Powering supply chain performance and smart manufacturing with data

Posted on 12 Dec 2023 by Lanna Deamer

At a recent Directors' Forum hosted by The Manufacturer, in partnership with Snowflake, leading figures in UK manufacturing met to discuss how companies are powering supply chain performance and smart manufacturing with data collaboration and edge-driven advanced analytics in the cloud.

Tim Long, Global Head of Manufacturing at Snowflake

Here, we sit down with Tim Long, Global Head of Manufacturing at Snowflake, to delve into some of the key themes that emerged during the insightful discussions of the evening.

Many manufacturers are struggling with supply chain visibility. How can a clear data strategy help and how can manufacturers achieve it?

TL: Improved supply chain performance relies on enhanced visibility into internal operations as well as upstream and downstream processes. A well-defined data strategy is crucial for manufacturers, guiding them in integrating data, often starting with consolidating ERP data.

Many manufacturers, including our customers at Snowflake, face challenges due to internally siloed data sources resulting from acquisitions. This hinders their ability to gain enterprise-wide insights, such as overall inventory levels, supplier information and expenditure details.

Establishing an integrated data foundation through a robust data strategy is essential for overcoming these challenges. Once internal data is organised, manufacturers can extend visibility throughout the supply chain by engaging in data collaboration with third parties. Sharing key data with suppliers, customers, subcontractors or shipping partners enables real-time insights into risks and opportunities within the supply chain, and optimises supply chain performance.

Manufacturers are starting with Industry 4.0 initiatives; however, many struggle to roll out these programmes at scale. What advice would you give to accelerate these initiatives?

The concept of Industry 4.0 and AI-guided manufacturing is captivating for many manufacturers but can be overwhelming. To navigate this, manufacturers should prioritise achievable business benefits, starting with a small, impactful step to creates wins for their organisation. Identify a business opportunity, make a modest investment, and leverage the value gained to invest in the next step of the journey and foster continuous growth.

As the business embraces these changes, there will be increased support and resources for building Industry 4.0 solutions in the future.

How can manufacturers eliminate data silos?

Unfortunately, the manufacturing industry often deals with outdated legacy equipment and software, preserved for factory resilience and performance. The challenge lies in capturing and standardising data from these systems. An effective data strategy involves standardising the operational technology (OT) layer in manufacturing with compatible software and automation systems.

If this isn’t feasible, seeking partnerships with the capability to introduce connectors or connectivity into the OT network is essential. Start by bringing in data that is likely most relevant to your most critical challenges or opportunities. This phased approach facilitates the integration of valuable data in a meaningful way.

Manufacturers are generating a lot of data, but how can they extract real value from this data?

Starting small is key. Manufacturers can tap into the wisdom and experience of experts in engineering and manufacturing processes to identify relevant data associated with specific processes. Rather than trying to encompass all data at once, focus on a targeted approach to understand how this data can drive certain outcomes or optimizations.

Building a predictive model, for instance, doesn’t require boiling the ocean; it involves starting with what is believed to be the most pertinent data. Over time, additional layers of data and insights can be incorporated to enhance the quality and performance of the predictive model, gradually adding value and refining the solution.

How can manufacturers best collaborate when they are in different phases of their data and digitalisation journeys?

The maturity of analytics initiatives in manufacturing varies across sub-verticals. High-tech sectors like semiconductor manufacturing, which heavily invest in extreme automation and process control, deal with extensive, rich datasets. For them, the challenge lies in consolidating this data. Their advanced supply chains enable effective collaboration.

In contrast, industries with lower volume or higher product mix may lack extensive automation and data. In the context of Industry 4.0, the progression involves not just additional automation but also leveraging data generated from these automation investments.

Manufacturers should prioritise finding common business benefits when engaging in data collaboration within the supply chain. This mutual benefit is crucial for establishing a meaningful and reciprocal relationship between data providers and consumers, paving the way for effective data sharing across organisations.

How do you see the current integration/collaboration between OT and IT?

Traditionally, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) have been intentionally kept separate, with LTE networks safeguarded against cyber security threats and changes that could impact factory production uptime. Recent advancements are pushing towards cloud integration, creating a noticeable gap between IT and OT.

However, emerging manufacturing organisations are now working to integrate data across IP networks into a centralised data lake or data lake house. This environment allows for smarter data management. In smart manufacturing, the CEO plays a crucial role in bridging the gap between IT and OT. Taking a leadership stance, the CEO facilitates the convergence of insights, enabling manufacturers to accelerate progress in this regard.

What were your key takeaways from the Directors’ Forum dinner?

The key takeaways revolved around a shared solidarity among participants, all facing similar starting positions and challenges as they transition into the next phase. Notably, there were acknowledged fears, but valuable insights were exchanged.

Another significant observation was the collective emphasis on moving forward thoughtfully with a focus on data governance and security. The group recognised the importance of responsible data practices as they embarked on this journey.

Lastly,  people play a crucial role in the transformative processes of eliminating data silos and leveraging data in new ways. Acknowledging the significance of change management practices and involving individuals in the development of solutions were highlighted as key elements in gaining buy-in, cooperation and support for the transformative changes in manufacturing. Ultimately, the consensus was that the journey is centred around people.

Tell us about your experience at Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit?

This conference ranks among the best manufacturing events I’ve attended. The keynote presentations were phenomenal and provided insightful takeaways, prompting me to capture numerous notes that I’ll leverage in my role moving forward.

The roundtable discussions were equally compelling, offering a platform to learn from peers, share experiences, discuss challenges and exchange successful strategies from diverse organisations.

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