Industry leaders are constantly talking about how manufacturers strive for greater speed and scale on the factory floor while sustaining product quality throughout all operations. What’s less common to hear is the speed at which customers and competitors are closing in on the benefits to be gained with real-time data reporting.
Industry 4.0 boasts automation, business information and manufacturing systems that have now digitized the industry. As a result of such connectedness, data is now the single most important asset for manufacturing organizations—but only if it can be turned into actionable insight, fast. Only then can there be significant improvements.
Real-time data is now well-documented in its ability to drive incremental growth in areas such as:
- Product quality—using real-time data for statistical process control (SPC)
- Productivity—particularly when you’re getting greater accuracy in your scheduling
- Equipment life—using the immediate data to accurately predict maintenance and repairs
- Compliance and traceability—by capturing real-time KPI data from programmable logic controller (PLC) and machine-to-machine (M2M) interfaces
The gigantic pile of data that the manufacturing industry collects, however, provides a significant challenge. Many organizations gather and house this data with no way of mining it for actionable insight, while others worry about the potential downtime and disruption that a large, real-time data upgrade would mean.
While real-time data is at the top of the wish list for many manufacturing chief information officers (CIOs), is the disruption really worth the investment, risk and downtime?
Real-time vs. historical data
The emergent availability of real-time data via modern, connected dashboards supports fast decision-making in the manufacturing environment. Whether an organization needs a quick read on its inventory to avoid running out of products on the shelf or requires an on-the-spot availability answer for a customer service query, real-time dashboards provide dynamic, trustworthy insight into the now.
Given its ability to equip manufacturing lines with agility, a lack of real-time data will delay your identification of performance lags across product line operations. Not being able to course-correct at the exact time of a performance issue simply means losing time and money—until a historical report can show you the trend and you can act on it.
Similar delays would be expected in situations where traceability and compliance issues arise, when no available-to-promise or capable-to-promise capability would prevent the loss of a customer sale, or when you’re slow to see a critical equipment failure or maintenance requirement until it is too late and it costs twice as much to fix.
Real-time data provides the ability to turn on a dime in response to market, product and/or manufacturing opportunities. However, changes in operations that will take advantage of the insight should be planned prior to implementing a data upgrade.
For example, changing equipment maintenance to a preventive, needs-based process as opposed to scheduled maintenance will help factories quickly capitalize on equipment performance data. Similarly, flexible and adaptable scheduling and changeovers and easily configurable layouts will help an organization respond to the insights quickly.
Is the cost of real-time data just too much?
The process of moving toward a connected, real-time responsive manufacturing facility that can share and mine data for agility can be daunting. There are significant process and governance requirements to consider, as well as the people who work in the environment. This makes optimizing an entire site a disruptive and risky move, despite having a high impact on site performance.
For these manufacturers, it might be more beneficial to look at investments that can be made on specific opportunities, such as a single piece of machinery, an inventory, or a process. This way, engineers can test a change in a more manageable environment and—once wins are identified—lessons learned can be applied and extended to other product lines or assets. Small successes can also help to support the people-change component, as managers can put change-experienced talent to work on advocating for more change.
In summary, it is clear that real-time data gathered from an automated, connected factory can help businesses capitalize on improvements. While the short-term effort can be significant, a solution that creates the long-term ability to be agile and responsive to immediate opportunities could determine the survival of your manufacturing business. Find out how it could work for you.
Gareth Williams is a principal at Nukon, a Sage Group brand. Sage is a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Sage, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.