a conventional manufacturing mentality to a smart factory, utilizing modern manufacturing practices and principles.”

Each night our supplier receives data on tools used to forecast and predict our needs; tools are then replenished through a consignment vending system and we only receive an invoice at the end of the month. There is no human interaction in this process and all is managed through IIOT. These types of practices have been employed throughout our manufacturing and assembly processes.

From raw steel in one door to finished press out the back door, our journey through the age of automation and big data has changed the landscape and culture of our factory and the way we deliver to our customers.

Converters & Capabilities

Like Nilpeter, narrow web converters—our customers—have been on this journey, investing in the latest production equipment and workflow solutions that allow them to do more with less.

Any company with multiple locations can take advantage of these innovations to streamline operations. It can even remotely manage and interpret data to improve production through IIOT. This IIOT network-based production system and data exchange shifts roles and responsibilities from machine operators to machine monitors. Throughput is greater, with higher quality and reduces lead times to the customer.

I recently visited a narrow web converter who has successfully transitioned into a modern smart factory and production workflow. It is one of the pioneers and visionaries of these practices, having begun the journey more than a decade ago. It has now tripled the size of the company while maintaining the same head count that it started with, all by utilizing modern methodologies.

The journey for every production environment will be unique. Production mix and markets will dictate the opportunities that will have the largest impact on your workflow. We first need to map the potential of where these technologies and investments will have the largest impact on your workforce and production. We want to employ an MIS/ERP-based system that is integrated into your business management systems. This can involve everything from plant management, production planning, sales and CSR through logistics.

Nilpeter manufacturing sites have automated narrow web press manufacturing.

We also have to consider the type of automation that would most benefit operations. There are two kinds of automation and each independently has a tremendous effect. The first is automated labor, which can help overcome workforce challenges and the skills gap. Much of this can be managed by the software and workflow solutions currently available. This includes any repetitive or predictable task performed by a human that can now be done through IIOT automation.

The second is automated manufacturing. This is the hardware that allows you to streamline a manufacturing process into a series of predictable, automated processes and results.