Big Data in Manufacturing
Authors: L. Russell Records
Modern plant equipment has grown remarkably in sophistication, bristling with sensors that can monitor almost every aspect of machine performance. Nearly every machine produced today can be integrated into a "smart plant."
In addition to optimizing the performance of plant assets in both developed and emerging markets, manufacturers are seeing a huge opportunity to leverage big data in manufacturing to improve product quality, as well as environmental and sustainability practices, providing a much more holistic picture of manufacturing performance. Today, these common themes can be addressed in ways that go beyond the usual definition of modernization. A new opportunity exists to tap vast stores of data for manufacturing that go unused throughout today's plant — information that can help manufacturers improve margins, boost energy efficiency and sustainability, address regulatory concerns, and increase product quality and reliability.
Unleveraged Data is Waiting to Address Many of Today's Manufacturing Challenges.
Unlike past modernization efforts that returned small gains, the benefits from better information use are extensive and proven. Research by MIT Sloan Management Review found that two-thirds of survey respondents reported their companies had gained a competitive advantage by making better use of big data and analytics.
In addition to machine data, manufacturers have accumulated valuable data in corporate systems that can be used in new ways. Outside the company walls, information held by supply chain partners and customers can be put to use as well.
Leading companies saw improvements in six key functional areas that went well beyond the manufacturing floor:
- Plant Operations and Production: Leaders operate at a higher capacity, with operating margins averaging 16 percent higher and unscheduled downtime reduced by 8 percent.
- Sales and Customer Management: Leaders keep more high-value customers with more responsive service and greater consistency in quality.
- Asset Management and Maintenance: Leaders leverage equipment-condition data and predictive analytics to plan optimal maintenance time, improving overall line efficiency and utilization while reducing unplanned stoppages. One report shows a 36 percent decrease in unplanned downtime.
- Supply Chain and Inventory: Manufacturers are more networked than ever. Leaders make use of these extended connections to anticipate the availability of materials and the impact of factors that may influence supply, especially in emerging economies with less stable institutions.
- Service and Aftermarket: Leaders use big data to develop and offer many new service and aftermarket opportunities, reporting a 10 percent increase in cash flow and inventory reductions ranging from 15 to 50 percent.
- Financial and Support Services: Leaders are better able to respond quickly to regulator demands for more information on finances, safety compliance, product ingredients and sources, and more. Manufacturers can also immediately verify the creditworthiness of new customers.
These are just a few examples of the benefits manufacturers are discovering through the improved use of information. But what are the sources of data that can help drive these improvements? How is it created, and why has it gone unused for so long?
This paper examines the opportunities this new method of modernization offers and provides a blueprint for manufacturers looking to take advantage of it.