Delivering manufacturing analytics at scale

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Stage I. Preparation

This detailed multi-part tutorial embodies Sight Machine’s years of experience in helping manufacturers build the capability for transformative manufacturing analytics at scale. Use it as a step-by-step guide to your own digital journey.

Step 2.

Organizational Readiness

Technical issues usually receive primary emphasis, but organizational capabilities are equally critical for success. A digital initiative requires changes to established processes and [traditional/habitual] lines of communication in manufacturing enterprises, and new ones that bridge across teams and chains of command. We’ve seen projects run out of steam or get mired in cycles of endless piloting because key organizational success factors have not been dealt with. These [dynamics] fall into three key areas:

Commitment and Budget

Digital projects frequently fail because they don’t win broad support beyond the originating team, function, or individual. It’s worth putting in the time upfront to develop and articulate a vision for where the enterprise is going, and to explain how a unified data platform and its initial use cases support the long-term roadmap. Set your sights on obtaining:

  • Management buy-in to give data-driven decision making urgent priority and an allocated budget
  • Project backing from corporate, plant, and IT leadership, and operational teams as well
  • Alignment on objectives among these functions and factions

Identify and cultivate project champions and evangelists within different departments and echelons — including management of production, IT, and corporate functions; factory-level teams who will use the insights digital provides; and data architects and scientists.

Engage all departments and teams during planning. Roll-out is too late in the game to try to recruit broad-based support. If you wait till then, you’ll encounter resistance.

Skills and Resourcing

Laying the groundwork for a unified data platform requires a blend of capabilities from groups that aren’t used to collaborating, and in fact may never have done so before. Key human resources include:

  • Manufacturing experts who understand the available data and physical sensor structure
  • IT staff who can connect sensors to networks and data storage, and develop applications for the plant floor
  • Data scientists and data engineers with the knowhow to extract and interpret insights using analytics tools

These teams typically live in their own specialized worlds. To develop a full picture of your digital requirements and how to assemble them, these diverse and specialized groups need to be brought together in the same room to contribute their particular skills and expertise.

Working in concert, this cross-functional team can undertake a full audit of your existing production data and processes. OT can specify the problems they need to solve and the benefits they’re looking to achieve. IT in turn can identify relevant data. Collectively, the full team can determine if these inputs are available and if not, how to obtain them.

Change Management

Sometimes project leaders will invest in IT systems and services but neglect to fund the operational side. This is why cross-functional governance is essential to managing your digital effort. Common goals need to be set by IT and OT leadership in terms of staffing, resources, and changes to processes and workflows. Existing metrics, incentives, and procedures need to be re-evaluated in light of the new capabilities a unified data platform will deliver.

  • Lay out specific, measurable KPIs aligned across facilities and assets
  • Then establish clear owners within each team to implement process, staffing, and production changes to capture the value identified by analytics

Organizational Readiness Resources:

Step 3.

Technical Readiness

Very few manufacturers have all their technical requirements in place at the outset of a digital initiative. It’s important to get an accurate picture of what you’ve already got and what you’ll need to build or buy. Machine connectivity is the primary must-have but there are other technical considerations as well. The three areas to evaluate are:

Connectivity and Accessibility

At the foundational level, ascertain whether data is being collected from sensors on your key production machines and is flowing into a system of record. Also explore whether you’re measuring and gathering the right kind of data to address your operational goals.

  • Are all machines equipped with sensors?
  • Are sensors network-accessible?
  • Is data streaming into a system of record or database?
  • Are you capturing key attributes such as machine downtime, defect data, and part serial numbers or batch numbers with time stamps?

Cloud and Security

With huge data volumes and massive computing power the norm for AI-driven manufacturing analytics, the cloud is far and away the most practical, affordable venue. How prepared are you to migrate production data to cloud-based infrastructure? Security is a key concern, especially in manufacturing sectors governed by regulations requiring special treatment for sensitive information such as classified, ITAR, or HIPAA data.

  • Are your system of record (i.e. historian) and other key data sources (ERP, MES, MRO, supplier data) securely accessible from outside the company?
  • Do you have policy guidelines for working with cloud providers?
  • Are data segregation requirements clearly defined and do you have a system for cordoning off sensitive information?

Data Awareness

The project inception stage is not too early to assess your capabilities for working with the data you generate. Do you have the in-house expertise to interpret data streams from machine sensors and how they map to your physical production process? Much of this knowhow will come from blending the skills and understanding of IT with those of your operational engineers. The two sides must work in synergy to define project goals and develop processes to achieve them. You’ll also likely need to source advanced data analysis capabilities through consultants and by creating and nurturing a data-focused specialty within IT.

These requirements trace back to the premise of this tutorial: adopting a “data first” digital strategy to collect and unify your entire universe of production-related data to address a wide range of use cases… rather than pursuing a succession of disjointed one-off pilots that don’t scale to multiple objectives and plants.

