For a year or so, from 2000 to 2001, I worked in a facility having hundreds of workers and almost zero automated processes in manufacturing. Faraday was a company that turned 125 that year, manufacturing synchronized clocks, modular and customized fire alarm control panels, and horns and strobes for those fire alarm systems. The majority of the manufacturing, sheet metal forming, welding and painting, horn and strobe assembly and testing, control panel circuit board assembly, and the final assembly of the control panels, these were all done by hand. The only real automated processes were some of the parts inserted on the circuit boards, and the wave soldering of the finished boards.
Each area had its own scheduler, its own schedule nearby showing workers and supervisors what was needed and when. We tried developing an automated scheduling system while I was there but it wouldn’t have helped by that point. Faraday was absorbed into Cerberus Pyrotronics the following year.
Part of the problem was an overall resistance to change. Some of the people in the facility had been there for decades. Some of the products, particularly the clocks and the older modular fire alarm control panels, had also been around for decades. Those of us working in R&D were working on smaller panels having embedded processors (8051-based, for those readers interested). We were making these panels as flexible as we could through a front panel programmability feature, and had started working on networking the panels for larger installations. But these weren’t seen by some as as solid products as the old standby.
The same went for the scheduling of the manufacturing. It was all done by hand on paper, with instructions being distributed as to what needed to be built and when it needed to be shipped.
Could Faraday have benefited from automated production scheduling software? Those of us who were in R&D thought so. The manufacturing operation was clunky at best, with the most modern piece of equipment being a new high-end wave soldering machine, about 15 feet long, with all kinds of features and abilities. Everything else was rather ancient, including the parts-insertion units for circuit board assembly.
Since replacing all that equipment with automated manufacturing was prohibitively expensive, Production Scheduling software to schedule the workers and their processes would have certainly brought a better efficiency to the facility overall. This would have certainly been helpful in regards to priority projects, and R&D projects needing one-time assembly of multiple panels for testing.
Yeah, that was an interesting job. I sure don’t miss all the bells, whistles and flashing lights though.