There’s a long-standing manufacturing adage that says “You can’t manage want you can’t measure” quoted (incorrectly, it turns out) from Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Nevertheless, management theory and common sense tell us that measurements, indicators, feedback, and other forms of visibility are essential tools for managing or controlling anything. Visibility tells us what needs to be directed or changed, and visibility tells us the results of those decisions and management actions so we can see if the situation has improved.
A corollary to the general value of visibility would lead one to assume that the more visibility (data) the better. And that’s generally true… and certainly true in the plant. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) brings a proliferation of sensors and smart devices, all connected to the plant network and the Internet, that can monitor and measure virtually anything and everything that is happening in the plant, in real-time, and to a level of detail we could not even imagine just a few years ago. Managers and systems can use this data to more closely control processes and schedules, respond to emerging situations and changes quickly, increase output and reduce costs.
As systems and networks get smarter and more data becomes available, there’s a danger of reaching the point of diminishing returns. Information overload has been a growing problem, not only in the plant but throughout our daily lives. Additional data provides real actionable information only to the extent that it can be used and exploited. More data beyond that limit only serves to hide the useful data and make the whole less valuable than the sum of its parts.
With the rapid proliferation of connected devices and Big Data, managers, executives and systems are struggling to separate the significant data (the signal) from the masses of potentially useful data that simply don’t add anything useful (the noise). Fortunately, data management and analytics technology are also rapidly evolving to meet the need. And much of this technology is being developed in the social media community where they have been dealing with the Big Data issue for longer and at a higher level of intensity than we have been in manufacturing.
Enterprise systems (ERP), plant-level systems (MES), and outward facing applications (CRM, supply chain) are beginning to incorporate the evolving wave of data sources to provide unprecedented visibility both inside the plant and throughout the supply chain. This increased visibility allows managers and executives to “see” changes in demand, process issues, schedule variations and other challenges earlier than ever, allowing quick and precise corrective actions that avoid defects, shortages, excess inventory, unnecessary production, and a universe of challenges that manufacturers face every day. As a result, companies can reduce costs, improve availability (customer service), and meet changing demands better, faster, and at reduced cost. And who wouldn’t want to do all that?
IIoT and advanced systems continue to drive manufacturing to be more responsive and more competitive across the globe. Manufacturing and distribution are far more globally competitive today than ever before thanks to these technological advancements. That puts more pressure on companies that are not exploiting IIoT, Big Data and analytics, making it increasingly harder for them to compete. Companies at the leading edge of adoption are driving down costs and gaining market share at their expense.