Ensure success by focusing on organizational readiness as described earlier. Build a solid foundation by articulating a long-term digital vision, validating how a unified data platform enables it, and securing early and strong support from leadership across corporate, operational, and IT domains.

Technical Readiness Resources:

Step 4.

Data Readiness

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Data Readiness Resources:

Step 5.

Evaluating Use Cases

Now that you understand what data readiness is about, what would you like to use your data for? What production-related improvements are you eager to make? Which uses cases, issues, or problems do you want to apply digital techniques to solve?

Source: McKinsey

Source: McKinsey

As you can see above, digital capabilities open up a universe of possibilities, once you have them in place… that last phrase being the key. A common misstep manufacturers make is pursuing projects they’re not yet ready for. Another problematic scenario is having various groups pursue diverse use cases, each using different data. For digital projects to scale — and for techniques like AI to be brought to bear — it takes a single source of data that digitally represents your full production process. This is the all-important advantage of building a unified data platform.

At the outset, align the digital goals you’d like to achieve with what you’re ready for. Assess your current capabilities, the elements you can build out in the near term, and the kind of use cases you can support across functional teams so that everyone moves forward in unison.

Exactly How Ready Are You?

From our experience with numerous manufacturers, we’ve identified 5 categories of readiness, with different use cases feasible for each.

Organizational Readiness

  1. Connection Zone.  At this stage, you have sensors on some production machines but not all the important ones, and are not yet capturing all relevant data. Some or all of your data streams are not networked, and there is no central repository. Cloud and data security strategies have yet to be defined.
  2. Visibility Zone. Here, most of your machines have sensors and are networked. IT leadership is on board and providing support and resources. You have operational people who understand how sensor data maps to production processes. Some collection processes remain to be automated, and data aggregation and harmonization capabilities need to be deployed. Change management expertise does not yet exist at the plant level.
  3. Efficiency Zone. Companies at this stage are capable of taking on projects that deliver significant operational and profitability impact. The technical connectivity is in place to capture machine downtime, defect, and batch/part serial numbers data, and information is flowing to a system of record. While plant leadership is committed to harnessing data to drive operational execution, analytics and application development resources are not in place at the plant level.
  4. Advanced Analytics Zone. Data scientists and engineers are available to extract and interpret insights using analytic tools, and IT staff has the knowhow to develop custom applications for the factory. Business process change resources are on hand but there is only limited support for multi-plant and supplier transformation.
  5. Transformation. At this most advanced stage, comprehensive technical excellence is present across the extended organization, including suppliers. Corporate, plant, and IT leadership are committed and aligned for transformation. Factory-level and corporate change management functions — including communications, business process, training, and analysts — are established and aligned.

Determine your Readiness Zone

Our Digital Readiness Index tool enables you to assess your stage of preparedness, facility by facility. Take the questionnaire, and the tool will use your responses to calculate your readiness zone.

Once you’ve ascertained what you’re ready for, take a look at these zone-specific suggested use cases.

Quick-Win Digital Projects for Each Zone

[Alt subhead: Appropriate Digital Projects for Each Zone]

Connection Ready: 

The first order of business is to get data flowing: connecting key sensors to the network and capturing all the data produced. At this level, plant personnel need to increase their understanding of what the data means, mapping out what each sensor describes about machine and product conditions at each step in the manufacturing process.

Use cases:

  • Build offline data acumen
  • Develop foundational data visibility
  • Automate data capture
  • Create a digital twin

Visibility Ready: 

At this level, it’s important to aggregate data into a global view of real-time production operations, so performance can be monitored and controlled to reduce scrap rates.

Use cases:

  • Create a global operations view
  • Access plant information
  • Monitor OEE and KPIs
  • Compare KPIs across the enterprise
  • Benchmark plant, line, and machine performance
  • Measure and trend quality and performance
  • Monitor out-of-control processes and failures
  • Automate collection of regulatory production data
  • Set up alerting and notification of production challenges
  • Monitor actual output vs. planned
  • Improve machine performance
  • Statistical process control
  • Parameter relationships

Efficiency Ready:

Manufacturers at this readiness stage are able to move beyond visibility and apply analytics to improve efficiency and quality. You can increase profitability by addressing stubborn scrap and quality problems, and by optimizing processes to boost productivity.  

Use cases:

  • Track machine performance using the OEE metric
  • Set up part traceability
  • Perform high-level defect analysis
  • Drive and measure continuous improvement efforts
  • Analyze out-of-control processes and failures
  • Measure and increase capacity utilization
  • Analyze and reduce scrap
  • Determine root causes
  • Increase first-pass yield

Advanced Analytics Ready: 

At this level you have the technical and organizational readiness to deploy projects with a high impact on operations and profitability. Apply predictive analysis to deliver advanced notification of impending downtime or defects, and use advanced statistical techniques (such as multivariate regression, factor analysis, decision trees, and clustering) to identify root causes of persistent problems. Potential benefits include increased production, reduced cycle times, and lower scrap rates.

