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Your factory must speak the same data language

Nov. 30, 2018

Data in a single hub enhances operational efficiency.

It’s a big world, and it is estimated that there are some 7,000 spoken languages worldwide. In fact, to

Oden Technologies' Willem Sundblad

bring order to the linguistic chaos, the United Nations adopted six official languages to maintain international peace and relations.

Today, many factories are (at best) like the UN. At worst they are like the rest of the world, with disparate, overlapping systems delivering different data sets. Manufacturers are always looking for better ways to make quality products and increase production efficiency, but often the lack of common data points and communication between engineering, operations and quality teams is like language barriers impeding progress. As a result, production data is fragmented and left siloed, requiring “translation” from one stakeholder group to the next.

The bottom line is, most manufacturing companies are in desperate need for a way to understand and capture their data in real-time, but more importantly, in one place. They’re looking for solutions that connect every part of their supply chain and operations, but also include process-insights trends, proactive maintenance, usable operator inputs, and the ability to make on-the-fly production adjustments, all done through automation with full access to the same data language.

The single source of truth

Modern factories do analyze data, but that analysis is often limited. Data collected from equipment is either time-limited or case-specific, and often not valid beyond a single sampling. If changes are required from the data analysis, the only way to gauge success is to manually repeat the process to obtain new data. It doesn’t end there—generational equipment issues from the same OEM (or various OEM equipment) means data must be obtained over a wide range of machines, slowing the process further.

Factories need is a paradigm shift away from translating different types of data between managers, engineers, technicians and production staff, and toward a universal platform that integrates all data into one system used by each group. To better understand their business’ operations, factories must un-silo production data from compartmentalized systems and interconnect it, creating an ecosystem that stores and delivers trusted data to all stakeholders.

In the case of manufacturing, that data can be unified in a single production platform.

With the emergence of Industry 4.0, factories can use a single platform to interconnect all equipment within production facilities. Now, access to data can be in real-time and shareable across all departments. By leveraging the power of the IIoT, a single production platform allows for predictive, proactive and real-time intervention, minimizing problems and improving efficiencies at a speed and pace that humans alone can’t accomplish.    

From non-value-added data management to a value-added single unified solution

The 20th century saw many new disciplines for streamlining production methods. From lean initiatives to Six Sigma, new methods of managing production have reduced non-value-added steps and improved efficiencies. But these methods can only accomplish so much. Maintenance data, offline QA data and even critical operator input are often left out, requiring reliance on human interaction and its inherent need for translation. With a single platform, manufacturers can connect data directly to third-party systems such as ERP and MES systems. Operator input and QA data can be analyzed in real-time and funneled into master ERP systems, enabling accurate materials tracking, downtime tracking, and JIT-vendor tracking.

For manufacturers facing capital-expenditure constraints or looking to lengthen the lifecycle of existing equipment, the ability to install cost-effective electronic-data-capture units on older equipment means less capital is needed for expensive upgrades. Retrofitting older equipment is cheaper and faster than purchasing new equipment and “levels the field,” enabling data acquisition from all machines. The value of production is re-introduced as data is un-siloed, distributed across devices such as PLCS and VFDs, and combined in one analysis solution.

The dawn of Industry 4.0 is not a total replacement of all that is old with all that is new. It’s the concept of introducing data-driven industrial-automation insights to existing equipment, providing total data capture across a factory. The data can be analyzed across all departments, giving everyone from plant managers to executives the same information and visibility to make operational and production improvements.

As manufacturers seek to improve their competitive position, they must move toward a holistic approach to data to drive greater efficiency and improve quality throughout the factory floor. That holistic approach can be accomplished through retrofitting existing equipment in place and connecting it with a single platform accessible to all stakeholders.

Willem Sundblad is CEO & co-founder of Oden Technologies.