Brad Kuvin Brad Kuvin
Editorial Director

Three Tenets of Continuous Improvement

October 27, 2023

A resounding theme emanated from PMA’s Industry 4.0 Forum held early in October, co-hosted by MetalForming magazine. That is: Transformation and innovation, musts in today’s manufacturing environment, are best accomplished by small to midsized manufacturers that set lofty goals (think big) but realize that often the best strategy toward achieving said goals is to take small bites from the innovation pie (start small).

In the context of Industry 4.0, a good example might be implementing a companywide Internet of Things (IoT) strategy to collect data from the manufacturing floor, disseminate that data to the appropriate locations and people, and then act on specific data sets to improve quality and productivity. While that’s big thinking, starting small might look more like tackling one machine or production cell. You add a few sensors to collect the most critical data streams and ask one or two managers to review the data and look for improvement opportunities. With one successful project complete, you can scale up.

While “think big, start small” makes good sense, I’d add a third tenet to the innovation journey: “Learn fast,” advice gleaned from a Forbes magazine article. A few juicy quotes:

  • “Those who fail typically think small… incremental thinking can be dangerous.
  • “Successful innovators… defer important decisions until they have real data.
  • “Companies that learn fast take a scientific approach to innovation… so they can gather comprehensive information and quickly analyze what’s working and what isn’t. They also don’t fall in love with their own ideas. They have the discipline to keep asking tough questions and will set aside or alter projects based on what they learn, not what they hope.”

Putting this philosophy into practice and sharing the success story with our Industry 4.0 Forum attendees: Mark Allen, director of information technology—supply chain solutions at water-heater manufacturer A.O. Smith.  Earlier this year the firm added sensors to its mechanical stamping presses to collect data on the condition of bearings, motors and fans, in an effort to reduce unplanned downtime, optimize maintenance scheduling and improve spare-part management. Allen made it clear: A.O. Smith is thinking big yet starting small by implementing its predictive-maintenance strategy in one pilot plant before scaling to additional plants.

According to recent research:

  • Only 35 percent of manufacturers collect and use data generated from smart sensors to enhance their processes.
  • The number of global IoT connections grew by 18 percent in 2022.
  • More than 80 percent of manufacturing companies expect that they will eventually use, or already do use, IoT devices.  

Lastly, according to another Industry 4.0 Forum speaker, Bryan Sapot, CEO of Mingo Smart Factory, you are not behind: “66 percent of manufacturers have not implemented or started a digital transformation,” Sapot says.

From the case studies he presented, Sapot shared these suggestions for those just getting started on their IoT journey:

  • Share the data with everyone.
  • Display scoreboards.
  • Distribute the data every day and review the data in your daily production meetings.

So, the time is now: Think big, start small (but make it big enough to matter) and learn fast!

Industry-Related Terms: Case, Scale
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Management


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