In today’s technology-driven world, every industry is in a constant state of evolution as each looks for a competitive edge. For some it can be a disruption to norms, forcing a shift in longstanding procedure and practice. However, in the supply chain space, technology has ushered in a fourth industrial revolution, commonly described as Industry 4.0, or I4.0 for short. At Whirlpool Corporation, we’re finding new ways to improve processes, shore up losses and implement efficiencies across the supply chain - and our business is benefitting in spades.
It’s no secret manufacturers everywhere are looking for ways to improve cost efficiency, without impacting quality or delivery performance. Whirlpool believes it’s possible to achieve one without sacrificing the other - for instance, driving best in class cost, while also finding significant improvements in safety, quality, and delivery performance. This, precisely, is underway at Whirlpool Corporation as we evolve our current Whirlpool Production System (WPS) with a structured approach called World Class Manufacturing (WCM). Ultimately, the adoption of the WCM methodology will transform our global operations and give us a competitive advantage over other appliance manufacturers.
As we implement the production system transformation at Whirlpool Corporation, the ability to collect the pertinent data that allows us to make decisions and drive business outcomes, is mission critical. The foundation consists of connected equipment inside the four walls, applications, and systems, and the processes to translate the data into actions. Focusing on the foundational areas of data collection and data visualization allows us to support more advanced data analytics.
As we implement our manufacturing strategy, it is important that I4.0 technologies are introduced in lock step with the production system transformation. WCM helps prioritize where to work and it’s important that the I4.0 technology roadmap is an alignment with the same priority so that the technology projects are cadenced at the right time and only after achieving stability and the right level of production system maturity.
Where some companies might use a Big Bang approach, we are taking methodical steps to target the most critical areas or pain points with technical solutions. This requires looking at the whole supply chain (upstream and downstream). Projects are sometimes a bundle of several different use cases which expands our organizational knowledge in one or more areas. For example, a single project may deploy traceability, advanced testing, cloud computing, machine learning, quality analytics, and data visualization, utilizing collaborative robots and a form of augmented reality—all on the same production line. We are not just proving the individual technologies, but we are proving the value of interconnectivity that isn’t possible with individual projects.
The transformation of our Whirlpool Production System utilizing the WCM methodology and the right I4.0 technologies, will be a game changer for our business. A few years into the implementation—driving focused improvements across 10 technical pillars and 10 managerial pillars, validated by plant audits bi-annually—we are already seeing steady improvement and positive results. Many of the plants have reached all-time records in safety, quality, delivery and cost efficiency—proving it’s possible to drive results across all metrics without compromising one over another.
While some might fear the fourth industrial revolution and disruptive technologies, we are proving at Whirlpool that the implementation of I4.0 technologies is playing a critical role in our manufacturing transformation. We are excited to see how technology will continue to help us create a sustainable competitive advantage for our company for many years to come!