Make Manufacturing Intelligence Valuable with a Plan

Manufacturing intelligence (MI) projects are initiated to drive improvements in line performance, line availability, overall quality, waste reduction, inventory management, changeovers, reduced impact of recalls, etc. The overall goal is to improve manufacturing operations by turning data into actionable information that drives business results. The latest technology now provides unparalleled insight into manufacturing systems.

Many MI projects are deemed to be unsuccessful since they do not provide the lasting benefits that were anticipated. The technology part of the MI solution is proven to work during the acceptance phase, but what is often overlooked is the people readiness aspect. Without this, the benefits of the MI solution become a step function and not a continuous improvement tool that can be leveraged to its fullest extent.

What becomes obvious is that people and processes have a greater effect on an MI project than the technology. This reality prompts the question: What can manufacturers do to extract maximum value out of their manufacturing data and put performance in the hands of their people?

Formulate and implement a comprehensive people readiness plan. 

1) Clearly define the goals and objectives of all stakeholders.

  • What is the scope?
  • How does the company measure success for every level of an employee?
  • How do the employees reach these goals and within what time frame?
  • What changes are needed and what resources are necessary to train the employee?

2) Choose front-line champions for the MI project implementation on the plant floor.

  • Empower the employees to make decisions along the line
  • Establish Mentoring programs to transfer knowledge and training across the workforce
  • Implement formal instructor training programs for applying MI data to day-to-day operations

3) Support continual change across the organization

  • Provide educational resources to increase knowledge of workforce
  • Establish extensive communication programs
  • Align teams to expand the base of champions, Mentors, and experts
  • Demonstrate value of the MI project with recognition and reward

The knowledge gained in a Manufacturing Intelligence project lays the groundwork for a stronger, more sustainable workforce. By applying live, actionable data at the points of impact throughout the facility, the company extracts the most value out of the MI investment and becomes more flexible in competitive markets. Manufacturing Intelligence projects offer a great opportunity to put performance into the hands of your people for driving operational improvements.

Extracting Maximum Value out of Manufacturing Data

Information with no context is just data that is interesting, but not useful. Visualizing relevant information provides understanding – a basis to facilitate making wiser decisions. What if you could monitor and automatically adjust valuable resources such as utilities based on cost, availability, and consumption? Or, what if you could identify the specific input resources, including energy usage required for each unit of output, and understand the associated cost to produce?

Technological advances in automation technology over the past several decades have resulted in a tremendous amount of manufacturing data being available for consumption. A typical manufacturing system can easily contain hundreds of thousands of data points.

It is critical to developing a well-thought-out plan to leverage that data and essential to utilize it to deliver expected business results. The plan should focus on how to convert the data into useful information. But, who determines what information is useful?

This leads us to ask each manufacturer what information they require enabling better decision making. This approach focuses the effort on the users’ needs, not the seemingly endless data points available. A typical plan might consist of the following steps:

  1. Identify users and requirements for each user role.
  2. Identify how each user will use the requested data to improve operations.
  3. Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) relevant to manufacturing practices and business goals.
  4. Identify data sources (PLCs, HMIs, Historians, ERP, CRM, WMS, LIM, etc.) to access.
  5. Identify data presentation interfaces such as dashboards, Web pages, HMIs and smartphones, and tablets that best suit each user.
  6. Select the most appropriate software solution(s) to collect, integrate, report and present the information.
  7. Identify gaps in infrastructure and technology for achieving project goals.
  8. Identify and execute pilots to test any areas of concern and provide users with a test drive.
  9. Roll out across all manufacturing systems and sites.

Manufacturing Intelligence is a valuable tool for driving operational improvements. Understanding best practices, avoiding status-quo pitfalls, obtaining alignment from all stakeholders early in the project, and committing to a disciplined plan for executing these projects will help ensure success and deliver the promised results to the business. Only when we effectively answer the question, “What’s In It For Them” (WIIFT) and better understand how Manufacturing Intelligence can facilitate data-driven decisions, can it then become a mission-critical tool for business?

Creating a Roadmap for Effective Manufacturing Intelligence

Many manufacturing companies have stalled on the manufacturing intelligence front because of the overwhelming data points and the complex approaches to technology solutions that they believe they must have before addressing the day-to-day issues. But, how do you get the right information to the right person at the right time?

Create a roadmap! A roadmap establishes short-term and long-term objectives. It helps you define and plan for success in each phase. A roadmap helps ensures best practices are implemented. And, it helps you avoid the pitfalls and address the challenges associated with data overload, untimely data, lack of user-based data, lack of context-based data, and inaccurate data.

The key focus for the plan needs to be how to convert the data into useful manufacturing intelligence. But who determines what information is useful? This, in turn, leads us to ask each user what information they require that will enable them to make better decisions. This approach focuses the effort on the users’ needs, not the endless data points available.

The roadmap to effective use of manufacturing data usually looks something like this:

  1. Identify Users and the requirements for each user role: How each user will use the requested data to improve operations?
  2. Document the requirements: Ensure alignment. Obtain sign off. Know what success means to the stakeholders.
  3. Assess gaps: Identify data sources (PLCs, HMIs, Historians, ERP, CRM, WMS, LIM, etc.) that need to be accessed.
  4. Develop detailed design and application from the information garnered in Steps 1-3: Develop the Functional Specification for detailed design. How will the data be delivered to the user
  5. Execute pilots to test any areas of concern and provide users with a test drive
  6. Rollout across all manufacturing sites

You can start leveraging the data you already have available to begin to make a positive impact on your business without initiating a large global effort. The right data is most likely already available – you just need to turn it into Actionable Information. Start at the plant level, show value to the business and then expand and multiply the value achieved.