Use cases:

  • Deploy advanced statistical techniques to identify root causes
  • Predict out-of-control processes and failures
  • Implement track and trace
  • Monitor and optimize energy use in production
  • Perform predictive analysis
  • Implement extensible analytics
  • Platform third-party development

Transformation Ready: 

Companies with these sophisticated capabilities are ready to utilize analytics learnings to develop transformational business models such as capacity-based pricing. Analysis can also be extended across supply chains, using third-party data to transform relationships with suppliers and customers.

Use cases:

  • Establish cross-system analysis
  • Perform machine/line level costing analysis
  • Set up data-driven design to value
  • Create supplier optimization programs
  • Develop real-time capacity-based pricing

Choose and Vet Candidate Use Cases

Knowing your readiness zone doesn’t mean you’re limited to only those projects we suggest. However, the zone attributes help you understand the prerequisites to work on — understanding that’s critical for establishing budget and timeline expectations.

Choose one or more of these or similar use cases that line up with your readiness zone. Discuss them with your teams to see which inspire the greatest support and promise to deliver the highest value.

In the next section we’ll provide guidance in prioritizing your selected projects: determining and comparing the business value of each, and developing a roadmap for implementation.

Use Cases Resources:

Step 6.

Project Prioritization

Now that you’ve chosen some candidate digital projects, the next task is to decide which to take on first. We suggest evaluating them according to these three criteria:

Tech Readiness

It’s worth reiterating that success will be elusive if you select projects that greatly exceed the technical foundation you have in place. The timeframe, resources, and investment required for preparation may likely be too great to sustain, and the initiative can collapse under its own weight well before implementation. Or else critical technical gaps may only become evident during rollout, which is too late. Hopefully, the previous steps of this tutorial will have helped you avoid any such scenarios.


In the beginning, we highly recommend choosing use cases that will generate real value in a short timeframe. Every organization has doubters, and we find that when initial efforts move slowly, skeptics only become more skeptical. Select early-stage projects for rapid deployment. Quick wins strengthen confidence, shore up the initiative, and build sponsorship and support for the substantial investments you’ll need later on.

Financial impact

To know which projects will deliver the most bang for the buck — and how soon — you have to quantify the impact of manufacturing production improvements on corporate profitability. Plant managers naturally focus on productivity, but conventional productivity metrics don’t readily convert to dollars. What’s required is a universal and consistent method to do that.

Sight Machine has developed a productivity metric, the Manufacturing Performance Index (MPI), that lets you translate performance improvements into output gains and dollars generated. We recommend using the MPI, and our tool for calculating it, to evaluate and compare the profitability impacts of a range of possible digital projects. Our white paper will show you how.

Project Prioritization Resources:

Step 7.

What to Buy vs. What to Build

Technology is changing rapidly, and attempting to keep up on all fronts internally is a daunting challenge. This is why it makes sense to utilize the power of the market for underlying digital capabilities you don’t have and can’t develop quickly in-house. It’s critical to assess these realistically. At-scale digital manufacturing analytics is a new kind of project. Lack of domain experience can lead planners to underestimate its length and complexity, thereby risking costly missteps, ill-advised investments, and even ultimate failure.

Let’s consider manufacturing analytics’ three spheres of functionality:

  • Data collection
  • Data contextualization and modeling
  • Data visualization

The market offers numerous solutions for the first and third components, but not many for the second, which is the core function of a unified data platform: making sense of data and using it to solve manufacturing-specific problems. This starts with turning raw input from dozens of sources and thousands of sensors into a digital representation of the production process. Data is first blended into a unified format and its myriad complex interrelationships mapped out. These are then integrated into data models designed for broad applicability to any number of manufacturing use cases. With anything less, the analytics won’t scale beyond a narrow issue or problem, and will thus have only limited value.

This kind of engine is powered by AI, machine learning, and sophisticated analytics techniques. It takes years to build and refine, and demands a very specialized software development organization that would be impractical for most manufacturers to acquire in-house.

It’s therefore wisest to leverage the market for a purpose-build modeling and contextualization platform: one that does the job and can also be flexibly configured to your specific needs. This is where your internal expertise comes in: Build on the platform’s capabilities by integrating custom analytics and algorithms created by your in-house team. This will enable you to deliver timely results and competitive differentiation without having to put together an expensive in-house software development organization.

Buy vs Build Resources:

Step 9.


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Momentum Resources:

Are you ready to begin your digital journey?