Most manufacturing facilities have at least one person who knows the production equipment like the back of his hand—knowledge gained through years of hard work and experience on the job. Intimate knowledge is gained by working on the line day-in, day-out to get it running optimally, or, just to keep it running. Most of these people can look at out-of-spec product coming off the end of a line and know exactly what adjustments to make in the machine to correct it. That kind of knowledge and experience is irreplaceable. But it leaves me wondering, what if that person retires or leaves? Then what? You certainly cannot hire that kind of experience.
This knowledge void means a lot of manufacturers are at risk, which immediately gets me thinking about automation solutions. One solution I have come across that serves as better eyes and ears to a production line than any employee is the digital video recorder, better known as DVR. It is technology that has been in our living rooms for years, but has not really made its way into manufacturing facilities, beyond the security trailer.
Consider this application: Point video cameras at all your critical assets and tie them to a DVR with the DVR continually recording. Then, through your control system, tie a trigger to the DVR, programmed to trigger the DVR on every downtime, out-of-tolerance or high-temp alarm event. Set up the DVR to capture the video 15 minutes before and after the event and archive it to a file. Now, every day when the shift supervisor comes in, he or she has a nice video archive of the previous night’s events.
In this fashion, a more qualitative analysis of the conditions causing problems can be performed, similar to the experience good operators and maintenance personnel garner over their years of work and attention. Dare I say, it may be better than the experience. Through video archives, the actual operational conditions are captured, where otherwise they may go unrecorded and be difficult to correlate. It is this ability to quickly correlate the cause and effect that makes me suggest a system like this may have an advantage over experience. After all, in a production environment, “experience” with downtime equates to big dollars, and therefore is experience best avoided.
Through an iterative process of checking video and identifying and correcting problems, significant improvements can be made over time. It is going to be difficult to replace the experienced workers leaving the workforce, so ways to make that experience less important need to be considered. Many automation solutions, and even some living-room technologies, offer exactly that.