Vincent Tang, regional vice-president, Asia, Epicor Software, speaks to APMEN on how digitalisation and the latest digital tools—such as enterprise resource planning software—can help achieve core business goals.
While enterprise resource planning (ERP) is often seen as the domain of large-scale manufacturers, manufacturers of all sizes can benefit from digitising operations with modern software and the latest ERP automation with digital scheduling and production analysis tools.
Today, more companies are looking at connecting machine tools and other devices to a computer network so machine-generated data can be collected for analysis and reporting. This data can enable manufacturers to boost productivity and reduce downtime. Benefits can include boosted sales, achieving manufacturing production goals and building high-quality parts, and in turn satisfying customers whilst making a profit.
Q:If the younger generation holds the key to economic growth, what are some of the ways for them to learn the right skills in a career path leaned in manufacturing?
Vincent Tang (VT): If the younger generation wants to pursue a career in manufacturing, there are two areas they can focus on. The first is that they need to be equipped with industry knowledge. Having industry knowledge is very important as when they embark on a career in the manufacturing industry, they will need to understand the challenges and obstacles that arise in this field.
The second area would be to understand the latest technologies and developments in the industry as this will enable them to solve problems that arise in the company, as well as help their companies move into the next phase of manufacturing technology.
Some of the key manufacturers in the industry also have programs which allow them to collaborate with universities and education institutions, and they train students on the skills and knowledge they will need once they enter the workforce.
Our company views this industry collaboration with universities as essential in training the talent pool as after all, they are the future of the economy.
We have this initiative in a few countries—Korea, China, Vietnam, and we have recently begun this initiative in Singapore as well. We will definitely continue this industry collaboration program and we hope that through this, we can provide more opportunities for the younger generation to learn more about Industry 4.0 and automation.
Q: What advice do you have for manufacturers trying to understand how their strategies fit into the digital economy and how they can seize the digital opportunity?
VT: Manufacturers have to be open-minded and the involvement of top management is very important. I have experienced many cases in which the head of the company has very little involvement in creating a digital strategy for the company. For example, the chief executive officer (CEO) would give his management staff a digitalisation budget and let them take the reins on how the budget should be allocated. Digitalisation tools such as an ERP system needs interdepartmental cooperation from all staff and involvement from top management as well. The CEO should play a huge role in making the decision—in terms of process flows and procedures—in the type of system that the company needs to implement.
Manufacturers also need to continually keep themselves updated on the latest industry developments and technologies. They can do this by attending industry conferences and seminars, and they can then bring the knowledge that they have learned and apply these in their manufacturing processes.
Q: What are some of the smaller steps that manufacturers can take to begin their digitalisation journey?
VT: Manufacturers should utilise any government funding or grants that support automation in the industry. There is an organisation in Hong Kong called the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC), and its objective is to assist SMEs in automation and adopt the latest technologies such as Industry 4.0, and even ISO certification.
The way this is promoted is through seminars, and most of these seminars are free of charge and manufacturers can benefit significantly from this. It is also important that all employees including the top management, especially the CEO, understand what is going on in the current market and they should also keep themselves updated on the types of government grants available for them.
The HKPC has also set up an Industry 4.0 solutions centre and manufacturers can visit the centre to learn and understand how the latest industry technologies can improve their processes. The technology simulation at the centres provides for easier visualisation on how the technology can be implemented—such as how ERP and MES systems can increase manufacturing productivity.
It is also vital for manufacturers to understand what their competitors are doing. If manufacturers want to be the leader in the sector that they are in, they need to compare their progress and strategies to their competitors and improve their businesses from there.
Q: Where do you see the manufacturing industry heading in the next five years in Asia Pacific?
VT: I read in the papers recently that the Chinese government should not only consider the US as their main competitor, and that China should not ignore Vietnam as it is a fast-growing market in the industry. Moreover, a survey done in China revealed that its ageing population is becoming a huge issue.
Looking at Vietnam, the situation there is different from China as there are many young people in the workforce and the labour power is stronger. The younger generation in Vietnam are able to communicate in the universal language—English—much better than their Chinese counterparts, giving them an advantage in the manufacturing industry.
Labour costs in the nation are also much lower as compared to China, which is seeing significantly increasing labour costs. Vietnam is definitely the market to watch and that is why our company is also considering investing more in the nation to prepare ourselves for this growing market.
Another market to look out for in the manufacturing industry is Indonesia. It has a large population of capable workers, and labour costs there are lower as compared to China. And truth be told, when I was in Jakarta, I was impressed by how well the potential customers I spoke to were able to communicate in English. Moreover, the customers I talked to were keen on learning how cloud adoption can help their businesses, especially compared to other nations in Asia Pacific.
SIDE STORY: MES System Provides Real-Time Production Data
Information does not make decisions; it is the raw material of decisions. The more applicable and timely it is, the better the decision-making. In Chrysler’s die casting facility located in Ontario, US, managers have been using real-time data collected by a production monitoring system by Epicor called the Mattec manufacturing execution system (MES).
The plant is an aluminium diecasting facility, producing automobile engine components, such as housings, pistons and connecting rods for Chrysler, Mercedes and AMG. Sam Mahon, the plant’s production control manager, is principally responsible for logistics, scheduling and productivity for this manufacturing environment consisting of 62 machines, from high- and low-pressure die cast machines to heat-treat furnaces and machining centres.
Mr Mahon and his staff typically utilise the MES-produced reports in twice-daily production meetings, where they scrutinise production, scrap, cost-to-ship ratios and downtime issues.
Using this information allows them to prioritise maintenance activities or adjust production schedules and machine allocation on a shift-by-shift basis. Due to the data’s real-time nature, managers can retrieve updated metrics—sorted by part, resource, shift or any defined parameter— at any point throughout the day.
“From a scheduling perspective, every hour, every shift, every day, the MES tracks the quantity of a given part we actually made versus what we planned, so we are reacting to the real-time data we are getting,” said Mr Mahon.
Leveraging the information collected, Mr Mahon also analyses trends over a longer-term. In a weekly throughput meeting, his group focuses on trends in areas like overall uptime and scrap rates.
The group’s analysis extends to historical quality and productivity comparisons as well. Some production processes at the plant are weather related.
For instance, hot, humid conditions may raise the metal’s moisture content, impacting quality. After instituting corrective actions, Mr Mahon uses the MES reports to compare the current year’s quality data to previous years’ under similar conditions.
Improved Uptime, Cycle Times And Scrap
Identifying an early-stage issue or predicting when a problem could arise allows Mr Mahon to take steps to mitigate any possible negative impact on his primary areas of responsibility: uptime and scrap. In fact, over the past three years, the plant has realised a 30-percent reduction in costs due to improved uptime and cycle times and reduced scrap.
At this plant, one crucial element of both uptime and scrap is the condition of each die. The MES tracks the number of cycles on a particular die, as well as its scrap rate and downtime, enabling production control personnel to predict the end of that die’s effective life and order a new die accordingly. The replacement cost may reach hundreds of thousands of dollars and require a six-month lead-time, so the integrity and timeliness of the data collected by the MES is critical to optimising each die’s productive life and avoiding unscheduled downtime due to die failure.
“It does not solve our problems for us, but you have to know you have a problem before you can solve it,” said Mr Mahon, who added that the MES helps to focus their decisions and resources.