Intelligent Travellers: Analytics in Manufacturing

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Did you know that workshop travellers used by suppliers in hi-tech sectors (aviation and aerospace) require retention by them for up to 25-30 years?


A traveller is a physical document used to track a specific batch of parts through its required production flow. This involves tasks completed, and the next steps for this production flow, and important details for each task:

  • Operator’s name and machine information.
  • Shift number and date completed. 
  • Number of parts passed and failed.
  • Work instructions and additional remarks.
  • Physical dimensions (samples).

These documents may include the order information (customer details), standard times (average time) for each task, and additional remarks (client’s specifications).

An electronic or intelligent traveller is an electronic version of this document, which is generally accessed using apps for laptops, PCs, tablets, etc. to edit/store information, and to collect data for analysis.


Scientific Management (A): The Taylor Studies (Time and Motion Studies)

Frederick Winslow Taylor (March 20, 1856 – March 21, 1915) is also titled the “Father of Scientific Management”, for his contributions to the manufacturing sector on production processes and efficiencies, worker productivity, and metal cutting techniques. He is also known for his book “The Principles of Scientific Management” published in 1909, and for his productivity experiments “Time and Motion Studies”. 

The concepts described in his book “The Principles of Scientific Management” are widely used today in manufacturing industries, modern militaries, and professional sports. These principles are also known as “Scientific Management” and “Taylorism”:

  1. Use a scientific standard (repeatable and replicable) for task completion and quality assessment (analytical basis), not a “rule of thumb”, or simple habit and common sense.
  2. Operator work assignments should be based on their aptitudes (capabilities and motivation), rather than a random assignment of tasks. Each worker should be provided on-job training to reach his/her peak performance.
  3. Monitor worker performance. Provide clear and simple work instructions, and supervision to ensure they (operators) are working productively.

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Worker Productivity (B): The Hawthorne Effect In the 1920s and 1930s, Elton Mayo and Fritz Roethlisberger conducted socio-psychological experiments on workers at Hawthorne Works, a manufacturing unit of Western Electric in Cicero, IL. The goal of these studies was to understand the major factors that impact worker productivity, the results of these studies were known as “The Hawthorne Effect”. Some of the experiments included changes of ambient light on the shop floor, change in rest periods and length of day, and change in supervision by staff. Later, such experiments were periodically conducted by many researchers to increase worker productivity. To reward productive workers and motivate other workers, travellers could serve as a good benchmark. Travellers also help management understand issues with machines—some of which have regular breakdowns and/or reduce operational efficiency (high defects). Current & Future Trends: As per Grand View Research, the global smart manufacturing market was valued at $236.12 billion in 2020. This value is expected to reach $601.54 billion by 2028, at a CAGR of 12.4% over this forecast period (2021 — 2028). The largest market is North America, while the fastest growing market is Asia Pacific, led by China. Key advantages of intelligent travellers:
  • Smart Manufacturing technologies like IoTs and electronic travellers can collect data from machines to perform preventive maintenance (instead of breakdown maintenance). This can help maintenance teams order replacement parts in advance and minimise machine down time. These advances would increase operational efficiency, help managers prepare accurate production plans (scheduling), and mitigate unforeseen shutdowns on shopfloors. 
  • Intelligent travellers can help managers gather real-time data on quality and operations, worker, and machine productivity, and to expedite process instruction revisions (electronically). Adoption of paperless travellers also ensures effective use of emerging technologies such as Industry 4.0, Cloud Computing, IIoTs, Data Analytics, Smart Factories, Robotics, AI and ML, CAD systems, and Digital Twins.
  • The industry leaders in Smart Manufacturing are Automotive with a market share of 23% (2020), followed by Aerospace and Defence. These industries employ a lot of labour and have many interactions between firms for components and sub-assemblies (client firms and tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 suppliers). A small savings of production time in one part of these industries can have a compounding effect in reducing overall production costs (through intelligent replication). 
Supply Chain Teams of client firms can assess inventory levels (and traceability) at suppliers faster through integration of intelligent traveller software with ERP systems (like SAP). This helps them monitor and plan delivery schedules, use alternate suppliers’ inventories (if necessary) to ensure deadlines are met. Supplier evaluations too can be done based on production efficiencies (worker & machine data from intelligent travellers), and new orders can be based on expected delivery efficiencies. Potential Risks and Threats: Important challenges to adopt Intelligent Travellers widely across the industry are:
  • Cybersecurity Threats—Today’s interconnected systems are heavily reliant on IoTs for communication between machines, which unfortunately have weak encryption systems. To have a robust digital factory (resistant to cyberthreats), additional security layers are necessary, which require higher budget allocations for cybersecurity investments.
  • Employee Resistance—Introduction of digital travellers would make the machine operators more accountable. The number of parts passed at each operation (and time for each task) are recorded automatically (real-time). Most changes would require supervisor intervention. Additional fears due to automated data collection could be related to employee privacy and appraisals (increments, bonuses). These issues can be resolved through regular departmental meetings (address fears) and to offer multiple training sessions (digital travellers).
Technology Investments—Firms in manufacturing sector invest heavily on machinery, and additionally on key raw materials. Historically, technology investments have been a small part of annual budget allocations. Preparing for Industry 4.0 involves additional technology investments throughout each manufacturing plant. To realise the investments on electronic traveller systems, additional investments would be necessary to make factories smart (IoTs, sensors, cybersecurity). This may also involve investments on intelligent ERP systems that can communicate better with clients and suppliers across the value chain (real-time).