Improving productivity in the era of Industry 4.0

Tricorn Systems
Tricorn Systems

In this article Alasdair Pettigrew, CEO of Tricorn Systems, discusses how implementing the latest production control software can maximise productivity.


Software is becoming synonymous with terms like ‘Industry 4.0’ or ‘Digitalisation’, but for me, software is about streamlining and automating processes to help businesses improve productivity. We see productivity as the real goal, and whether you explore using robotics, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), or simply being lean and more efficient, the aim is to answer ‘How can we be more productive’? Delivering that is what we emphasise with Tricorn.

But it’s very simplistic to say that without considering the wider implications. Businesses are complex organisations with multiple fast-moving parts, so often trying to change or implement a new technology can be difficult, particularly if you’re looking to make widescale changes like adopting new technologies or embracing a digital way of working. For us, there’s a few key elements that we see to help companies look for a new solution.

You can only really improve if you know where you’re starting from, and this is where the message of Industry 4.0 becomes confusing. Realistically, the message of digitalisation or Industry 4.0 is misleading as most SMEs aren’t ready for that, and diving straight in brings huge risks. Instead, the first step for many companies is to embrace what has been called ‘Industry 3.5’, which forms the foundations for adopting further digital solutions.

A solid foundation would be having sustainable cashflow, good control of quality, cost, delivery performance, and the right leadership and culture in the business. Having these in place provides the flexibility to begin exploring opportunities for investment to further improve productivity and enhance competitiveness.

Alasdair Pettigrew, CEO of Tricorn Systems
Alasdair Pettigrew, CEO of Tricorn Systems

Understanding the business


Every company is different, and it’s important to identify the challenges facing your business and which area of your operations to invest in will make the biggest difference. This creates an improvement plan which considers sustained growth including when to adopt new technologies, additional machines or new people.

However, this is only one aspect. Others include knowing which solutions are appropriate for the problems you want to solve; and to what extent, and at what cost? The challenge may be that you feel like the only option is a bespoke solution but, as technology and software is advancing, we’re seeing more affordable solutions.

These are often Commercial Off-The Shelf (COTS), but still specialised to specific industries – that’s what we deliver through Tricorn with systems for niche industries; including precision engineering or treatment houses.

Software requires you to follow a specific process, but if your company is already working in a process driven way, then software will enhance your way of working, rather than drastically overhauling it.

Every company will begin with manual processes, and we encourage getting the appropriate skills and knowledge in place to create those best practice processes. Having said that, companies that try to hang on to manual processes, and push back digitisation for too long, will not be able to drive productivity improvements robustly enough to remain in business.

Sometimes it’s good to start small, but start now. Make minor investments; enough to realise what works for your business and get people used to adopting digital systems without breaking the bank. This will pave the way for larger investments in digital.

In any business, technology is only one part of the solution to improve productivity. The very best businesses comprise a perfect balance of people, process and technology to make up a high performing unit. For a software implementation to be successful, it is critical to address the people and process aspects, in concert with the technology.

The real key to these changes being successful is communication. Firstly, strong leadership is required, with clear strategy and clearly defined objectives that are effectively communicated. This way, when the decision is taken to adopt a new system, it’s part of a strategy and a vision for where the company is going that everyone has bought into.

Also, involve project managers that will be delivering the change in the decision-making process, and be open with anyone whose role may alter due to the changes. Once the team is onboard, and that culture of change has started to take hold, then it will be much easier when a new system and way of working comes in.

The road to MRP efficiency


Deploying an MRP System is one of the biggest steps forward in adopting digital. The change process can be pretty significant, but an ERP system no longer has to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, as they did until recently. They are a lot more accessible to smaller companies than ever before.

Scheduling software is an important part of what people look for now when selecting an MRP/ERP system, because when they operate effectively, users can view live Work in Progress (WIP) at all times. They can see which operations are in progress and who’s operating them, as well as perform ‘what-if’ analysis on customer jobs before taking them on, allowing them to see the effect it will have on their shopfloor, and provide highly accurate deadlines.

Furthermore there’s a lot of stringent regulations that manufacturing companies are required to adhere to. We have to acknowledge that complying with these, while absolutely necessary and vitally important, can be a real challenge to businesses working in the sector with manual processes.

The admin and paperwork, marking up goods in from suppliers, providing status updates to customers, performing routine checks on every item and every machine – it’s a huge drain on time and personnel resources that slowly erodes away the margins, making it very difficult to be competitive.

And that’s why production management systems are so important for companies in adhering to these requirements. And this is where the requirement for niche systems become so important – in having a system that tracks parts through the whole production process, to produce contract reviews and track not only goods in, but the shelf-life of these items and the chemical composition.

Being able to demonstrate compliance quickly and effectively and having it automated, to an extent, can save hours for companies.

Making the returns


Looking at the situation and benefits laid out above, calculating an ROI on an MRP/ERP system deployment is reasonably straightforward. A simple measure of a business’ productivity is Annual Revenue per Employee. Increasing annual revenue can be achieved by increasing utilisation and efficiency of resources (people and machines) through having the right data at the right place at the right time.

Also, removing manual steps from the process will reduce scrap and rework, all of which enables more work to move through the business and allows faster responses to market changes. This can all be done without the need to recruit more people, further driving up the productivity of the business.

And for example, with Valuechain and Tricorn systems, we offer it through a software as a Service (SaaS) model starting at £116/month, which is very affordable.

It means that companies can get started easily and quickly without too much cost or risk tied to initial adoption, and then they’re able to see returns very quickly, which makes them more able to afford the system.

Tricorn Systems www.tricorn.tech

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