The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged manufacturing on multiple fronts. As a critical industry, our work couldn’t stop. We also couldn’t transition our full workforce to working remotely.
Manufacturers had to quickly adapt both to keep workers safe and to respond to changes in demand.
But stress can also accelerate transformation. And at our manufacturing plant in New Kensington, Penn., the Large Drives Application team did just that by finding a new virtual approach to a standard procedure for the sake of safety and business continuity.
When Governor Wolf issued a stay-at-home order early in the pandemic, we faced a serious challenge with executing factory acceptance tests. Because customers could no longer go to our facility to inspect a project and approve it, we couldn’t satisfy this critical milestone to ensure our customers’ drives would work to their exact specifications before being shipped to their destinations. Adding to the complexity, the team was gearing up to test the very first order for the newest SINAMICS PERFECT HARMONY GH150 Air-cooled drive.
Over the course of one business week, our team assembled a combination of existing technologies that both our technicians and customers could use easily: Microsoft Teams, iPhone and laptop video cameras, and the Sinamics Starter (to operate the GH150 drive). This combo became a reliable virtual solution that worked well in a production environment. Not only did this make it possible for our technicians to become trained on this new process and meet the short turnaround time, but it also made for a positive user experience for our customers, as they were already comfortable with the software.
Positive results came quickly, as our customers have come to appreciate the benefits that accompany the virtual format. In particular, average test time has decreased from 16 hours to 4 hours.
And while this solution was developed to address the crisis at hand, the customer response was so positive that it has become a new standard. As of today, we have 37 upcoming virtual tests scheduled, in addition to the 29 that have already been completed.
This approach enables customers to have more personnel attend the test, bringing more of their brainpower into the process. It brings together Siemens employees and customers who don’t regularly see each other onsite, enabling greater conversations and interaction previously inhibited by the expense of travel. And anybody anywhere can manage or attend a virtual session, so a project manager who has had to quarantine or tend to other matters offsite can still manage a test session and even invite attendees from multiple different locations globally.
Additionally, the virtual testing approach speeds deployment of new technology by reducing bottlenecks in equipment delivery and enabling new products to be tested a very short time after it comes off the assembly line.
This is especially valuable for multi-unit orders. If a customer order involves a dozen units, each of those can be tested and accepted one by one, rather than waiting for the entire dozen to be produced and readied for an in-person test. Were production of a single unit delayed for some reason, the majority of the order would still be ready to be shipped and could move on to customer installation while the delayed unit catches up.
The pandemic has indeed created unprecedented challenges. But as I reflect on how we’ve responded – and as we expand what’s humanly possible using digital twin technology – I agree with what Raj Batra wrote on this blog recently: The acceleration of digital technologies spurred by this crisis will ultimately “put manufacturers in an even stronger position than we might have predicted prior to the pandemic.”
Published: November 13, 2020