mQ Intelligence

How mQ Intelligence built the ‘smartest’ dairy factory in Australia

A key production facility in Australia within a global dairy operation called on mQ Intelligence when its managers identified the need for standardised and harmonised IT systems as the gateway to fully automating the plant.

The company’s supply chain applications manager said progressing the automation project was not possible in an environment where many systems and processes were still paper-based or relying on ageing, superseded technology.

“Our goal was simple – the more automation we could do, the more efficient we would be,” the manager said. 

“We wanted to increase the trust and timeliness of key data points and key operational transactions, such as when a pallet was produced or how the line was performing.” 

The manager said the company was introducing automated guided vehicles (AGV), responsible for picking and packing in the warehouse, but this was at odds in a factory where data was still being written on pieces of paper.

 “There was a lot of data discrepancy and a lot of information being misunderstood and misinterpreted,” they said.

 “There was no way of moving forward with a system like that.”

mQ Intelligence was engaged to assess the systems at the plant, auditing both the machines and the equipment plus the human processes that were being deployed to manufacture some of Australia’s best known dairy brands.

Founded by Kevin Hibbins in 2010, mQ Intelligence is a specialist consultancy and project management specialist with experience and expertise in turning manufacturing plants into smart factories through the power of data and technology.

Like a lot of factory operators that Kevin and his team have helped over the years, the managers of the dairy site in metropolitan Australia knew what they were making but had no mechanism to collect real-time data during each production run.

As a result, the factory was susceptible to errors, risks, and inefficiency, such as waste and production over runs, mislabelled products, raw material shortages, and slower, mistake-prone workflows due to the high level of human intervention.

“There was no integration between business and resource planning systems and the systems that drive the manufacturing process on the shop floor,” Kevin said.

“Without achieving that integration first, there is no way of being able to move towards the level of automation desired.”

mQ Intelligence likes to call this integration a ‘Factory Intelligence Hub’, a network of interconnected data streams that source data from all points of the manufacturing pipeline and then feed this onto a dashboard, connecting multiple systems and harmonising data flows.

Plant operators then have a visual to see how their factory is performing in real time, while providing the necessary scaffolding on which to develop automation – where machines are given explicit instructions by the data network, or Factory Intelligence Hub, of what to do and when, thereby removing a lot of the need for human involvement.

What does ‘smart’ look like at the dairy manufacturing plant?

 Operators in the plant were allocated a touchscreen interface to view their production orders, giving them real time control of what order was running and how many units were coming down the line.

Information is now passed onto the next station of the assembly line, such as palletising and labelling, allowing for details at each stage to be captured and cross-checked continuously.

Data is then fed back into ERP, with each batch having its own data profile.

“Factory managers now have real time view and control of materials management, production management and inventory management, all automated through the system,” Kevin said.

 With automation completed on the factory floor, phase two of the project moved into the warehouse, which saw manual forklift operations replaced by an automated forklift service.

With the intelligence platform delivered by mQ’s expert team, the automated forklifts are now able to stack pallets into a new, gravity-fed multi-lane racking system.

“The data they now have at their fingertips means meticulous and comprehensive record keeping, which translates into superior stock control,” Kevin said.

When mQ Intelligence works with customers, it employs a framework known as the Six Pillars of Manufacturing Excellence, which constructs the essential foundations for building strong, resilient businesses, particularly in the food manufacturing sector.

Kevin said that when measured against the six pillars, the dairy plant was rated very highly on his ‘smart factory’ scorecard.

“If one is the lowest, where factories are manually intensive with paper-based procedures and low-tech systems, and ten is the highest, where factories are running at a smart, hi-tech, extremely sophisticated level, then this dairy site would be sitting at nine,” he said.

The third phase of the project, which is yet to go live, but which is set-up from a software perspective, will be deploying automated guided vehicles to take product from cold storage pallet racking and load these onto trucks.

“At that point, the dairy site will be close to a perfect ten, a fully automated smart factory, making it one of the most advanced dairy production facilities in the world,” Kevin said.

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