Building a visual factory with Datanomix Production Monitoring and Digital GEMBA Solutions.
When you enter the 300,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at DFF in Agawam, Massachusetts, you immediately recognize the almost military-like organization of the offices and more importantly, the meticulous factory floor space. Every square foot of space is planned and documented to serve a customer purpose. DFF corporation is a highly functional manufacturing operation that was founded to do both precision machining of metal parts and electrical sub-assembly work to provide a full breadth of value-added services to their customers and to diversify the top line for the company.
DFF’s customers are large multinational corporations that produce electro-mechanical products for automated warehousing robots, medical imaging technology, military applications, and a wide variety of light to medium-duty parts used in commercial applications. Most notable are two huge robotics lines, each having two Fanuc robots servicing 16+ CNC machines by moving large castings through the entire cell with split-second timing and accuracy. These robots run continuously to produce the volume of parts and, ultimately, the assemblies the customer demands. In other cells, precision parts are craned into position, ratcheted down to a proprietary fixture design, and machined for several hours to thousandths of an inch tolerance to meet very specific design requirements for larger assemblies. DFF’s core competencies developed through decades of process perfection are Precision machining, electro-mechanical sub-assembly, and testing.
In late December 2019, Datanomix was called into DFF to make an initial presentation of its Datanomix Production Monitoring software solution to former President Bill Marganti and his leadership team. Demand from their large global customers was growing, and they decided a core piece of their strategy to satisfy this demand going into 2020 was to “build the visual factory.” In DFF’s view, the visual factory would be one where intelligent displays would augment various aspects of their operation at both strategic and tactical levels—how are orders progressing, where does performance stand, and are we hitting our quality and delivery targets with consistency? They were accustomed to walking the factory floor and working with operators on the spot to correct problems or make the necessary changes to keep things on track. Still, that process required a boost if they were to hit their ambitious business goals.
Upon seeing the Datanomix Production Monitoring functionality, the team was impressed with the amount of critical information provided to questions they had been trying to answer for years—from simple scorecards to quote reconciliation, they felt Datanomix offered deep insights they had yearned for but had been unable to produce on their own. After the meeting, Datanomix was asked to install Datanomix on ten machines in a phase one deployment. Between daily emails containing those production scorecards, and supervisors monitoring their cells for performance issues, the use of the software tools happened very quickly. Instead of walking the floor looking for trouble, people became heat-seeking missiles going directly at performance threats highlighted for them with Datanomix’s unique scoring system and intuitive interface.
By March 2020, DFF’s lofty business goals for the year were already coming to fruition. As demand ramped, they found themselves pulled in more directions, needing to hire 50+ new employees and deploy additional multi-million dollar robotic machine cells. Already armed with Datanomix on the original ten machines, more reinforcements were called in: Datanomix was to be deployed on all critical machines in a broader factory roll-out.
Today, a dozen large TV screens hang from the ceiling around the production area and executive office suites so that everyone can see clear production indicators daily, in real time, and over time. Augmenting their already well-organized operation with these digital points of intelligence fulfills the visual factory initiatives DFF laid out over a year ago: “We are faced with significant opportunities to grow our business and satisfy our expanding customer base,” said Bill Marganti, former President of DFF. “Having digital systems that are always on, reporting to us, and providing us the key job and business metrics is a must. We would be unable to deliver on our customer growth initiatives if we were not using technology as a centerpiece of our operations.”
“Having digital systems that are always on, always reporting to us and providing us key job and business metrics is a must have. We would not be able to deliver on our customer growth initiatives if we were not using technology as a centerpiece of our operations”—Bill Marganti, former President of DFF
The visual factory initiatives for DFF didn’t end there, however. Brewing beneath the surface in 2020 was a unique new product offering from Datanomix, inspired by the partnership with DFF and demand from other customers: a Digital GEMBA system to help visualize and drive continuous improvement efforts.
This continuous improvement command center is now displayed on several of DFF’s giant TV screens. The Digital GEMBA boards serve as high-level indicators of critical operations KPIs such as Safety, Quality, Delivery, Cost, and Inventory. Also, they offer the ability to see prioritized job status by manufacturing cell. The system seamlessly and automatically pulls data from DFF’s ERP system and transforms it into an interactive, real-time GEMBA board. The daily GEMBA walks involve a review of the previous day’s metrics, a deep dive into jobs that are due soon, and constant communication about performance exceptions that might need to be addressed through a continuous improvement program.
Dave Gabanelli, DFF’s Director of Planning and Processing, was a major driving force behind the joint Digital GEMBA initiative: “When I saw the Datanomix product and the quality and simplicity of the data presentation, I saw a company who dedicated themselves to delivering critical information to the visual factory initiative we talk about here at DFF. Through a unique collaboration process involving us, Datanomix, and some of their other customers, Datanomix is triangulated on a Digital GEMBA board that perfectly meets the needs of our highest-level executives to our operators. Metrics, job status, and work assignments are clear, simple, and digital. I smile every time I walk past these GEMBA boards knowing how much time and pain they save us from understanding exactly how our factory is doing.”
While DFF’s core competency might be unique, its vision for the visual factory is shared by many. Augmenting a strong-performing operation with digital tools to provide clear insight into performance, status, and priorities has fulfilled the original desires first shared in that conference room in late 2019. Now, as their business thrives even more at the start of 2021, these intelligent TV displays are as much a fixture as any of their CNC machines when they talk about their factory.