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Looking Beyond Your Horizons in 2024

Smart Manufacturing, State of Smart Manufacturing
December 19, 2023

Put yourself in the mindset of settlers from long ago exploring a new landscape. As they started each new day, their effort to understand what was beyond the horizon faced a manual and labor-intensive process. Several scouts would head off in different directions, hoping it was the right path to answers. They had to endure harsh conditions, uneven terrain, obstacles like rivers and mountains, predators, and many other challenges.

The process was also time-consuming. While the scouts were looking for answers beyond the horizon, the rest of the settlers could only wait. Only when the scouts returned with a report could the decision-making process begin about what to do and which direction to travel next. And often, by the time they arrived, conditions had changed again, prompting another round of scouting.

Missing Data

As 2024 begins, it’s a relevant metaphor for manufacturers to consider. Like the scouts in that traditional process, what is missing in many operations is data, specifically real-time data, and the analytical capabilities to process it quickly.

Like trackers of old, many manufacturing managers rely on fragmented information coming in from the field (in this case, the factory floor), delivered late by others within the organization who have only the data from their most recent data collection excursion.

Manual data collection and siloed processes lead to inaccurate KPIs, error-prone data entry, and omissions. And just as one scout might report the number of obstacles ahead as a "few" while another declares "dozens," manually collected contextual data in manufacturing such as "jam" and "fault" may point to the same problem, or it may not, obscuring the decision-making process.

The Value of Real-Time Data in Manufacturing

Today, there are a host of technologies to "see" over the horizon. Drones, satellites, cameras, robotics, and other smart technology send instant real-time insights to modern explorers who can decide immediately how to proceed.

This same level of precision is available to manufacturing companies in the form of smart manufacturing platforms. With real-time data and analysis, there is no need for the "scout" method to track a lone process. Factory assets connected to the platform send data for analysis to generate actionable insights. This creates visibility beyond the production, planning, and demand horizon.

There are many benefits provided by real-time visibility in manufacturing:

  1.    Agile Responses – With smart manufacturing solutions, you can leverage machine data, accurate sales and demand data, inventory levels, and more to see what is coming and deploy assets to respond before the problem occurs.
  2. Lower Cost – Automated processes mean no more "scouting." Operators, quality staff, and other team members are freed from manually collecting data, cleansing it, and aggregating it before analysis. Aside from lower labor costs, higher inventory accuracy can lead to more cost-effective JIT or minimum order quantities, and maintenance can deploy predictive strategies based on real-time performance to enact repairs or plan scheduled maintenance during changeovers.
  3. Process Improvement – Process improvement previously relied on manual systems, too. Even in highly successful methodologies like Lean or Six Sigma, data was manual, and eventually, improvement could hit a ceiling. With smart manufacturing solutions, these methods are supercharged, unlocking hidden trends in data and allowing a deeper, more granular improvement process.
  4. Better Decision-Making – Today's "explorers" in smart manufacturing are the executive and line managers tasked with making decisions that impact profitability daily. Smart manufacturing delivers a control tower view of the supply chain, enterprise performance, production, and more to give them real-time and highly accurate insights to make better and more precise decisions.

Beyond the Horizon

It’s time to stop sending scouts off to explore your operations only to come back with error-prone, time-delayed information. Smart manufacturing technology is the solution that will modernize your organization and provide that clearer view of 2024 that you’ve been looking for. For more on the impact of missing production data and how modern solutions can help, read the related article Where Did My Production Data Go?

About the Author

Plex Team

Plex Systems, Inc., a Rockwell Automation company, is the leader in cloud-delivered smart manufacturing solutions, empowering the world’s manufacturers to make awesome products. Our platform gives manufacturers the ability to connect, automate, track and analyze every aspect of their business to drive transformation. The Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform includes solutions for manufacturing execution (MES), ERP, quality, supply chain planning and management, Industrial IoT and analytics to connect people, systems, machines, and supply chains, enabling them to lead with precision, efficiency and agility.