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Modernising manufacturing

Scientific management has been a catalyst for manufacturing. Now digital technology is amplifying its impact.

Johannesburg, 12 Dec 2019
Read time 4min 20sec
Lance Zikalala, MD, nCoded Solutions
Lance Zikalala, MD, nCoded Solutions

We didn’t always have the same time: the time on your watch was the time of your local village. If you wanted to meet someone from a different town, you’d need to rely on vague arrangements to coordinate your schedules.

But trains can’t function on regional estimates. They need accuracy, which is why railway stations soon featured clock towers, each synced with the greater railway network. Through persistent campaigning, the railways convinced local churches to use their time instead.

“Today, you can find out exactly what time it is for someone anywhere on the planet. We’re all on the same time system, and that’s pretty amazing,” says Vincent Maila, APS Consultant at nCoded Solutions. “That’s the power of standards and why we needed them to start the waves of industrial revolutions.”

Setting the standards

Manufacturing performance and margins result from a delicate balance, and standards remove uncertainty to create balance. The drive for standards emerged after the French Revolution and aimed at getting rid of arbitrary local rules. Scientific management theorists from the late 1800s saw the benefits of developing standards, including business methods that could scale industry. The result of their efforts was the Second Industrial Revolution.

Vincent Maila, APS Consultant, nCoded Solutions
Vincent Maila, APS Consultant, nCoded Solutions

This history is covered in another feature, ‘Manufacturing and the history of Time & Motion Studies’. That article concludes that digital modernisation is, in fact, the rapid improvement and expansion of scientific management systems. 

If you have taken time studies of your manufacturing line, but wished those could be more comprehensive, accurate and drawn from different lines, then you should take an interest in what digital technologies are doing for manufacturing - particularly discrete operations.

“Scientific management offers many ways to improve manufacturing operations,” says Lance Zikalala, MD of nCoded Solutions. “It enables functional management, which determines the responsibilities of roles. It also standardises and simplifies work. You can use a variety of different studies to determine different metrics around your business. All of these rely on good data, which is what digital systems provide.”

Today there are many study standards and subset methodologies to improve companies. Work studies include time and motion studies, as well as method studies and fatigue studies. Piece Wage System focuses on the amount of work performed. These and other modern management methods have been handy in the past. They deliver better pricing, CAPEX analysis and utilisation.

“These methodologies and standardisations changed the game,” says Zikalala. “Many Six Sigma principles of quality can be traced back to standardisation and scientific management. The Japanese way of constantly wanting ways to improve quality is an example of scientific management. These have helped manufacturers become more agile, especially as they copied each other’s practices.”

Scientific management has been a catalyst for manufacturing. Now digital technology is amplifying its impact.

Digital management science

We can define the fourth industrial revolution in several ways. But it’s often overlooked how much this is a standards and management science revolution. Maila explains how, using the common practice of time studies.

“Time studies are typically conducted by one person with a stopwatch. They stand next to the line they want to measure and hit the button. This method has been effective, but it still only focuses on one line or one machine. If you wanted to replicate that, you’d need as many more time officers. That’s impractical. But if you are doing a lot of discrete manufacturing, you need detailed information.”

You can deploy a Manufacturing Execution System (MES), which can automate the capture of data but is expensive due to its complexity. Those drawbacks have prompted the development of floor tracking systems that use input from operators.

“Operators use touch screens to log starts, stop and any problems. This represents time data but also other performance measures. It can show how different machines perform and if there are supply bottlenecks. It can also improve accountability because operators are happy to record a delay if they aren’t the cause, such as a broken machine or bottlenecks in upstream processes.”

The profound impact of digital data capturing on manufacturing is comparable to the railways standardising our clocks. It enables a range of improvements, such as new efficiencies and more agility to change lines. It also makes it easier for operations to predict schedules and for salespeople to make realistic yet lucrative deals.

Improving operations was the very purpose and outcome of time and  motion studies and other management science breakthroughs of the 20th century. Now, in the 21st century, those are expanding and improving tenfold thanks to digital manufacturing.

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