As mentioned in the introduction, a unified data platform is the foundation for enabling a wide range of digital objectives. How prepared and equipped are you to start building and applying this foundation?
There are two aspects of readiness to consider:
Do you have the commitment, organizational buy-in, budget, and skill sets for your digital initiative to succeed?
What level of supporting infrastructure do you already have in place? Are your critical production machines outfitted with sensors? If so, are they networked? What information is being captured? And — most importantly — is your data accessible, ready, and fit to enable successful digital projects?
Choosing objectives you’re not ready for is a recipe for project failure.
Manufacturers often start out by attempting to solve a use case they’re not ready for. In midstream, they find out that the data they have isn’t relevant to the problem, and the inputs they do need are inaccessible. Or they don’t possess the staff expertise, management buy-in, or budget — and sometimes all three — to build the necessary technical capabilities.
Alternatively, should a one-off pilot actually get off the ground, most often it doesn’t scale across multiple machines — either because the required additional data sets are not available, or because adding them in breaks the logic and data models that were targeted against the original use case. The net result is a series of dead-end pilot projects, a scenario so commonplace that it has a name: pilot purgatory.
Any of these situations can doom a project from the start. The solution is to pursue both technical and organizational readiness upfront. That’s what the next two steps are about.
Technical issues usually receive primary emphasis, but organizational capabilities are equally critical for success. A digital initiative requires changes to established processes and traditional 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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Data readiness is a unique challenge in the manufacturing industry, because production-related data arrives from a multitude of sources and systems, is stored in diverse networks, and comes in a myriad of different formats and structures.
Manufacturers often embark on projects in the mistaken belief that their data is accessible, usable, and relevant, only to discover that most of it is not even close to being ready to support a digital initiative.
The time to ascertain the condition of your data, and take proper steps, is before your project begins. Over the course of numerous engagements, Sight Machine has developed a process for assessing production data against the key attributes required for successful digital manufacturing initiatives.
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?
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.
From our experience with numerous manufacturers, we’ve identified 5 categories of readiness, with different use cases feasible for each.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
We recommend utilizing the power of the market for underlying digital capabilities you don’t already have and can’t develop quickly in-house. It’s critical to assess these realistically. Bear in mind that manufacturing data comes in huge volumes from thousands of sources and in diverse formats, and needs to be harmonized and integrated into usable form. Because of these unique data complexities, packaged solutions created for multiple industries — that is, not purpose- built for manufacturing — are of nominal usefulness.
Let’s examine what’s available in the market for the essential components of an end-to-end manufacturing analytics solution:
The marketplace offers capable tools from multiple vendors.
Commercial solutions are available but must be evaluated carefully, as some are not a good fit for the dynamics of manufacturing data, as explained above.
To our knowledge, the market offers a single manufacturing-specific solution designed to handle the job comprehensively and at scale, powered by AI, machine learning, and sophisticated analytics techniques. This platform was built and refined over a period of years, drawing on highly specialized software development capabilities that would be impractical for most manufacturers to acquire in-house.
This is the domain in which to leverage your in-house expertise and understanding of your own production dynamics. Building on the data modeling platform alluded to above, your in-house team can integrate custom analytics and algorithms targeted against your specific objectives. This unique blend of unified data platform plus internal knowhow will deliver rapid, unprecedented value and impact.
As with data acquisition, the market offers a selection of capable solutions in this area.
Here too, a number of serviceable packages are available for these functions.
As we mentioned in the previous step, the market offers a number of solutions for data collection from production sensors and other instrumentation. Well-known names in Industrial IoT are represented, such as IBM, SAP, PTC/ThingWorx, Oracle, and others. These products do a good job of aggregating data from a variety of sources. However, that’s as far as they go.
None of these IoT leaders offer a scalable platform for the all-important second phase of manufacturing analytics: contextualizing and modeling the relationships between data and production processes. So while it’s great to have a data lake, if you don’t also have an engine to turn all that information into actionable insight, you’re not gaining much business value.
To build a unified data platform for manufacturing analytics, it’s necessary to explore beyond big names and basic data acquisition products.
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