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How Chinese Factories Can Adopt Automation & Smart Manufacturing

March 31, 2021

 by David Collins

factory worker using computer

As smart manufacturing and automation become a crucial part of manufacturing, why do factories in China still struggle with its implementation? First, let's define smart automation to better understand its purpose.

What Is Smart Automation?

Smart automation is defined as a technology-driven approach for manufacturing factories that utilises internet-connected machinery to monitor and improve production performance. By automating production, factories can gain accurate production data to improve operational performance. These sophisticated systems are often referred to as Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 in Chinese Factories

CMC's founding partner, Renaud Anjoran, wrote a blog on Why Solid Manufacturing Automation Strategies are so Rare in China, explaining the common issues that hinder its implementation in the region. Renaud goes on to explain that China factories are often unprepared for Industry 4.0 because of the wrong mentality toward automation, resulting in the following shortcomings:
  • Reactive approach to maintenance
  • Shortage of skilled labor
  • Inadequate investment in training
  • “Do now, fix later” mentality
  • Inability to implement 5S
Smart manufacturing and automation are often seen as machine-centric solutions to increase productivity and reduce costs – buy the suitable machine and hope for instant productivity improvement. This approach is incorrect and detrimental to your operations.

Implementing Smart Manufacturing Technology With A Proactive Mindset

Machinery is a tool of automation, but it is not what makes automation successful. American General George S. Patton once said that “Wars are fought with weapons, but they are won by men”. Similarly, automation is achieved with the aid of machinery but will fail without the right people and the right mentality behind it.

The reactive mindset is perhaps the most important in understanding the failure to implement automation. With smart manufacturing required in every aspect of production – from purchasing, machine operation, and warehousing – we need to change the question from “How do we meet production?” to “How can we most effectively plan for production?”.

Once this proactive mentality is adapted from within, your company can purchase machinery for automation. Without it, factories that produce a lot of waste will only automate their waste. Move away from a reactive approach to automation with data-driven manufacturing and preventative maintenance.

Data-Driven Smart Manufacturing Systems

Companies need to gather data on their operations and smart automation technologies to be proactive. Knowing the number of units each production run needs to manufacture allows your factory to forecast its production. Having precise sales figures is an excellent start, but tracking a product from the raw material until it leaves the factory warehouse is better.

Building a solid planning department will streamline factory operations and incorporate a sense of leadership, enabling more proactive decisions. Armed with the correct data, you can plan your purchases more effectively and minimize warehouse space and downtime.

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Preventive Maintenance 

Adopting and consistently utilising preventive maintenance for all existing machinery is the basis for successful automation and smart manufacturing implementation. If a factory does not properly maintain its manually operated machinery, it will not be able to use more advanced automation machinery and smart manufacturing technology effectively.

When discussing maintenance for machinery, Renaud said

Automated machines have many points of failure and the factories don't have the means to effectively prevent or fix them. The breakdowns are often long and far more costlier than manually-operated machinery.

You may think it seems simple and wonder, "Why don’t Chinese factories do that now?". Again, it boils down to an issue with the mentality. Many factory owners and managers we have spoken with do not want to spend money on anything that does not immediately put money in their pockets. Proactive maintenance and starting a planning department for smart manufacturing systems do not produce immediate results.

However, 30 minutes of maintenance can save you thousands of dollars in hardware and tens if not hundreds of thousands in lost productivity. Owners who are unwilling to invest in activities that do not produce immediate results are not ready for automation.

Shifting Away From Reactive Maintenance

Proactively showcasing the results of small changes like machine maintenance, planning and training can go a long way in changing this mentality.

Companies that change their mentality from reactive to proactive whilst embracing long-term improvements are much better equipped to automate their processes successfully – mindset is more important than machines to achieve successful automation.

Working with Chinese manufacturers to change their mindset and shift their focus from short-term to long-term investments is essential to adopting automation and smart manufacturing.

Will your factory be able to enjoy cost savings by implementing process automation? 

Download our complimentary presentation and cost calculator to learn more:

"Will You Save Money With Process Automation in Your Factory" [PPT + sheet]

Topics: Cost Reduction, Automation, Manufacturing In China

David Collins

David Collins

25+ years manufacturing experience in computer, automotive, aerospace, furniture, and chemical industries.
Founding Partner, China Manufacturing Consultants.
Built and managed several automotive plants in North America.
Successfully turned around Foxconn’s Mexico plant.

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