POSTED ON August 2, 2022 IN NEWS

Case study: Agile manufacturing in Powder Metal Operations

GKN Powder Metallurgy is the global leader in metal powder production and in precision powder metal parts for the automotive and industrial sectors. GKN has created an agile factory by increasing operational flexibility and worker productivity using the WORKERBASE system.

The production of Precision powder metal parts requires different manufacturing processes: metal powders are mixed and transported to forming stations where high pressure forming is used to bind the powder particles. After a heat treatment, the so called sintering process, the parts become solid and get transferred into post-processing (e.g. sizing, milling or drilling).

Availability of skilled workers is a key challenge for most of the manufacturing operations. Furthermore customer requirements and technology trends require a much more agile and flexible operating model, moving from an reactive into a more active and predictive approach. With the deployment of the WORKERBASE platform, GKN Powder Metallurgy is able to optimize their shop floor operations. More than 80% of all manual work processes are managed using WORKERBASE, thus enabling the dynamic scheduling and execution of work orders. Operators get work order assignments on their mobile devices, can collect data, and issue process updates to existing line-of-business applications like MES in real-time.

Example applications

GKN PM is a true industry leader and has implemented many different digital manufacturing apps using the WORKERBASE platform. Over 10 different workflow apps are in production use for efficient operations, e.g. machine interruptions, change over, trolley change, and quality measurements.

Examples include:

  • Machine interruptions: Operators receive real-time alerts on their smartwatch in case of unplanned machine stops.
  • Quality measurements: Operators get work assignments regarding required measurements on the smartwatch.
  • Trolley change: Right before unloading stations reach their trolley’s capacity, trolley change is scheduled automatically using the mobile device of the operator

As a result, GKN is transforming the way human work is scheduled and coordinated:

  • Skills are optimally leveraged to increase productivity on the shopfloor.
  • Work orders are allocated based on skills and availability of workers.
  • Workers can self-train for new skills “on-the-job”.
  • Workers at all skill levels are enabled to work more efficiently for the companies but more importantly for their own benefit.

Success factors for driving digitization on the shop floor

As with all digitization initiatives, it is always key to focus on the business impact. Otherwise, the risk of pilot purgatory is high. In the case of GKN a clear vision and a phased approach have been success criteria to advance beyond the pilot phase. According to Paul Mairl, Chief Digital Officer at GKN PM, one of the key success factors was starting with a clearly defined business strategy:

“We derived our concept for the activity driven shop floor from strategic business goals. We wanted to move away from a role based organization, from the hierarchies we have in the shop floor towards an agile shop floor which allows the employees to work more flexible. We have been looking for a solution which allows us to implement the concept in short time. With WORKERBASE we found such a solution. The WORKERBASE system has a very easy-to-use interface and runs on multiple devices like smartwatch and smartphone, but at the end the core element is the workflow management function. We can match activities with competencies and that provides us the real feature for being more flexible and more agile.” Paul Mairl, CDO GKN PM

According to Paul Mairl, the benefits of using the WORKERBASE platform are multifold:

“WORKERBASE makes the whole shop floor more dynamic, more agile. We are much quicker in reacting to the ups and downs every production has. What we do is giving the right information at the right point of time to the right people so that they can make a real-time decision. That really keeps problems small, because operators can take immediate decisions. And this consequently adds value to the whole process and has a huge impact on our business.” ‍Paul Mairl, CDO GKN PM

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