by Dan Janka, president of Mazak Corporation
Mazak recently received the prestigious Top Plant Award from Plant Engineering magazine. The award recognized all that we've accomplished at our Florence, Kentucky, plant, and I’d like to take this time to share what we've done.
At Mazak, we thought ahead to the capabilities of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to transform how we work, and that led us to a massive shift in our production process. In 2014, we began to monitor the equipment in our Florence, KY, facility and quickly realized how much productivity we could gain by simply listening to what our performance data could tell us.
When we expanded the facility by 100,000 sq. ft., we added the fiber optic and wireless connectivity to support digital networking for IIoT. In our first year of IIoT implementation, we saw a 17% improvement in productivity, and our monitoring system paid for itself in six months. Now, we've become a technology showcase for our own customers, reaping the benefits of a manufacturing system built around the combination of data insights and employee feedback.
That feedback is the second critical part of Industry 4.0, drawing on the insights and knowledge of the people who run the technology for us. At the same time that we've increased our output by 20% – in part by using automation to compensate for the area’s skilled-labor shortage and to increase the output of our existing production team – we've also made and kept a commitment to listen to what our people tell us.
Our skilled operators now run multiple machines, serving as system managers who do far more than just push buttons and remove parts for inspection. They know the processes they run, and they use their data to look for issues with training, materials and other operational areas that affect their productivity.
Before Industry 4.0, shop owners and plant managers kept track of what they physically could see their machines do. Now that the IIoT is here, we track our machines through data they provide and we collect. That wealth of information helps us make better decisions about planning, production and profitability because it gives us insight into the accumulated behavior of every piece of equipment. With that insight, we can identify inefficiencies that otherwise would have gone undetected.
Our commitment to digital connectivity and the IIoT has propelled us into a new age of manufacturing, but we haven't forgotten how we got here. Our Florence, KY, manufacturing plant opened in 1974 as an assembly and retrofitting operation that relied on parts shipped to us from Japan. Gradually, we began making our own parts and enclosures, and finally, we went from domesticating machine-tool models for the U.S. market to creating our own designs. Today, we make tools that we use ourselves to make tools for our customers.
Now, we're working to grow a new generation of talent for our manufacturing operations, demonstrating that the old stereotypes don't exist in the present, let alone the future. Our Florence facility typifies the reality and defies the past, with clean, bright, technology-driven workspaces and an empowered workforce. We are proud of how we got to this point and determined to continue the momentum we've built.
Receiving the Plant Engineering Top Plant award for 2018 meant many things to us, all of them good, all of them pointing to accomplishments we've worked very hard to bring to fruition. It validates all the choices we made in digitizing our facility, using our production data to improve our productivity and involving our employees as partners in the process, choices we always knew were right. We thank Plant Engineering for the recognition and look forward to what we can accomplish next.