SETTING THE SCENE
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and all the challenges the world is currently facing, the manufacturing industry is still expected to continue to grow in the next few years. And apart from the economic instability, there are various information management challenges faced by manufacturers today. We will discuss the most common challenges experienced with information management and decision support systems in the manufacturing space today.
When Flow Software asked industry professionals what their biggest information management challenges were, the following points were reported as being most important.
1. Delivering self-service reporting and analytics
2. Reporting or analyzing data across multiple systems
3. Unlocking data “buried” in systems
4. Reducing the time and cost required to produce reports
5. Freeing up IT resources from performing reporting and analysis
6. Delivering mobile business intelligence
These challenges affect industrial process optimization, troubleshooting, and overall costs.
“You can only manage what you can measure”
In the manufacturing space, this means measuring variables associated with processes. The measurements serve a purpose - to track how a process or set of related processes is doing with respect to business, operational or other goals. So, in the pursuit of truth, reliable and understandable information is required.
Measurements, however, are just data. Strings of bits need interpretation in context in order to have meaning. It often happens that the people who can interpret the bits are not the people who actually use or care about that information. The people who need to use this intelligence rely on it to make decisions that affect business and operations in the long term. But the process of retrieving, integrating, aggregating, presenting, and delivering the information can be expensive and time-consuming.
What is industrial information management? How does implementing a solution like this help in industry? What are the challenges associated with industrial automation management? We will answer these questions and shed light on the most important issues facing professionals in the manufacturing industry today.
This is the first of a series of seven articles that delve into these challenges - and the solutions to them.
THE BASICS OF INDUSTRIAL INFORMATION MANAGEMENT
Industrial information management involves the collation of data from multiple sources on the factory floor, such as the production reporting system, the utility reporting system, and so on - to build a complete picture of what is going on in operations, at levels of granularity appropriate for operational management all the way up to strategic management. Data silos in industry often make this a challenge.
Data is then “transformed” into information, meaning it can be sliced, diced, or integrated with other pieces of data (possibly from the same data silo or from multiple disparate data silos) to create intelligence that has meaning for the audience. This then needs to be rendered visually, perhaps by means of a dashboard of some kind, and ideally, be readily available to relevant stakeholders when they need it.
In the manufacturing industry, this kind of data-to-information transformation assists with tracking KPIs, identifying losses or opportunities, troubleshooting processes, and determining the cost of any known issues in a process. Overall, there are multiple opportunities to save costs if one knows where one is losing time, money, energy, and/or resources.
THE TRADITIONAL "SOLUTIONS"
The challenge arises where multiple data sources need to integrate their raw data in a way that conveys information that is useful to the person requesting it. How can we bring these sources together intelligently and in a way that is easily interpreted? For a quick and dirty approach, many have used spreadsheets. And what about those in-house, custom solutions?
Consider spreadsheets for a moment: Yes, they are “easy” to use at first glance. But are they fit for this purpose? We’ve all been there: A spreadsheet-based solution does not accommodate multiple concurrent users, ability to maintain an audit trail is dependent on the diligence of the users of the spreadsheet, it is easy to make slip-ups when it comes to data entry, either manual or imported and of course, the dreaded (and dire) “#REF” error. Spreadsheets work - to a point. And then they are simply too difficult to maintain or rely on. The result? The intelligence that you tried to create with this solution cannot be trusted for reliable decision support.
Custom Reporting Tools
What about a custom, in-house solution? Yes, it will be as flexible as you like. However, what about time to develop and implement? As with anything bespoke, it can take a while. Besides this, they are designed, developed, supported, and tweaked by internal IT resources or external consultants. Either way, the cost to maintain and support adds overhead that can be avoided.
A BETTER SOLUTION
An off-the-shelf information management tool that has flexible configuration options for multiple industries is the best fit solution. What are the benefits of this approach? These solutions are ready to go, and thus faster to implement. They typically rely on standardized, scalable databases - which means they are quicker to implement and maintain, reducing overall cost and effort.
The decision-support information that you need is typically presented by means of dashboards, charts and reports. It should be easy to create reports that can span, potentially the entire site. Or even several sites! Ideally, the solution should be intuitive enough for a user to feel confident in quickly creating their own report or dashboard, on the fly, so that their decisions are based on an accurate representation of reality.
The six articles to follow in this series will consider the 6 common challenges manufacturers face today.
In the next article, we will consider the number one concern cited by industry professionals - self-service reporting and analytics.
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