In the pre-digital era, manufacturing plants were deemed an unstoppable force in many economies. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought sharp lessons resulting in factory shutdowns and multiple supply chain disruptions. Even with the continuing battle against the pandemic, the manufacturing sector must intensify its efforts to survive and find new avenues of growth.

Digital technologies form a key component of generating recovery and building resiliency for the industry, a fact well-recognised by manufacturers across Malaysia and the Asia Pacific, said Sudev Bangah, Managing Director of IDC ASEAN, at the recent Smart Manufacturing Circuit 2020 virtual event organised by TM ONE. IDC analysis has also found that many companies are shifting towards targeted investments in machine learning, cloud, robotics, and internet of things (IoT) to drive a path through future crises as well as to secure growth.

Meanwhile, Maznan Deraman, Head of Innovative Solutions at TM ONE, the enterprise and public sector business arm of Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM) believes, “Digital adoption brings great potential for improving product quality, increasing productivity and creating more high-skilled jobs.” He shared how TM ONE will support the manufacturing industry’s digitalisation journey.

Data-driven efficiency

Data is deemed to be crucial for building a resilient manufacturing company. Understanding how well each part of the production line works will help managers minimise wastage, speed up production, and produce better products. Manufacturers need to think about what data they need and what tech they can use to collect it, shared Sudev.

Another crucial aspect is data analytics. Most manufacturers currently record data on paper and transfer it manually to a software for analysis, explained Nazman Fariz Mohd Noh from TM ONE’s Smart Manufacturing Solutions. “This is labour intensive and prone to human error.”

TM ONE has an analytics tool that helps companies gain deep visibility to their production processes. The Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) platform delivers an overview of all the processes within a factory using data collected from IoT devices. Supervisors can use this to optimise production hours, identify faulty machines, redistribute production, and monitor products for defects.

The platform consolidates real-time data for each machine, including its schedule, availability, and effectiveness. Managers can chart this on a graph to monitor individual performance over time, or zoom out to see how the overall production line is faring.

The OEE shares all data via online through TM ONE’s Cloud Alpha platform. Staff can monitor the status of each machine anytime and anywhere, said Nazman Faris.

Minimising costs through predictive maintenance

Predictive maintenance is a key feature of the OEE. This will help cut time and costs substantially. Manufacturing companies report that more than a fifth of its costs are due to downtime, and that 90 per cent of maintenance work is eaten up by having to fix breakdowns, Maznan shared.

The OEE platform monitors levels of concern for each machine: low means it’s doing well; middle to high means it might need immediate attention. It also automatically compiles a list of machines with higher attention scores, arranged according to severity.

Once a machine has been identified for maintenance, the technician will take a look at its timeline, alerts, and any notes on the OEE to carry out the repair work more efficiently. Machine experts can also study this information to analyse causes and develop better fixes.

Other must have solutions for your digital operations

In addition to the OEE analytics platform, TM ONE also offers cloud and cybersecurity tools to protect companies’ data. “Nowadays, we can’t have all information or systems on premise, because we know for a fact that on premise solutions carry a certain level of risk,” Maznan said. For instance, businesses may not have the proper disaster recovery services to react to potential cyber-attacks, he explained.

TM ONE is collaborating with technology companies such as Huawei to develop new tools for Malaysia’s manufacturing sector. Eng Chew Hian, Business Development Director at HUAWEI CLOUD Malaysia, shared details of how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to improve manufacturing processes.

Huawei’s drone inspection tool uses high definition (HD) cameras, 5G connectivity and AI image processing to study the surfaces of planes. Aircraft technicians run on a tight schedule when conducting safety checks between flights, and manual inspections are time- and labour-intensive.

The drone flies through the plane to search for scratches, corrosions, and loose screws. It also cross-checks the model of the plane to ensure each part meets specific safety standards.

Huawei has also developed an AI image analysis tool for safer aircraft manufacturing. It uses thermal sensors to find gaps when wings are welded onto a plane. Planes have to withstand tremendous vibrations and wind speeds, and any gaps could be disastrous, Eng explained.

“Although the movement control order was gradually lifted, the overall impact on the whole supply chain has been dramatic!” said Maznan. Digital technologies such as IoT and data analytics are helping Malaysia’s manufacturing plants navigate the uncertainties in a recovering economy.