Remote Operations and Resilience with Sight Machine
As the Covid-19 pandemic raced around the globe in March, many manufacturing leaders quickly found they lacked a crucial capability enjoyed by their colleagues in finance, sales and other corporate functions: the ability to do their jobs remotely.
Companies trying to maintain operations with minimal human presence on shop floors ground to a halt as engineers, technicians and operators lost their ability to do visual inspections, manage control rooms or access their machines, networks and systems.
In contrast, those manufacturers who had previously developed remote operational capacity found that it gave them an unexpected resiliency and ability to adapt. Remote operations refers to the capacity to engage with people and data in order to have visibility, insights and control over operations, while being off-site (at home, company headquarters or any location). It is about having the tools to control, track and execute without a physical presence where the activity takes place. It covers activities such as machine settings control/change, continuous improvement, root cause analysis and global visibility into network operations.
For example, a plant director could have remote access to her current production throughput KPIs via dashboards on her laptop at home. A technician could do a health check on a specific asset or line in Mexico while sitting in the HQ in Munich – game changing insights!
Remote operations in manufacturing rests on three foundational pillars: people, data and insights. These pillars are interdependent: people generate insights from reading and interpreting data.
For the People pillar, many communication tools already enable employees to share information and ideas, from instant messaging to cloud-based file sharing. For the Data pillar, point solutions and ERPs allow accessing machines status and certain operations information such as inventory levels or purchase orders.
Sight Machine provides the Insights pillar. It enables the generation of real-time process-wide insights, by blending data from all data sources feeding these into models. These insights can then be turned into actions by managers, technicians or engineers for optimization, improvement and overall operations control.
Remote operations require more than limited data access or point solutions. For example, a technician could have access to temperature readings of a specific oven via a historian. But that information typically has little relevance on its own. Once blended with end-of-line QMS scrapping data using Sight Machine’s platform, the relationship between the two can be investigated using paretos or regression analysis. Potential sub-optimized oven temperature settings impacting line scrapping can be identified in a way that is impossible using a single source of information (like a historian) accessible by a limited number of employees. With Sight Machine, all this optimization work can be done from any location without needing a physical presence on the shop floor.
Some might dismiss the need for remote access, believing a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic is unlikely to recur in the next several years. However, remote operations access provides a range of benefits during more normal times:
Digital access to data and insights
Remote access to data and insights offers holistic real time visibility into operations. This enables manufacturers to perform activities such as continuous improvement from any location using a single source of truth. Recently, Sight Machine started to work with a client to identify specific levers for OEE improvement. The team was based in Europe, the U.S. and Mexico; using the platform and its analytics tools, multiple levers were identified without the team needing to travel to the site.
Real-time and process-wide data streaming and modelling is at the core of Sight Machine’s offering, as years of experience have demonstrated this is critical for generating business value from current and historical insights using multiple blended sources.
Cross functional teamwork
Remote information access enables cross functional teams to collaborate to resolve issues no matter where they are located. It lets an engineer, a technician and a machine operator root-cause an issue or perform a maintenance task without having to meet next to a press or oven. Teams gain easier access to the same insights via dashboards, alerts or analysis. Closed loop systems or a limited physical presence are then sufficient to executive a change. At Sight Machine, this is a situation we experience with most of our clients; collaboration with an engineer at a plant, a director at headquarters and our continuous improvement team in our office is a daily activity we provide as part of any deployment, using the platform as a single source of insights.
Some types of employees, like data scientists or specialized maintenance technicians, are not always available on each site. Remote access tools can help to generate collaboration across company silos and geographies, making information flow from shop floors to top floors, from sites to headquarters, from production to customer support.
Many industries already struggle to attract young workers with specific skill sets, like data scientists. They often have aging workforces, with many of their most experienced and knowledgeable employees expected to retire in the next 10 years. Manufacturers can gain an advantage by offering attractive employment conditions like good work/life balance, flexible working conditions or offices in dynamic city centers. A new father or mother would certainly enjoy the advantages of having the flexibility to work from home, and a job posting in a trendy city could potentially attract more young graduates.
Creation of skill set clusters
At Sight Machine, we often talk with clients or prospects about having a maintenance manager or data scientist in one location who collaborates with teams at different sites. This is often difficult without a common platform for sharing data.
Unlocking remote access to insights with the right tools will give manufacturers the opportunity to centralize and concentrate specific skill sets or employee profiles in one location. Examples can be seen in maintenance, continuous improvement and operations management. There are advantages to having a team of several data scientists or maintenance engineers sitting in one regional hub, as opposed to having one for each plant. Expanding the concept to a larger lever could lead to the creation of central shared services that have been common in IT but rare in OT.
Energy and transportation cost saving
Remote operations saves energy, time and transportation costs in two contexts. First, it allows more people to work from home as a standard flexible benefit, helping employees save on their commute time and costs. But giving people access to information digitally also reduces the need to travel to remote sites for visual inspections, meetings or other reasons. This could have a great impact on travel spending.
McKinsey estimates that 10% to 40% of field-service costs could be saved with remote assistance.1
One thing is clear: the concept of remote operations is here to last. Most manufacturers will be unwilling to risk facing a similar situation in the future as they experienced during the pandemic. Remote work offers many advantages and can be implemented as a standard way of working if the proper rules, methods and tools are available. This, on its own, is a great shift in an industry that has historically required face-to-face contact for information exchange, collaborative problem solving or idea generation.
Remote operations are another demonstration that digitization is not a cost center, but rather a strategic enabler opening new opportunities and reducing operational risks. Manufacturing is in a new era to build more resilient operations and a better-controlled strategic supply chain. Having the right platform, such as Sight Machine, to process the massive amount of data thrown off by production, to convert this data into actionable insights for performance improvement, and to deliver business outcomes from any remote location will ensure companies remain relevant and competitive.
Remote collaboration and data centricity will be key to future successes.