Manufacturing 5.0 Initiatives for Quality and Flexibility at ELGi
The definition of Manufacturing 5.0 using Manufacturing 4.0 as a starting point is the re-introduction of the human touch to highly automated and data-driven processes. This might be hard to imagine, as it conjures up scenes of Boston Dynamics type robots taking over production lines overseen by their human managers. Or perhaps, references to the movie, I-Robot, where human-like robots achieve self-awareness. At ELGi, a global air compressor brand, the reality, though less exciting but meaningful, is more an evolution of how we currently manufacture that is still razor-focused on solving specific problems.
Benchmarks for Quality
With a low volume high variety production objective, at ELGi, we focus our manufacturing innovations on improving quality, retaining flexibility, and reducing human error. We’ve recently revisited these objectives in the light of the COVID-19 crisis. Specifically, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of adding flexibility to address situations where we are unable to use our regular manpower strength. Technology needs to play a role in assisting workers who are building products that they are not familiar with.
Quality is a market differentiator at ELGi. As an aspiring brand competing with European and American competitors, ELGi must build products that set benchmarks for quality. In the market, our quality measures allow us to offer unmatched lifetime warranties on our products. We recently implemented torque control tools with digital feedback for our line workers. This allows us to set precise torque settings without human error. Air compressors supply a volume of compressed air at a certain pressure. To meet air demands, the compressed air system cannot have any leaks. We recently invested in an ‘in-process’ leak testing system that helps operators detect leaks prior to the final stages of assembly. This system ensures we produce machines with reliable performance and reduces the incidences of machines failing final quality inspection.
Driving Force for Manufacturing Innovation
The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need for production flexibility with renewed urgency. Flexibility from over-dependence on workers with specific skills and flexibility to shift production as customer demands change. As an example, we’ve recently installed collaborative robots that work in partnership with our employees in production. Though simple, we’ve recently installed a battery-operated trolley which replaced a fixed system. The trolley’s mobility allows us to move it as per production demands. Our largest compressors have required the most specifically skilled labor. To protect against labour disruptions for this product segment, we’ve installed semi-autonomous production lines for our large compressors which have reduced the reliance on specifically skilled employees. These measures have paid dividends during the COVID-19 crisis which restricted the number of employees that could safely work in our production lines.
In conclusion, at ELGi, specific customer and production challenges drive innovation. Being industry 4.0 or 5.0 compliant has never been our goal. The pursuit of higher quality has traditionally driven innovation, but more recently, production flexibility has become a driving force for manufacturing innovation.