During the last two years, tool maker Stanley Black & Decker Inc. has outfitted its manufacturing center in Reynosa, Mexico with sensors that spot problems and delays in the production line. While it has encountered a few challenges — more a matter of culture than technology — the company says the effort has led to a significant improvement in production.
The sensors catch problems on the production floor a lot faster than people do, eliminating the need for managers to spend as much time walking the huge facility. The effort, initiated by a Stanley CIO in 2012, has helped increase tool production by 10% and labor productivity by 12%, according to the company.
Stanley is one of several manufacturers, including General Electric Co. and Honeywell Inc., tapping the so-called Internet of Things in an effort to make themselves and their customers more efficient.
In Reynosa, where the company’s DeWALT power tools are produced, RFID (Radio-frequency identification) tags and monitoring software provide managers “real-time feedback from the assembly lines so we can see how they’re performing every minute of every day,” said Nick DeSimone, vice president of operations for Stanley’s professional power tools division.
RFID tags along the assembly line monitor output of tools, such as jigsaws, planers and cordless drills. The tags wirelessly relay data, including product time stamps, whether they will pass or fail, and number of products completed, to the plant’s computer network. Analytics software monitoring workflow takes note of when production lags, and it fires off alerts to supervisors’ desktops, smartphones or tablets. Assembly lines workers also push buttons to alert supervisors about problems.
Previously, the discovery of defects and other production problems was a manual exercise; the supervisors would walk the 500,000 square-foot plant’s floor to make sure the lines were operating as expected. This process proved inefficient and cumbersome for a plant that produces millions of tools each year. The technology “effectively removes all of the waiting time,” associated with manual problem discovery, said Mr. DeSimone. He said Stanley eventually plans to bring its sensors and software to seven manufacturing facilities around the world.
Stanley’s use of RFID tags could reduce the amount of time people spend “yelling at each other” on the factory floor to discuss problems, said Frank Gillett, a Forrester Research Inc. who researches the use of the Internet of Things in business. But he said the use of location-sensing technologies is gradually increasing because most manufacturers are already “pretty efficient.”
Implementation challenges associated with the sensor system were largely cultural, requiring Stanley to spend time educating plant workers how to get acclimated to the technologies, said Patrick Gilbert, director of product marketing at AeroScout Industrial, the Stanley division that makes the RFID tags and analytics software. He said Stanley notified workers that production was being tracked, and showed them what alert buttons to push when they detected a machine break down or other problem on a line. Ultimately, he said it empowered workers to “feel like they could make a difference in labor and quality.”
Stanley’s push for the Internet of Things began in later 2012, when Gary Frederick, CIO of Stanley’s industrial and automotive repair division, decided the company could benefit from using technology from AeroScout, which the company acquired in June of that year. “He said ‘you got to check this technology out,” recalled Mr. DeSimone.
Mr. Frederick, who was unavailable to comment for this article, calls the Reynosa technology system the “electricity for the business” in this video.