The big picture: Big Data and Manufacturing

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The big picture: Big Data and Manufacturing

Big Data: Reflections on the manufacturing landscape of America in 2018.

by Arun Jain

Remaining competitive has many meanings, depending on your location, but here are some thoughts on how manufacturers can do it better today. By the time you finish reading this another bright entrepreneur will have figured out a way to make it happen for their company. Time-to-market reduction remains as critical today as ever. Shorter innovation cycles, resulting from new product life-cycle management software and services available to companies both big and small, mean savvy product companies can take their concept and make it fly in just a fraction of the time spent in the past – and by “past” I mean compared to about ten years ago.

With the recent rapid expansion of application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) capability, more functionality can be built into a product today and this means the manufacturing community must become even more flexible and responsive than ever before, not merely reactive. With the Big Data impact that has resulted from the above scenario, the manufacturer is challenged in many ways, not the least of which is the daunting task of deciphering the important or exceptional from the merely nominal. A quality enterprise resource planning (ERP) or manufacturing execution system (MES) can tell you what you need to know, but the key elements are the determining factors that make up the inputs to these systems and how their basic priorities are set.
Arun Jain The big Picture Big Data

Arun Jain is vice-president of Siemens Industry’s Motion Control Business

In the motion control world customers task us with the control, generation, or application of movement on everything from a machine tool to a packaging line; from a chemical processing plant to a printing plant. From that perspective, I see a great variety of needs among OEMs as well as end users in these various segments. All of them require flexibility and often highly customized solutions to their manufacturing or processing challenges. In addition, maintaining high productivity on ageing equipment is a constant concern for every American company. Do they need to retrofit their existing machine or invest in a new one? Are enhanced robotics and transfer mechanisms or more personnel required on the line? Should the focus be on better asset management or on an entirely new business model, when companies are thinking about their factories or processing facilities? Today, as the digital factory emerges in all industries, we find ourselves providing answers to these questions, not only based upon product but also in software, communications, bus protocol, and other sectors of manufacturing expertise. The answer to a simple question from the past, such as how much motor horsepower to use, is now expanded through the availability of variable frequency drives that can impact the choices made, depending upon the applications involved.

Tie the shop floor to the top floor

It’s now a popular saying that data drives utilization. Using data smartly, however, requires an educated workforce who can take product design and turn it into viable and profitable production, regardless of the widget, chemistry, or product being made. In a world dictated by product life-cycle management needs, the correlation between design, production planning, output, and delivery, plus the monitoring of usage and returns in the field, has never been more important but also never more manageable, given the new tools available in the market today from both product and service providers. With IT as the link, today’s digital factory will, as they say, tie the shop floor to the top floor.

Technology is key, but trust is even more important

A word about security. The involvement of your suppliers, especially as it pertains to the cybersecurity of Big Data, is a critical factor today. While technology may be key, so is the old fashioned but highly underrated notion of trust. Companies are at their most productive when they can trust their suppliers, especially those who promote a defense in depth approach to cybersecurity. That value can often come in unseen ways, such as the access provided to your workforce for prompt, effective answers to questions. Perhaps it’s a 24-hour hotline, maybe it’s an onboard technical manual within the machine controller with on-screen troubleshooting capabilities, or it could be a supplier-provided training webinar that will expand the way your production teams and maintenance personnel use their machines. Taking advantage of these services will improve the productivity of your factory floor. You hear about total cost of ownership (TCO) and this is one of those subtle but very real factors driving that calculation.

Focus on smart energy management

Another key factor in remaining competitive is the cost of energy. The more a machine can do using less energy, the more efficient and profitable it becomes. That is the obvious part. How to get there can take many forms. For example, the simple notion of regenerative energy, a concept in the electrical world since Sprague’s regenerative braking motor in 1886, can be manipulated and monitored by today’s drives, putting power back onto the grid or using it to drive other equipment.

The really daunting task is deciphering the important or exceptional from the merely nominal

Simply by implementing smart motors, drives, and other equipment, manufacturers can improve their productivity and boost the bottom line – a win-win, to be sure. Lastly, safety must be paramount, not only as it protects the workforce, but because it contributes to overall efficiency and the profit picture. Fewer accidents result when there is a reduction in the mean time to repair (MTTR) and equipment is replaced before it malfunctions and possibly injures someone. This requires the implementation of both preventive and predictive maintenance protocols at your company – but it really does work, every time. When all of the above are considered and acted upon, a business, if not an industry, can return to higher growth
levels, once again.

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