Addressing info overload

Posted on 1 Jun 2010 by The Manufacturer

Since the first computers were introduced on the factory floor in the late 1960s, manufacturing automation has undergone an unrecognisable transformation says Stephen Slade, Senior Director, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Marketing at Oracle.

Today, automated processes create mountains of valuable data, but all too often, only a small percentage is ‘actionable’. With the amount of data being produced doubling every two years, this challenge is only compounded as manufacturers struggle to keep up with the onslaught of information being pushed into their organisation.

Information overload causes companies to incur significant costs as they store and collect reams of data needed to identify embedded trends, while at the same time producing manual reports to meet quality standards, regulatory requirements and general reporting goals. Increasing scrutiny towards new and tighter reporting requirements from such standards as FDA/CFR, GxP, ERES, Green House Gas (GHG), carbon footprints, lead content and safety standards, further escalates the need for firms to find new ways to process data.

To meet these challenges and unlock the value from the mountains of data being generated, firms of all sizes are resorting to analytical engines to contextualise data into ‘actionable information’. For example, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer implemented a policy shift in which business units were required to take more responsibility for factory costs and margin performance. In order to successfully implement this change, Pfizer needed to give its executives information to analyse production performance, identify trends and help capitalise on emerging opportunities.

To do this, Pfizer invested in new performance management software to assist managers with financial and cost analysis to help with critical margin decisions, like expanding production in growing markets, or cutting costs in others.

Weighing up the options
With the acknowledged overload of plant data from numerous points and enterprise systems, in conjunction with the increased demands to achieve reporting and statutory requirements, factories need to seriously address their data collection, audit trail and records retention processes. Ongoing excellence and continuous improvement programs such as 6-Sigma, all base their focus on root-cause and drill down analysis. With emphasis on cost and margins, factories need to understand every dollar spent in the supply chain, especially in today’s economy.

New analytics tools and technologies such as Business Intelligence (BI), Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence (EMI) and Manufacturing Operations Centers (MOC) are now being released into the market to bring traditional manufacturing operations into the modern-age. This allows for information to be consolidated, contextualised and ‘pushed-out’ into the supply chain to maximise new collaborative relationships with partners and suppliers.

Firms are faced with a myriad of often confusing offerings with new features and functions. Companies looking to invest in new analytics tools and technologies should consider the following criteria when making their evaluation:

• Role-based dashboards: Designed to deliver performance measures by responsibility. This means the line worker would see their unit production requirements for the lot or shift while plant managers would have expanded and consolidated views for a more plant-wide approach.
• Unified plant repository: Having a single source of truth upon which to make critical decisions is a paramount aspect manufacturing operations. New open and extensible data models allow for the capture of all the process variables at all stages of the supply hierarchy and expanded eco-system such as enterprise, plant, supply, equipment or device level.
• Bi-directional integration with devices and sensors: In order to have the best view of the factory floor, production and utility equipment needs to be integrated with the highest-level control systems to validate flow, quality and output. Having access to this high-resolution data directly from the source allows the modern factory to capture and process errors in real time as needed before a larger error occurs.
• Contextualisation converts raw data into useful business information. By applying context to time series data with additional out-of the box or standard rules to the data stream, plant personnel can better track the sate of product and their supply chain as it flows through the process. Taking remedial actions at the time of incident can save production lots from excessive rework for example as factories strive to meet product quality and delivery commitments.
• Robust integration infrastructure: Linkage with legacy shop floor applications and MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) is critical for the information to move from one application to another. Having a suitable toolkit or flexible integration platform lends for greater convenience when mapping code from one file to another.
• Embedded best practice workflows: These can also drive next steps and follow-on actions, such as if a certain quantity or lot were completed, as an alert to the next station. Supervisors have drill down capability to determine root-cause reviews for issues when they surface. These screens can also be fully configured and customised to meet the needs of specific plants or industries.

One example of a company taking advantage of new analytical tools and technologies is Foster’s Group Limited, a global multi-beverage company delivering a diverse portfolio of premium beer, wine, spirits, cider and non-alcoholic beverages. Foster’s Group was seeking to increase its global market share through strategic acquisitions and strong business performance. To successful achieve this, Foster’s required a system that would enhance its internal controls and deliver a more consistent reporting process. As a result of financial data quality management software, Foster’s created a system that enabled the it to minimise data integrity risks and standardise its reporting processes.

Manufacturers are looking for ways to optimise business processes to survive today’s uncertain times. Having the best tools on the factory floor can become a significant point of competitive differentiation by enhancing the probability of survival.

To achieve a higher-level image of not only the plant or the enterprise, but also the product movement through the supply chain at every step in the process, factories require more sophisticated analytical tools to gain a complete picture of their ecosystem. New intelligence software is being released into the market to allow firms to do just this and in the process, provide manufacturers with better control of their vital resources while enabling more informed decision making. As a result, manufacturers will benefit from real-time intelligence, unified plant repositories and integration of shop floor equipment and plant systems. In short, having the right technologies in place to manage this critical flow of data is no longer an option, but instead, it will increasingly become the key to success.