GKN Powder Metallurgy is aiming to increase its operational flexibility and worker productivity using the Workerbase platform, a digital management system from Workerbase GmbH, Munich, Germany. Workerbase states that more than 80% of all GKN Powder Metallurgy’s manual work processes are now managed using the platform, enabling the dynamic scheduling and execution of work orders. Operators can receive order assignments on mobile devices, can collect data, and issue process updates to existing line-of-business applications (such as MES) in real-time.
The production of precision powder metal parts requires different manufacturing processes: metal powders are mixed and transported to forming stations where high-pressure forming is used to bind the powder particles. After a heat treatment, the now-solid parts get transferred into post-processing. Availability of skilled workers is a key challenge for most of these operations.
Another challenge is the requirement of a more agile and flexible operating model, stemming from both general technological trends and customer- specific requirements. This necessitates the move from a reactive to a predictive approach.
GKN Powder Metallurgy has implemented over ten different digital manufacturing apps using the Workerbase platform, some of which are in production use for efficient operations.
Some examples include:
- Machine interruptions: Operators receive real-time alerts on their smartwatches in case of unplanned machine stops
- Quality measurements: Operators get work assignments regarding required measurements on the smartwatch
- Trolley change: Right before unloading stations reach the trolley’s capacity, trolley change is scheduled automatically using the mobile device of the operator.
As a result, GKN is hoping to transform the way human work is scheduled and coordinated. Skills can be leveraged, with workers being allocated based on knowledge and availability. Workers are also able to self-train at new skills on the job.
“Workerbase makes the whole shopfloor more dynamic, more agile,” stated Paul Mairl, CDO. “We are much quicker in reacting to the ups and downs every production has. What we do is giving the right information at the right point of time to the right people so that they can make a real-time decision. That really keeps problems small, because operators can take immediate decisions. And this consequently adds value to the whole process and has a huge impact on our business.”
As with all digitisation initiatives, it is key to focus on the business impact, otherwise the risk of ‘pilot purgatory’ is high. In the case of GKN, a clear vision and a phased approach have been criteria to help Workerbase advance beyond the pilot phase.
Mairl added, “We derived our concept for the activity driven shopfloor from strategic business goals. We wanted to move away from a role based organization, from the hierarchies we have in the shop floor towards an agile shop floor which allows the employees to work more flexible. We have been looking for a solution which allows us to implement the concept in short time. With Workerbase, we found such a solution.”