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PROCESS AUTOMATION


supply chain are par for course in everyday operations. However, COVID-19 has brought a wave of disruption far beyond what even the most seasoned industry veterans have encountered, let alone imagined. At the height of the pandemic, the


COLLECT, ANALYSE AND ACT ON DATA P


rocess manufacturers are no strangers to risk. After all, tackling issues around quality, safety and the


process manufacturing sector was hit hard by supply shortages, demand volatility and facility shutdowns. In plants that remained opened, social distancing and safety measures meant key personnel were forced to work remotely, which limited on-site support and hindered productivity. Now, as we cautiously enter the recovery


phase, process manufacturers must think smarter about how to optimise production, reduce costs and maximise the use of available resources. Many are taking this time to re-evaluate legacy systems and processes — often finding that outdated approaches to quality management have caused more problems than they have solved throughout the pandemic. Over the years, industry has invested


heavily in automating and digitising many aspects of manufacturing processes. Yet, it is surprisingly common for facilities to use manual data collection, spreadsheets or even paper checklists for quality control. Process manufacturers are now realising


that to build more resiliency for the future, they’ll need the ability to collect, analyse and act on insights from quality data in real time, from any location — not just the plant floor. Fortunately, the building blocks needed to


accelerate this digital transformation and build “smarter” post-COVID-19 factories are readily available today: 1. Automated data collection for real-


time information On top of being time-consuming and


error-prone, manual data collection techniques leave quality personnel several steps behind production processes. By the time data is reviewed, it is often already too late to take preventive action, so plant-floor personnel then spend their shifts in firefighting mode.


Facilities can instead implement quality management software that integrates with processing equipment and sensors. Such solutions automatically collect and monitor production data, sending real- time notifications and quality alerts to necessary personnel. Operators and quality teams can then take timely corrective actions that maintain quality, reduce waste and protect profits, which are now more important than ever. 2. Cloud solutions for remote monitoring While some process manufacturers


28 APRIL 2021 | PROCESS & CONTROL


Jason Chester, director of Global Channel Programs, InfinityQS, looks at the technologies that will define the post-COVID-19 factory


already have quality control software in place, these solutions tend to be rigid, on-premises systems. This means quality data is inaccessible, preventing remote managers and dispersed quality teams from effectively performing their duties. Instead, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-


based quality management systems enable all data to be centralised, standardised and accessible in a cloud repository. This provides the flexibility needed for employees to stay connected and collaborate, even while working from the safety of their homes. Such cloud-based solutions are also quick


to deploy and can be scaled up or down as needed. This makes it easy for personnel to quickly pivot to remotely monitoring products, lines and plants in their organisation. 3. SPC for intelligent, actionable insights Simply having remote access to real-time


data does not provide the insights needed to speed up recovery and protect continuity in the post-pandemic world. Process manufacturers need to understand — by way of data analysis — the current issues, concerning trends and where the greatest opportunities lie for continuous product and process improvement. This is where statistical process control (SPC) comes in. SPC is the industry standard methodology


for analysing, monitoring and predicting the performance of a particular process or product characteristic. SPC software compares collected quality data against pre- defined control limits to detect abnormal trends and variations in real-time. It allows manufacturers to prevent problems before they can negatively impact their business.


SPC software also aggregates and analyses


historical data, uncovering actionable ways to enhance quality, reduce risks and maximise performance. So, as process manufacturing leaders shift their mindsets from “survive” to “thrive,” these real-time, cloud-based solutions will help build the foundation for an optimised and resilient post-COVID factory. Though the last several months have been


difficult, I can offer you some signs of hope that manufacturers are ramping up production and establishing a new sense of stability. At InfinityQS, we recently conducted a client


survey with manufacturers around the world which showed nearly 74% of respondents are optimistic about the future. These manufacturers are adapting and rebounding in the wake of the pandemic, adopting new technologies and processes for managing production and controlling quality, including 75% who noted their workers are now working remotely. These manufacturers are accelerating their


digital transformation initiatives, as evident in a steady increase in the number of ‘proofs-of- concept’ for our cloud-based quality management systems, quadrupling in the last three months. In June, we also saw a 316% spike in requested professional services hours — compared to March — with clients seeking support as they begin increasing their production to pre-pandemic levels. While what lies ahead remains unclear, those


who can readily collect, centralise, analyse and act on real-time quality data will be the ones best equipped to navigate any future disruptions.


InfinityQS infinityqs.co.uk


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