Edmonton Manufacturer Takes Step Change in Productivity Through Digital Transformation

by | Nov 14, 2022 | Industry Article, News

Even before the pandemic hit Flexcim Manufacturing Services Inc. had already understood that Overall Operations Efficiency (OOE) would have to improve for them to remain competitive, retain margins, and support growth. Flexcim, a provider of product development, injection molding, and CNC machining services based in the Davies Industrial area in central Edmonton; saw the lull in activity brought on by the pandemic as an opportunity.  

Unscheduled downtime and time to diagnose were of particular concern and were cutting into the bottom line. Injection molding machines had been modified in-house, however the modifications were not well documented. Therefore, the diagnosis, maintenance, and repairs were over reliant on tribal knowledge and taking, what seemed, an unreasonable time to complete.

As a first step, the team at Flexcim devised a plan to investigate technologies that would allow for faster identification of unscheduled downtime and reduction in Mean Time to Repair (MTTR) so production could resume sooner. 

The team started investigating off-the-shelf solutions that would enable remote monitoring of equipment and provide diagnostic insight.  Several older machines, that had no capability of connectivity, were networked using programmable logic controllers (PLCs).

Flexcim credits equipping the existing ‘dumb’ machines with PLCs as the ‘A-HA’ moment that opened the door to turning the traditional manufacturing shopfloor into a Smart Manufacturing facility.

Flexcim didn’t stop there however, encouraged by its success with PLCs and sensors, they invested in automated machine tending using robots and machine vision.  Tending robots further increased productivity on the shopfloor and machine vision provided additional production status insight such as cycle times. 

Flexcim evaluated machine vision options from two different suppliers.  Although perhaps both systems could have satisfied the requirements for what Flexcim intended to use the systems for, they credit one of the vendor’s willingness to provide hardware samples for evaluation as the deciding factor.  The machine vision solution Flexcim installed relies on artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms for image recognition training, greatly reducing software programming requirements and speeding up implementation. 

For the most part, since the components were off-the-shelf, Flexcim was able to utilise existing, internal resources to implement the technologies.  Since the implementation was carried out by the in-house Engineering team, they were able to better understand the systems and retained a lot of the knowledge necessary for maintenance and troubleshooting.  The team did partner however with the University of Alberta and relied on a Computer Science student over a summer to support development of Python scripts to capture and process the data.

Overall, productivity has improved by as much as 200% over pre-pandemic operations. Flexcim credits both the implementation of new technologies as well as introduction of LEAN processes for the impressive efficiency gains.  Flexcim can now not only better serve their clients, but with the added sustainability in their manufacturing, has also improved the lives of their employees and will leave the world a better place for the next generation which aligns with the company’s guiding principles.   

As for what the future holds for Flexcim, they are already planning for the next iteration of technology implementation.  Even though the shopfloor has seen revolutionary change over the past two to three years, they believe there is still room for improvement in productivity. Some of the technologies Flexcim is currently evaluating include Digital Work Instructions (DWIs), co-bots for assembly, further integration of AI and machine vision, and seeking opportunity for continuous improvement through further LEAN implementation. 

Utilizing the Manufacturing & Export Enhancement (MEE) Cluster’s manufacturing assessments, Flexcim is currently undertaking a deep dive into LEAN best practices.  The MEE Cluster’s manufacturing assessments, available to businesses across Western Canada, allow for benchmarking of current processes and identification of opportunities to increase productivity and quality through implementation of industry accepted best-practices.

To learn more about the supports and services that are offered through the MEE Cluster please contact us.