Engineering Tomorrow, Today: How Automation Addresses “The Four M's” of Manufacturing

  • Celestica  |
  • 2019-08-16

More manufacturers worldwide are implementing automation technologies to eliminate error-prone manual processes and reduce instances of interrupts that waste time and cost money. In part one of this series on automation, we examined how Celestica works with our customers in highly regulated industries to determine how automation technologies may fit into their operations. After we make that determination and present our recommendations, the next steps are to focus on “The 4 M’s”: mental muscle, materials, machines, and measurement. 

1: Mental Muscle 

Manufacturing processes and machinery are growing increasingly complex due to the integration of technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and the Internet of Things. But the global pool of people with the “mental muscle” - the background in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) - who can address these complexities and minimize interrupts is not growing fast enough to keep pace with demand. 

According to Deloitte, “while some predicted that these new technologies would eliminate jobs, we have found the reverse—more jobs are actually being created. (Our research shows) a widening gap between the jobs that need to be filled and the skilled talent pool capable of filling them.”[1]

Factory automation can ensure that any fluctuations in a manufacturer’s labor force does not adversely affect its ability to produce quality products and deliver them on time.

2: Materials

Materials must meet requirements around quality, quantities and durability. If there are defects, it doesn’t matter how well the machines are working. Defects create delays. The sooner errors are identified, the easier and less costly they are to remedy, or even avoid. 

Automation technologies can be trained to examine any number of factors such as dimensions, weight and color, as well as inspect for defects, warpage or any other factors that cause interrupts. Automation can also “teach” machines to conduct checks along the entire supply chain to better manage incoming materials without the need for human intervention. Additionally, this generates data the manufacturer can analyze and use to prevent that waste from occurring in the first place. 

Celestica’s expertise enables us to further drive improvements by eliminating the need to turn to indirects (e.g., supply chain engineers, process engineers) to determine the cause of a problem. We create a very narrow channel that materials must go through to ensure defective products don't pass through it.

3: Machines

All materials may meet all incoming standards, but if a machine goes down, the operation suffers delays. That’s why our recommendations for deploying automation technologies often address improving preventive maintenance capabilities. Anticipating wear and tear, and enabling machines to self-diagnose their current status saves time and money because the manufacturer becomes better able to address potential issues before they occur instead of reacting to them after they’ve already disrupted operations.  

4: Measure

“Measure twice and cut once.” It’s an old adage for craftspeople like carpenters and tailors that also applies to manufacturing. We work with our customers to assess the risk of all the operations required to make a product by asking two key questions:

  1. What could go wrong?
  2. What are the costs of specific scenarios (e.g., downtime, necessary resources, impact on customers)?

If we determine the risk is high, we have likely identified areas where automation can help. And we understand the benefits of deploying automation technologies to anticipate and prevent issues before they arise first-hand. For example, one of our factories that began operating in 2012 has made over 70 million units without a single return from the field. 

“There are 72 assembly steps, and we know everything that can go wrong,” adds Dr. Kevin Dempsey, Celestica’s Director of Global Automation. “We have implemented automated processes to conduct weight checks, leak tests, visual inspections, go/no go gauges, and alert us if replacement parts are unavailable. They all combine to provide the answer to one question: ‘Did we do a good job producing this product?’ If the answer is ‘no,’ the machine automatically throws it into a reject bin.”

Now that we’ve covered the 4 M’s, it’s also important to also note that automation never trumps the importance of people power. The mindset of running an automated line is much different compared to running a manual operation, and that affects the hiring, training and oversight of employees as you build your Factory of the Future. We will examine that issue in the next part of this series on determining how automation fits into your manufacturing processes.

[1]  Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, “2018 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute skills gap and future of work study,” December 2018,