Increased data visibility is one of the reasons manufacturers are migrating toward the Industrial Internet of Things or IIoT. Unfortunately, the move isn't always implemented to its fullest potential.
There may be several reasons companies don't get a bigger return on investment for their foray into IIoT and digital data acquisition. Some of it may be the tendency for upper management to fall back on the familiarity of handling and being able to mark up paper., which has a bit of a calming effect on already-worried minds and can offer a sense of control and security.
Unfortunately, by the time the data is physically in their hands, it’s already “old news” as far as production statistics are concerned. And when a business's decision-making process is based on old data, the outcome is far from effective or efficient. Relying on out-of-date statistics can lead to a loss of efficiency and, ultimately, a loss of profits.
A fine wine may improve with age. Data, not so much. The further data is from the point of collection, timewise, the more it stagnates, becoming useless for forming quality decisions.
Increased data visibility, particularly real-time acquisition, has increasingly been the only way to make decisions and policies that impact a company's profitability in the right direction. If you don't know what you don't know, it's impossible to make the right decisions and stay on the right path—or even find it.
The Pressure to Use Data Visibility to Reduce Operating Costs Is Increasing
As mentioned above, the need to use the most current data for decision-making is crucial for success. You can't rely on last week's or, in many cases, even yesterday's information to make relevant decisions for today's production direction.
Using manually collected, paper-based information is a leading cause of bad or ineffective choices. Kevin Corne, a global services director at Lexmark UK & Ireland, explained the concept in an article for The Manufacturer. He stated:
Relying on manual input to bring data into a business is time consuming and error prone. Manual document handling, storage, copying and routing admin, all create small inefficiencies that quickly add up.
This creates a gap between the people within the business and critical information … It’s nearly impossible for a manufacturer to get a full picture of its operations if it lacks real-time visibility of information. With control over information, a manufacturer can respond to change on either side of the supply chain and solve problems quickly and effectively.
Increased visibility affects all aspects of the manufacturing process, including supply chain management. But on the shop floor, real-time data is the only way to take full advantage of IIoT and Industry 4.0 practices and make accurate decisions behind the boardroom door.
Consider the difference between these two scenarios:
- Upper management gathers around the table to view a slide presentation concerning the production data for the past week.
- Upper management views collected data in real time on an active screen, tablet, or smartphone and makes decisions based on that information. Additionally, employees take that same data and make continuous improvements to the process.
Which setting do you think will generate the best decisions for plant operation?
The Process Starts with an Intelligent Data Capture System
In order to use data effectively, you need to harvest it first. Although it can be done manually, we refer back to our wine analogy. A fine wine improves with age; old data becomes irrelevant and even useless.
Not only does data need to be collected, but it needs to be disseminated to the appropriate personnel for analysis. In Mr. Corne's words, “A distributed intelligent capture solution is the starting point for greater productivity in logistics workflow. It enables production companies to eliminate manual steps and errors, as information is captured digitally at the beginning of every process.”
Corne further emphasizes the advantages of cloud-based data collection:
This reduces the need for manual data entry, providing a fast, efficient way to capture the information needed to transform costly, error-prone business processes into streamlined, revenue-generating and value-added operations. By harnessing advanced features like intelligent data extraction, context sharing and collaborative storage, an organisation can rapidly process even the most complex documents.
With the right sensors, data can be collected in real time at critical steps in the manufacturing process. When manufacturers use software-based recording and analysis, the information gleaned can be evaluated and acted on much faster and more efficiently.
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of increasing data visibility in the manufacturing process is the potential to enhance collaboration in every aspect of the process.
Increased Data Visibility Promotes a Team Effort Across the Board
Many executives turn to IIoT technology primarily to gather and analyze data for C-level decision-making. This is an excellent use case, but it is important to know that IIoT tech empowers not just the C-suite but everyone, including the machine operator.
When data is viewed on the shop floor, it can be acted on immediately. Tweaks and adjustments are made on the fly, increasing productivity and efficiency. This is possibly the truest form of continuous improvement possible. Its value reaches all the nooks and crannies of the production process.
From the predictive maintenance viewpoint, this means that potential machine failures can be pinpointed ahead of time. Maintenance can be arranged for scheduled downtime, including ensuring the necessary parts are available for the repairs.
Additionally, the increased data visibility allows shop managers to prepare for imminent machine failures, shifting the bulk of the processing to another line if necessary. Keeping the product flow running helps reduce unnecessary labor costs created by idle workers waiting around for repairs to be finished.
Real-time data visibility has another benefit: removing speculation and conjecture.
Increased Real-Time Data Visibility Eliminates Guesswork
One of the advantages of IIoT-connected machines is the potential to remove guesswork from the processing equation.
An operator or shop manager might think a machine or process is running properly. But with IIoT data collection and analysis, they'll know if it is working at optimal capacity. It's also easier to make the right corrections and adjustments that will increase machine or process productivity.
Additionally, because of the data's increased visibility, the operator or manager would know instantly if the corrections made were effective. If not, alternate steps can be taken or implemented. Improvements on the fly become reality.
Many companies use IIoT technology in an effort to implement continuous improvement and lean manufacturing. Indeed, for a manufacturing facility to move into Industry 4.0 status, it's a necessity. However, to take full advantage of IIoT, the data collected must be readily—if not immediately—accessible in real time. This can be accomplished in various ways, but a combination of on-premises sensors and cloud-based data collection and analysis is the most cost-effective.
There is minimal disruption to the factory's throughput because extensive hardware installation isn't necessary. And everyone from the boardroom executive to the line operator will have quick access to the same data, free from the errors that are inevitable in manual data collection.
Increased data visibility also allows you to see the “hidden factory” that has been veiled for so long. You can see the physical factory, and even make decisions based on your observations. It's now possible to remove that veil and discover the inner workings of the processes with true productivity data, available on demand.
Unveiling the True Potential of Your Processes Requires a Plan
To fully implement and take advantage of increased data visibility, enhancing your IIoT technologies and firmly planting your foot in Industry 4.0 requires a comprehensive, step-by-step plan. Implementation itself is a process and should be carefully thought out.
To make the most of your digital transformation, you need to ask four questions:
- Who should manage the project?
- Where and when should I start?
- What should be measured and tracked?
- What return on your investment should you expect?
We've prepared a free IIoT Implementation Guide to walk you through those steps and help you take full advantage of the benefits provided by increased data visibility and analysis. Download your copy of the free guide here, and begin reaping the rewards of a true digital transformation.