How Itema Builds Weaving Machines in the Times of 4.0
To complement the series about our Lean Manufacturing makeover, we’d like to share with you a sneak peek at how Itema’s advanced weaving machines are designed and produced in today’s interconnected and fast-paced “4.0” world.
To put our across-the-board efforts into perspective, it is important to understand that we at Itema truly believe that in order to maintain and grow our weaving machinery’s market competitiveness, we have to start, first and foremost, on improving our own way of working.
Itema’s approach to tackling the 4.0 world of possibilities and applying it to our everyday’s production is to start from the bottom-up—from each department, based on an in-depth analysis of the working conditions of the main player in each process: the human being.
The real requirements behind process optimization of quality, safety, efficiency are the key drivers of the investment decisions taken by management and of the enabling technologies chosen for the Company.
The overarching vision of a Smart Factory fully embraces our corporate lean thinking, ingrained in every activity and in our way of working. The main focus of everything we do is on the final customer and where each single improvement action is carried out with the objective of identifying and eliminating any and all inefficiencies or non-value added activities out from the transformation flow of the underlying production process.
There is much talk nowadays about what a 4.0 approach may mean in theory, but let’s delve a bit deeper into our particular corporate practices that are implemented with the a view to enable and expedite the transition to a Smart Factory.
The implementation of a mixed-model assembly line across all our production and assembly facilities worldwide required in itself the development of an adequate and robust IT system in order to manage the high variability of activities and operations required at the various workstations along each assembly line.
The workstations which encountered the highest variability in the types of activities performed by assembly line operators were equipped with latest-generation of smart tablets to enable the workers to access in real-time the exact documentation related to the assembly operations due to be performed at that station at that particular time.
The smart tablets are loaded with detailed information related exclusively to the exact weaving machine model and operations to be performed on that loom model at that exact workstation on that day. Using a barcode scanner, the operator identifies the loom which has moved into the specified position on the assembly line, and as a result, the exact sequence of operations and activities to be performed for that particular loom, accompanied by visual tutorials just in case a refresher is required (this is due to the high variability of configurations and the highest percentage of special versions for which Itema prouds itself of handling in order to mirror exactly the specific requirements of our Customers, rather than supply out-of-the-box standard weaving machines that may or may not fully meet weaving mills’ needs.
This set-up has allowed us to achieve an extremely well-qualified and cross-functional pool of assembly line workers and resources, able to perform the widest range of operations that span all the weaving machines in Itema’s product portfolio and the tailor-made solutions designed for Itema Customers. The end results have been remarkable not only in terms of quality and improved flexibility, but also, and, most significantly, when it comes to employee motivation and their overall job satisfaction.
Smart Factory also stands for workplace safety and safeguarding the health and well-being of our workers, and we are pleased to say that our characteristic innovative approach and problem-solving thinking has extended also to this vital aspect of our daily operations.
In terms of energy saving, in 2016 Itema made a first important step towards Building Automation, introducing on all the technology platforms the so-called KNX Bus (world-class standard compliant with all the main European and international standards that allows the automated and decentralized management of the buildings’ technological systems) and installing a Movicon™ BA Scada / HMI control and management interface. The system currently controls and manages the heating system, monitoring and recording all the related technical alarms and providing for their notification: the alarm signals are notified via email and/or SMS to the personnel available ensuring timely assessment and intervention. The system architecture is managed by a centralized virtual server where Movicon™ BA resides, supervisor that allows to concentrate and integrate all the subsystems of the plant, even from different networks and devices. The data recorded on the database will then be made available automatically through the graphic objects prepared for this purpose, such as tabular display windows, grids, trends, reports, in order to improve energy efficiency and cut operating costs, thus significantly reducing CO₂ emissions and energy consumption.
To further bolster our actions in terms of ensuring maximum workplace safety, which is of extreme importance to all of us at Itema, our Company invested in a latest-generation, proactive Fleet Management system specifically dedicated to the forklifts utilized in the day-to-day operations. Using on-board telematic systems and transmitting data via GPRS/3G, the system allows the precise measurement of every activity of each forklift and its operator, including work hours, battery levels and management, as well as accidents, if any. Through an identical process, the data can be transmitted to the forklift, for example by loading the operators’ authorizations, updating the software and resetting the forklifts, in case of any accident. All information is available through an online portal and not only. Some of the most important and relevant information can also be accessed using a dedicated Mobile App. The ability to control information flow to/from forklift fleet inevitably leads to a significant reduction in potential accidents, as well as leads to improved work safety. The system also allows the remote access and, if necessary, blockage of partial or full functionality of any forklifts, that may be deemed unfit due to safety problems until they are fully restored and validated to enter back into operation.
The above are just a few specific examples of solutions studied and implemented by Itema in the context of our steady transition to Smart Factory, which also touch on other area of our production activities such as AGV assembly lines, “Just in Sequence” supply system, “Equipment Automation” and others yet. We will keep you up-to-date on our Smart Factory and 4.0 activities in future Red Dot News editions. Watch this space.