Manufacturing Intelligence: Make Your Best Move


With smaller engineering, operations and IT budgets in response to increased global competition, companies are turning to new technologies to get the information they need to improve their processes without adding new employees. “Today’s manufacturing plants are like data centers,” explains Don Busiek, general manager for manufacturing software at automation vendor GE Intelligent Platforms.

“The explosion of data from manufacturing systems and customers is being used to drive more efficiency and more revenue. Just having more data makes people curious about what they can find out about their production systems, and that drives continuous improvement.”

The greater the impact of faulty products on companies—whether they produce food or pharmaceuticals that could create public safety issues, or high-value systems that require great precision like an aircraft engine—the more valuable detailed operational intelligence becomes. But any manufacturer can gain important benefits from using information gathered from production systems to improve manufacturing and business operations.

Saft America invests in technology
When the success of your company depends on being able to continuously innovate, production intelligence provides an invaluable edge. Saft America in Jacksonville, Fla., designs and manufactures advanced technology batteries and high-tech energy storage systems for the military, aerospace, aviation and alternative energy companies. That product line of the Paris-based company includes energy storage systems as big as a tractor-trailer for wind, solar and electric utility companies.

Saft has been developing lithium-ion battery technology for more than 30 years and its Jacksonville production facility has greatly expanded its capabilities to keep pace with rising market demand. In just two years from startup, the plant now operates with two production lines and two shifts. Ramp-up has begun for a weekend shift and the plant is planning for a third production line. At maximum capacity, the facility can accommodate six production lines.

“We’ve invested $200 million to create this high-volume, advanced manufacturing facility for processes that require an environment cleaner than an operating room and drier than a desert,” explains Alan Parsley, human resources manager. “It requires a great deal of automation and a lot of control systems to create these advanced battery systems.”

The company has also taken business intelligence to a new level, according to Parsley, drawing information from Rockwell Automation production control systems and Siemens building environmental controls to improve the quality and safety of its production processes and products.

“We operate in a world-class mode based on the Toyota production system, and the production team is focused on continually identifying kaizen (continuous improvement) opportunities. The real-time data we can gather from our control systems is like gold, helping us achieve our goal of building the world’s safest and highest-quality batteries.”

As Saft America continues to expand its production capabilities, Parsley says, the company looks for a very particular type of employee. “Human intelligence is just as important to us as operational intelligence,” he says. “We look for people at every level who are problem solvers with a strong aptitude for electrical, mechanical and electronics skills. We want employees who look for opportunities to make their jobs better and to continuously improve our manufacturing processes. That expectation is part of everyone’s job description.”

Using human intelligence to improve manufacturing intelligence is the best application of all.