Most lead-acid battery manufacturers are locked into a 'production mindset'.
The focus is on keeping the lines running at full speed, hitting quotas, and delivering quality products.
But a singular focus on production makes it easy to miss opportunities to leverage new technology. And using new equipment and technologies to improve performance is necessary to keep up with the competition.
One of the problems is it's hard to figure out the best way to integrate new technology into existing processes. Should manufacturing managers focus on big changes or incremental ones?
I've found the SAMR Model useful in framing the steps involved in technology integration. It breaks up the concept of new technology into 4 levels, making it easier to develop a clear roadmap for the adoption of new equipment.
SAMR was originally developed to help teachers bring technology to the classroom, but it’s clearly useful for industrial applications too.
In SAMR, technologies are divided into two stages: enhancement and transformation. The first includes substitution and augmentation.
The SAMR Model
Substitution is like replacing calipers with a highly accurate near-process laser gauge. You still have to manually remove and place the plates on the gauge, but you get more accurate readings.
Augmentation is like adding an in-line laser gauge to your lines. You get the accuracy of a near-process gauge but the functional improvement of being able to take readings from every single plate that passes through your line.
It’s important to note that you can realize meaningful benefits in this first stage, without fundamentally altering the way you do things.
In the next stage (transformation) we have modification and redefinition.
Modification happens when you add automatic paste control to your lines. This creates a closed-loop control mechanism that outputs plates with consistent thickness and drastically reduces the production of scrap material from imperfect plates that would be rejected down the line.
Finally, imagine if tied to your closed-loop control system you had automatic control software to track and oversee the entire process. This would give you intimate data about your production process that you could use to streamline your operation.
But most importantly, you could use this information to redefine your process – to do something that’s never been possible: go back to the drawing board and design batteries with thinner plates, tighter tolerances, and superior performance.
At the end of the process, you have a whole new set of capabilities. But this didn’t happen overnight. You can get there by starting small (with a near-process laser gauge, for example) and working toward redefining your process without affecting your current operations.
P.S. We’re working on a new near-process design, which we’ll be showcasing at the upcoming ABC Conference in Malaysia. Contact me now if you'd like to review and have input on the design – or receive a quote..