Silent Machine Blog

The Age-Old Problem of the Silent Machine is Now Solvable

The picture above is indicative of a chronic problem many manufacturers face – the poor utilization of their capital equipment, specifically their machines used in the manufacturing process. Assuming this picture was not taken during a break period, this a more typical example than you may think.  In working with our manufacturing clients, we discovered that many of their utilization problems had little to do with machine or tooling breakdowns, but were caused by a wide variety of scheduling and people issues. Ironically these shops were utilizing leading manufacturing execution systems (MES), also known as shop floor control systems. Most all of these shops also utilize programmable logic controllers (PLCs), an industrial digital computer which has been ruggedized and adapted for the control of manufacturing processes— assembly lines, robotic devices, or any activity that requires high-reliability control and ease of programming and process fault diagnosis.1

This issue can be simply understood as the Silent Machine Problem, and we do mean to imply that this is a machine running quietly. It is a machine that is idle when it should be running during a working shift. Just how old is the problem? The following is an excerpt from The Engineering Magazine:

“The machine is the pivotal point at which earnings take place. Earnings do not take place when the tool is not cutting. The “capacity to produce” of each machine is costing money whether the machine is cutting or idle. The nearer we can approach to continuous cutting, during working hours, the higher will be the earning power. The actual cutting time of machines should not only be recorded but made the basis of a first line of control. The life-history of each machine should be carefully recorded and frequently scrutinized.”2

This was published in 1915 and is remarkable for its call for continuous monitoring and analytics as a means to address the root causes behind the Silent Machine.  In those days that meant a supervisor or industrial engineer armed with a clipboard and stopwatch.  The introduction of  MES and PLC systems has improved scheduling and controls, but has not solved the Silent Machine Problem  for even the most automated CNC vertical and horizontal mills, press brakes, lathes, etc..  Even in higher volume manufacturing, operations utilization issues persist.  

The solution lies in digitizing the industrial engineer and department supervisor with a system of smart cameras using A.I., deep learning, and computer vision. Only with computer vision is it possible to watch all the action, all the time. Supervisors can now see how operators interact with their machines and the materials that they are processing. MES systems can help drive work to a particular workstation and PLCs can measure machine outputs, but neither can provide actionable data in real-time to address bottlenecks, delays, staffing and scheduling issues. 

Atollogy’s computer vision system of smart cameras are helping our manufacturing customers to:

  • Digitize the manual operational log
    • Systematic ability to capture the operational state of the system
  • Improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)
    • Detailed identification of “non-productive” time (idle, setup, down,…)
  • Measure and improve “machine cycles” when running
  • Perform operational staffing analysis and optimization (machine running, machine ”other”)
    • Operator activity management (primarily with tending solutions) (Dashboard initiated)
    • Staffing level analysis
  • Support production headcount optimization
    • Measure time to respond to an issue – evaluate staffing levels based on response time
    • Measure “fix” time – evaluate skill levels of support staff to resolve issues
  • Optimize asset investments with utilization analysis

Customers are deploying Atollogy’s solution in two ways;

  1. Work Center Monitoring: The solution remains in place performing continuous monitoring and analytics to improve operations and digitize operational metrics
  1. Deploy / Improve / Move:  The solution acts as your digital engineer to evaluate a bottleneck, improve the process, and then move on to the next bottleneck 

With either of these approaches or in combination, it is now possible to address and fundamentally improve machine utilization issues that have confounded manufacturers for over a century. As the authors wrote so eloquently in 1915; “The machine is the pivotal point at which earnings take place. Earnings do not take place when the tool is not cutting.”   

Anthony Tarantino, PhD

Adjunct Professor, Santa Clara University – Operations, Finance, Lean Six Sigma

Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Certified Scrum Master, CPIM (APICS), CPM (ISM)

Senior Advisor to Atollogy,


  2. THE ENGINEERING MAGAZINE February 1915, page 676