Manufacturers finally have techniques available to them for using plant data to radically enhance production, efficiency and sustainability. That was the message delivered by Jon Sobel, CEO & Co-Founder of Sight Machine, during a keynote panel discussion at Hannover Messe – the world’s largest manufacturing trade show – held virtually April 12-16.
“Manufacturers now have all this valuable data about their production process in a useful data foundation, where the promise of industry 4.0 can be efficiently realized,” said Sobel. “It’s hard; people have been working on this [modelling plant data] for a while and problems had to be overcome. But I think we are now at an inflection point where we can really start to generate scale and outcomes that are going to make a big difference for manufacturers.”
Sobel was part of a keynote panel of business leaders moderated by Çağlayan Arkan, Vice President of Manufacturing at Microsoft, who asked each of the panelists to discuss how digital twins are being used to transform manufacturing. The goal of digital twins, said Arkan, is for manufacturers to become more digitally driven and resilient, so that if a crisis like Covid-19 strikes again, business leaders are prepared to contend with it.
“The pandemic has accelerated the need for us to be able to visualize the entire supply chain of manufacturing,” added Arkan. “We must reimagine the end-to-end value chain of manufacturing, from machines to lines, to factories, to the entire supply chain. It’s a journey, but in partnering with all of you, we can get there.”
Microsoft and Sight Machine are working together to help Global 500 manufacturers use their data to improve profitability, quality and sustainability. Towards that end, Arkan asked Sobel to explain how Sight Machine’s platform enables manufacturers to understand and strategically use their plant data.
The platform, said Sobel, gathers data from various manufacturing sources—ERP, MES, historians—and standardizes it into a single data foundation. The data is constantly updated to give manufacturers visibility and guidance about production in plants across the enterprise. Sight Machine also offers tools for visualization, analytics, and AI—tools that allow manufacturers to continuously improve productivity and sustainability across the value chain. Manufacturers have a history of using tools for continuous improvement, said Sobel, but they’ve never before had a tool like Sight Machine’s platform, which allows them to “see more and do more.”
Sobel cited Sight Machine’s work with a leading paper and packaging company. The customer is using the data platform to analyze thousands of parameters at once, set recipes for each grade of paper output or mix of raw materials, reduce sheet breaks in paper production, and improve energy use in mills across the Americas, he said. It is also working towards scaling across the value chain, enabling the company’s employees to manage how paper is made, how it becomes cardboard, and how the cardboard is used at customer’s sites.
“And it all runs on standardized digital twins or a single data foundation,” added Sobel. “This kind of insight is what every industry is seeking—from helping auto manufacturers and their supply chains to work together to helping us make and distribute pharmaceutical treatments around the world.”
As a second case study, Sobel explained how Sight Machine is helping Essex Furukawa, a leading provider of magnet wire, build a single trusted data foundation. Using advanced techniques such as machine learning, Sight Machine is working with Essex Furukawa to help it meet its exacting quality standards, reveal multivariate causes of long-standing issues, and help Essex optimize its processes and reduce scrap.
“They are working with us in their plants across Europe and North America, using the same data to inform how they work at all these places at once,” Sobel said. “This approach scales not only within firms but across industries.”
Sobel made another point that struck a chord with the panelists: That sometimes the impediment to digital transformation is not technology but people—employees who don’t trust data or share it openly. At its essence, Sobel said, manufacturing is about connections. Everybody in the organization—each division and all employees—works together to form the value chain.
“Given all these connections, it’s inevitable that data will be the link between all of these people and activities,” added Sobel. “And as Çağlayan [Arkan] said, we have got to make it safe and secure for people to share data.”
Survey research shows that a majority of companies are interested in sharing data and use cases if they know the information is safe and secure, Sobel added. Manufacturers therefore must find ways to make data accessible and useful for all employees.
Turning to Arkan, Sobel said, “You mention data as the new oil, but it’s much like oil shale. There’s a lot of value if we can extract it and standardize it and everybody can use it in the same way. We are on our way, and so this mission you are laying out here is compelling and exciting.”