Is real-time reporting worth the real-time cost for your factory?


Industry leaders are constantly talking about the ways that manufacturing factories strive for greater speed and scale on the factory floor, while sustaining product quality throughout all operations.

But it’s less common to hear about the speed at which both customers and the competition are closing in on the benefits to be gained with real-time data reporting.

Industry 4.0 boasts automation, business information and manufacturing systems that have now digitised the industry. As a result of such connectedness, data is now the single most important asset for manufacturing organisations. But only if it can be turned into actionable insight - fast. Because only then, can there be significant improvements.

Real-time data is now well-documented to be able to drive incremental growth in areas such as:

  • Product quality - using real-time data for Statistical Process Control (SPC)

  • Productivity - particularly when you’re getting greater accuracy in your scheduling

  • Uptime

  • Equipment life - using the immediate data to accurately predict maintenance and repairs  

  • Compliance and traceability - by capturing real-time KPI data from PLC and M2M interfaces

The gigantuan pile of data that the manufacturing industry collects however, provides a significant challenge. Many organisations gather and house this data with no way of mining it for actionable insight, while others worry about the potential downtime and disruption that a large real-time data upgrade would mean.

So, while real-time data is at the top of many manufacturing CIOs’ wishlists, is the disruption really worth the investment, risk and downtime? Let’s take a closer look.

Real-time vs historical data

The emergent availability of real-time data via modern, connected dashboards supports fast decision-making in the manufacturing environment. Whether an organisation needs a quick read on its inventory to avoid running out of products on the shelf, or requires an on-the-spot availability answer for a customer service query, real-time dashboards provide dynamic, trustworthy insight into the ‘now’.

While long-term planning for product and market performance is still best done with benchmark historical data, there is no question that real-time data equips organisations to respond to opportunities and threats as they arise, thus improving productivity, efficiency and profitability. Unleashed states that this is particularly powerful for firms that manage inventories, and IQMS agrees, stating that 72% of manufacturers say real-time monitoring is essential for making inventory reconciliation efficient.

What can you miss without real-time data?

Given its ability to equip manufacturing lines with agility, a lack of real-time data will delay your identification of performance lags across product line operations. Not being able to course-correct at the exact time of a performance issue simply means losing time and money - until a historical report can show you the trend and you can act on it.

Similar delays would be expected in situations where traceability and compliance issues arise, when no Available-to-Promise or Capable-to-Promise capability would prevent the loss of a customer sale, or when you’re late to see a critical equipment failure or maintenance requirement until it is too late and it costs twice as much to fix.

If real-time data can have a preventative impact on downtime while having a positive impact on productivity, can CIOs afford not to have this in the works?

Short answer? No. Jon Stine, Intel’s global director of retail sales, was recently quoted in Supply Chain Dive. “The global retail industry is in the midst of what might be best understood as accelerated Darwinian natural selection. Supply chain innovation — with a focus upon the digitising of processes, the use of advanced analytics, and the need for speed — will be a key factor in determining whether a brand survives or thrives."

Real-time data provides the capability to turn on a dime in response to market, product and/or manufacturing opportunities. However, changes in operations that will take advantage of the insight should be planned prior to implementing a data upgrade.

For example, changing equipment maintenance to a preventative, needs-based process as opposed to scheduled maintenance will help factories to quickly capitalise on equipment performance data. Similarly, flexible and adaptable scheduling and changeovers and easily configurable layouts will help an organisation respond to the insights quickly.

As with any innovative change, your organisation needs the right people to drive the process improvements, and choosing a partner that offers experienced change support throughout solution design, technology and process improvement is advisable.

Is the cost of real-time data just too much?

The process of moving towards a connected, real-time responsive manufacturing facility that can share and mine data for agility can be daunting. There are significant process and governance requirements to consider, as well as the people who work in the environment. This makes optimising an entire site a disruptive and risky move, despite having a high impact on site performance.

For these manufacturers, it may be more beneficial to look at investments that can be made on specific opportunities, such as a single piece of machinery, an inventory, or a process. This way, engineers can test a change in a more manageable environment, and, once wins are identified, lessons learned can be applied and extended to other product lines or assets. Small successes can also help to support the people-change component, as managers can put change-experienced talent to work on advocating for more change.

In summary, it is clear that real-time data gathered from an automated, connected factory can help businesses to capitalise on improvements. While the short-term effort can be significant, a solution that creates the long-term ability to be agile and responsive to immediate opportunities could determine the survival of your manufacturing business. Find out how it could work for you.

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Topics: Manufacturing