How technology, analytics, and training improved IPG’s business performance.
Company Fact File
Company: Intertape Polymer Group
Sector: Packaging and protective solutions
HQ Location: Sarasota, Fla.
As a packaging and protective solutions company, Intertape Polymer Group (IPG) has a proven track record of ensuring things are secure and wrapped up nicely. But in 2019, the company looked inward at its processes and people and started a journey to ensure that its operations and technologies would be in a successful Manufacturing 4.0 package.
To get there, IPG undertook a digital transformation journey aimed at empowering all employees with technology, analytic insights, and training to make a meaningful impact on business performance. The journey included a multi-faceted approach to implement various M4.0 technologies across IPG’s business operations with a focus on delivering bottom line savings and scaling the technology deployment.
“Lean permeates IPG’s culture. It’s part of who we are and how we do things,” said Jai Sundararaman, IPG’s Vice President of Business Transformation. “It’s now getting more and more integrated with these different technologies.”
IPG started the journey with five key focus areas:
- Digital Analytical Platform. Harnessing IPG’s equipment performance analytics to improve operational efficiency.
- Augmented Reality (AR). Training and developing employees and attracting new talent.
- 3D Printing. Reducing spare parts cost and supply constraints.
- Machine Health. Monitoring key assets 24/7 to reduce downtime and extend asset life.
- Cloud Based Maintenance Management System. Centralizing asset information and reducing operating costs through proactive maintenance and spare parts inventory reduction.
These initiatives were piloted in IPG’s manufacturing environments so the company could understand the real impact, resources needed, and savings realized. As the journey progressed, the company continued to implement these technologies across the organization in subsequent phases.
The digital transformation journey
IPG began its M4.0 and digital transformation journey by creating a roadmap, vetting and piloting technologies, and working with different vendors to identify partnerships that would provide a scalable business solution.
“It takes hard work, discipline, a problem-solving mindset, and resilience for an extended period before you crack the code,” noted Sundararaman.
But as IPG progressed, the pilot projects enabled the company to identify impactful technologies and the capital and resources needed to implement them. Project leads worked with cross functional teams to apply each facet of the deployment strategy, and IPG continues to implement these projects across the organization based on their potential impact on processes and bottom-line savings.
The business impact of contextualized data and M4.0 technology
As IPG forged ahead, it found particular value in understanding data. By analyzing data in real time, the digital analytical platform opened the door to take a deeper look at process parameters to understand its impact on yield and quality. Ongoing yield and quality improvements put IPG in a competitive position to continue to deliver value to customers through lower cost and higher quality. The digital analytics platform was piloted in five plants, and as the project continues to scale, there is potential to save millions in the next five years across 15 plants.
Along the way, the company’s A3 problem solving methodology became twice as productive by increasing the availability of accurate, real-time, contextualized data.
“IPG realized a 75% cost savings while reducing lead time for machine parts from three weeks and three months to less than a few hours in most instances.”
“A3 is a classic example of how we strategically look at the opportunities to go about problem solving,” Sundararaman said. “Now you leverage digital mindsets, toolsets, and skillsets to go make it happen.”
These improvements led to a new process control ideology called centerlining – the process of categorizing each product run by uptime and quality metrics, then using analytical tools and custom applications to determine optimal set points and identify failure correlations. Process hack-a-thons using the centerlining framework became the process engineering focus in order to improve uptime, reduce waste, and improve product quality and consistency. Required process accommodations for uncontrolled process variables, such as outside weather conditions and ambient plant temperature, were analyzed to maintain optimal process conditions.
“A hack-a-thon is a mini-Kaizen,” Sundararaman said. “It’s a different way of going about it. Two to four hours of sitting with all the data and the right people brings up all kinds of insights that never existed before – correlations and possibilities that were not commonly looked at in the past and how we went about solving problems. Now it’s at your fingertips.”
Meanwhile, Machine Health IOT sensors and the AI algorithms have been used to predict machine failures by monitoring the vibration, temperatures, and key variables of the machine, resulting in significant reduction of downtime. In one plant alone, IOT sensors showed promise in the first four months, as reduced downtime translated to real savings.
The company also implemented 3D printing in more than 13 sites, printed more than 1,000 parts. Along the way, IPG realized a 75% cost savings while reducing lead time for machine parts from three weeks and three months to less than a few hours in most instances.
“It takes hard work, discipline, a problem-solving mindset, and resilience for an extended period before you crack the code.”
Tying maintenance together, IPG’s cloud-based maintenance management system was deployed at five sites to track more than 50 thousand SKUs. The goal of this system is to reduce inventories across the plants with consistent and centralized reporting as IPG scales up across all plants.
Lastly, IPG used AR technology to reduce the onboarding time for new employee training. At the two pilot sites, IPG improved labor efficiencies by 12%. As the project is scaled across sites, IPG expects to improve safety process and reduce training costs while improving yield and quality. The AR technology allowed the company to engage employees in new ways. Continuing to scale up will help develop the workforce of future.
Driving operational excellence across the board
One way for IPG to achieve its operational excellence goal is to exceed customers’ expectations by providing superior products at a lower cost and a higher quality. Further, any waste reduction in IPG’s operations directly impact its commitment to reducing its environmental footprint. The M4.0 technologies that IPG is implementing have helped the company gain a deeper understanding of its processes and equipment to solve complex problems and achieve savings beyond its normal continuous improvement capabilities.
As IPG scales technologies across its operations, it will continue to learn and realize additional savings moving from local optimization initiatives to a globally harmonized enterprise solution. Early data from the company’s asset health monitoring and maintenance management system has shown tangible dividends by reducing spare parts cost and improving uptime by proactively predicting equipment failures.
All these M4.0 technologies have provided significant impact on IPG’s operations. As the company continues to scale up across its more than 30 global operations, it presents an enormous opportunity to create additional value to the business and to our customers.
Beyond what’s been accomplished so far, Sundararaman sees a continued focus on digital and IPG will continue to seize the opportunity as it scales.
“This has now taken root and we’re moving into other functional areas,” he said. “In supply chain we’re going to start rolling out digital tools and capabilities. On the commercial side we’re looking at analytics and capabilities. So it’s spreading across the enterprise.”
Stocking the trophy case
As if improved competitiveness, quality, and workforce engagement and reduced costs, environmental impact, and downtime were not enough, IPG’s efforts have earned significant external praise. For its overall effort, IPG was recognized with a 2022 Manufacturing Leadership Award for Enterprise Integration and Technology. Sundararaman was honored in 2021 by MLC with the Digital Transformation Leadership Award. That same year, the company’s Tremonton, Utah operations – where the digital analytical platform was piloted – won the MLC Engineering and Production Technology Leadership Award and was chosen by Industry Week for the Industry Week Best Plant Award for its outstanding achievement for showcasing improvements made with M4.0 technologies.
These accolades add a nice bow to the M4.0 package IPG continues to create. M
About the author:
Jeff Puma is Content Director for the Manufacturing Leadership Council