The biggest lesson from COVID-19 is that data is essential and automation technologies are vital not just during a pandemic, but always. By changing strategy, and investing in software that is very intuitive and accessible for plant personnel at all levels, plants will work efficiently in any extraordinary circumstances

The modern technologies you can implement to improve overall equipment effectiveness and operational resilience, by Sean Robison, service leader at Novotek UK and Ireland


ccording to the Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI), the UK economy fell rapidly during the first lockdown in 2020, falling

further than it has in decades. So, what can manufacturers, engineers and plant managers do to safeguard their operations to withstand an economy in flux? The UK’s first coronavirus lockdown revealed

how much factories need to evolve to continue production, especially during unpredictable market conditions. The PMI in the manufacturing sector collapsed from 43.9 in March 2020 to 16.6 in April 2020. Even if the situation is slowly going back to normal, plant managers and business executives need to set very clear strategies to ensure they can reach targets and avoid closure. Plants fitted with modern technologies, such

as automation systems, data analytics and remote-control systems, had a better chance of remaining operational during the lockdown. This is because these solutions allow remote working and can underpin some processes independently of constant engineer input. However, even before COVID-19, many business executives were unwilling to digitalise their factories despite knowing about the benefits of these technologies. According to a Deloitte global survey, 94

per cent of executives in industrial companies consider digital transformation a top priority, but only 14 per cent believe their factories are ready for this big change. The main challenges are costs, lack of skills from the technicians and lack of evidence of the results from other plant managers currently using automation systems.

With or without proof, its time plant

managers began an affordable digital transformation to make their factories more resilient. Resiliency is the key to opening up new metaphorical horizons in the plant and enabling a more collaborative work environment. With the right technology in place, data provided by advanced engineering systems is easier to understand, offering quick, effective results without the unnecessary complication of manually analysing data. Resilience means plant managers and

engineers can actually access information that, without automated and modern technologies, would be highly challenging to get. Back in the 1990s, the use of thousands of different spreadsheets meant it was difficult to maintain and share information in real-time with the other departments in the factory, and make the information accessible and understandable to personnel from different levels and background. Today, instead, since everything is controlled

and monitored by specific software and sensors, data can be simplified for all skills. This makes it much easier to understand what’s happening and to plan next actions in advance, without waiting for a machine to break or for a plant engineer in the other department to answer. This digitalisation won’t just make the factory

more resilient, but actually more efficient, as it will be possible to reduce waste, improve energy power and make the production line more transparent, documenting sustainability. The first step in this digitalisation process is the installation of historian systems and


HMI/SCADA solutions, which can help collect data at a local level. The data collected from the machines will

give plant managers information about the production line and the condition of their machinery. However, functions can be limited because the data is specific to each production line segment, so it does not generally provide enough useful data to have a complete overview of factory operations. To have a more comprehensive

understanding, the next step is to install a manufacturing operations system to aggregate and visualise the data. Plant managers can then use advanced features to make comparisons and important evaluations about machine performances and the production line. Most importantly, it is a way to work together

with different departments, including people who are not physically in the factory. Regardless of location or skills, you’ll be able to understand what’s happening in the plant and choose the best course of action. The system recommended by Novotek is not

just easy to use, but also very easy to install. If plant managers were already using historians or HMI/SCADA solutions, they will only need as little as 30 minutes to plug the solution into the machine and to begin collecting and visualising data. Being resilient in a plant means that data is

used in a strategic and practical way. If plant managers had to go through every single historian software, they wouldn’t get a comprehensive analysis of the overall production line. However, thanks to solutions like this, data insights are interrelated and nothing is left to doubt. In effect, plant managers will have an explanation for everything, without actually having to be in the plant, making factories more productive for the future.

Novotek UK and Ireland

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