It’s no secret that plastics manufacturers face major challenges these days, including labour shortages, rapid inflation, and rising raw material prices. And since none of them are going away anytime soon, they can’t be relegated to the backburner – so, you’re going to have to deal with them if you plan on remaining profitable in business. One way is to digitalize your shop floor, with benefits that include better operational efficiencies, increased throughput, and decreased downtime. These digital systems do something that more traditional annual reviews – which tend to be too focused on the past and not on forward-looking needs – can’t do: provide actionable real-time information.
But knowing what digital factory software solution to choose can be a challenge when there are so many and it seems like they all do the same thing, which they don’t. For Canadian processors looking for a digital factory software solution that gives them all the data they need – and more importantly, tells them what to do with it – one provider is closer, geographically, than you probably think. Worximity Technologies Inc. is a Montreal-based technology company that has developed continuous improvement (CI) algorithm and digital technologies that measure performance based on automatic data collection, real-time operations monitoring, automated analytical reports, and preventive and predictive advice using machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify, quantify, and prioritize opportunities, providing accurate metrics that take the guesswork out decision-making.
The firm has a proven track record of success – clients include major players in the manufacturing industry across North America and Europe – and has recently closed a new $14 million-dollar financing round from Investissement Québec, Fonds de solidarité FTQ, and its strategic investor Marel.
Worximity was founded ten years ago by manufacturing engineer Yannick Desmarais, who cut his teeth in process improvement by developing a CI program for a Montreal-area meat processing plant where he worked as operations manager. He wanted to enhance the firm’s productivity and profitability, but prioritizing CI projects required validation drawn from hard and reliable numbers, which was sorely lacking. “I talked with everyone, from shop floor workers to supervisors and maintenance, but no one could provide adequate information,” Desmarais said. “Everyone had a different opinion as to what our goals were, why production had slipped, or why objectives weren’t being met.” So, he developed and launched his own data-gathering system that allowed workers to see, in real time, where they stood in relation to production goals – and in less than a month, yield and productivity had increased dramatically. And when expanded and implemented across multiple lines in the company’s two factories, the system quickly boosted the firm’s profitability from break-even to a six per cent growth. That experience opened Desmarais’ eyes to the possibilities beyond meat processing, so he created Worximity in 2012 to deliver similar results to manufacturers of all types and sizes. “The key to process improvement is gathering actionable information,” Desmarais said. “I knew that to be successful we had to put real-time data into the hands of the workers on the floor, allowing them to respond quickly to changing conditions. Without that hard data, progress is often incremental at best.”
In its early days, Worximity was actually a bit ahead of the curve for North America. “Industry 4.0 was taking effect in Europe but hadn’t really arrived here yet,” Desmarais said. “This was the age of the tablet, and potential customers weren’t comfortable bringing them onto their shops floors.” But the company hung in there, continuing to assemble its team and develop its technology, and by about 2015 the manufacturing sector was ready. “Industry 4.0 was catching on and we ran some successful pilot projects with early adopters in the food and beverage and plastics sectors,” Desmarais said. “Having evolved from a shop floor software provider, we now offer a total CI performance management software solution that lets the customer gather, quantify, and prioritize data. We’re very focused on improving profitability and gaining capacity for our customers, which are their two main concerns.”
CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT IS KEY
As the name suggests, continuous improvement is an ongoing effort to improve products, processes, or services by reducing waste and increasing quality. “CI efforts drive a competitive advantage for manufacturers that get it right, but consistency isn’t easy to achieve – many factories have had some negative experience with CI, especially by ineffective CI programs that only really result in surface fixes such as cleaning up work areas or taping up whiteboards,” Desmarais said. “What’s important to realize, however, is that CI isn’t just a ‘program,’ it should be part of factory culture. Introducing CI as a program can immediately set the expectation that it has a start and end date, when what everyone needs to do is to constantly improve the way they do business going forward.”
To that end, Worximity has to get to know a business before it can design a solution. “Our best instalment practice process for a new customer is to connect one or two pieces of their equipment with our smart sensor for one or two weeks to gather data, and we also walk the plant with the customer so we can map their entire process,” Desmarais said. “At the end of two weeks, we can recommend the best solution for their needs based on their own data, not ours; after that, we discuss budget and timeline of deployment.” And for potential customers that already have a CI team in place or are already using a consultant, so much the better. “We can send them our smart sensor and they deploy it by themselves – it’s very simple,” Desmarais said. “A typical process takes six weeks from the first call to a full deployment, and we remain involved after installation. We have a team of operational excellence specialists with manufacturing shop floor experience who are dedicated to working with the customer after installation to keep improving profitability; they’re basically the customer’s in-house advocate.” Customers’ productivity gains increase by an average of between 20 to 30 per cent in just a few months, Desmarais continued, allowing the manufacturer to do more with the same number of employees, without using additional energy and equipment.
Worximity currently offers three main Industry 4.0 technologies under its performance management software. “The process starts with our TileConnect smart sensors, which are connected to a manufacturing line and automatically start collecting production data in real time,” Desmarais said. “Our Tile+ solution, which is connected to TileConnect, makes this data available, also in real time, via custom dashboards, allowing the customer’s team to respond to operational issues and increase production efficiency – data is securely stored on the cloud can be accessed from any location and across devices, so you can respond to issues remotely. And Tiletyics analyzes production patterns to assist with prioritizing tasks that drive performance, cut costs, and improve efficiencies.”
Worximity has helped improve the performance of more than 2,500 projects in North America, Desmarais said, and between five and 10 per cent of its customers are in plastics, from packaging to tubing, in both Canada and the U.S. “The plastics industry was in our sights from the beginning, and we can reduce downtime caused by either human factors or processing equipment by gathering information from the machine and the operators, reduce rejects, and track raw material yield in instances when you’re using more material to produce an order than is specified,” Desmarais said. “We’ve worked with many larger companies, but our real sweet spot is with the mid-size manufacturers; their cycle times are shorter and they have a smaller number of decision makers that have to sign off on the project. We bring profit to these companies very quickly. And if they already have an ERP management software system in place, we can build on that – we never need to scrap the system entirely.”
The recent $14-million investment will support Worximity’s growth, Desmarais said, as well as fund research and development to keep improving its technology. “We’ve worked with a number of universities in Montreal over the years on product development, as well as with the National Research Council of Canada, and we plan to continue doing so,” he said. “We have a total of 43 workers, and we’re also looking to add a few more.”
In the end, Desmarais believes Worximity’s solutions are an antidote for what ails many plastics processors nowadays. “Manufacturers are currently caught between unprecedented cost increases, staff shortage headaches to support orders, and retailers who refuse to accept any price increase,” he said. “With our technologies, they can produce more with the same equipment and the same staff.”