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Challenges of Plant connectivity & Manufacturing Data Management
Most manufacturers want to create a new, more digital, and streamlined future. Whether they call it Industry 4.0, Smart Manufacturing, Digital Transformation, or something else, industry is moving into new ways of working.
Regardless of the terminology used, plant data management is at the core. The complete and correlated set of data about actual production is the foundation on which connectivity, automation, and analytics can succeed. Through our research, we identified seven programs relating to manufacturing data:
- Collecting data from many distributed sources in many formats;
- Cleansing the data to eliminate errors;
- Normalizing the data to come to agreement and a coherent picture;
- Storing the data that can best help make decisions and improve;
- Ensuring that stored data is consistent enough to use;
- Enriching data with context—from other data streams typically; and
- Analyzing the data both for instant plant action and off-line.
There are multiple definitions of the connected plant on various forums from various organizations. The emphasis on a particular construct may change, but essentially, it’s always about real-time visibility, providing insights into plant operations, and at the highest level of maturity, providing predictive capability and autonomous operation.
This is possible through connectivity to assets, machines, and control systems, and by leveraging digital technologies such as Big Data, cloud, mobility, API-based integration, microservices, and artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms.
These constructs take the shape of different applications like plant historians, OPC servers, digital Andon boards, daily work management, plant manager dashboards, Industrial Internet of Things platforms, analytics workbenches, and many others, all working in conjunction with advanced automation, autonomous vehicles, next-gen robots and collaborative robots, augmented and virtual reality equipment, digital twins, 3D printing, RFID, and a whole host of new Industry 4.0 technologies.
But before digging into the technology aspects, it’s important to harmonize and streamline business processes on the plant floor. The essential activities of production, quality, material flow, maintenance, and environmental health and safety have not changed, but these activities need to be aligned for the plant, and more importantly, to the overall vision of the organization.
This brings us to the aspect of having the right set of measures and key performance indicators (KPIs) in a consumable data product, such as a dashboard, to determine whether you are winning or if you need to make some course corrections. Besides having the technical know-how to implement the systems of the connected plant, we have come to recommend three important activities to consider before embarking on this journey.
Business case and strategy
We think this is the biggest challenge manufacturing plants face in terms of adopting Industry 4.0 and realizing the vision of connected plants. The benefits are not straight forward, especially in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic where many plants are running at limited capacity. It’s important to truly understand the impact of the connected plant within a single function as well as between multiple functions.
The power of the connected plant systems gets unlocked when the systems, processes, and functions are connected in context. It’s beyond a specific work cell, assembly line, or any other production area. This requires a change in mindset and a cultural change on the shop floor. It requires a change in perspective from point systems to an integrated view, from local efficiency improvements to integrated plant floor scorecard improvements, and from efficiency and cost optimization to a transformation and growth focus. Develop a comprehensive track for change management as part of your strategy which includes understanding the benefits and impacts of the connected operations and the ability to use the digital technology.
Product-centric organization approach
The product-centric organization approach is most appropriate where you define one or more products to meet your connected plant vision and objectives, and then build your applications based on the business case over a period of time. The concepts of agile development are very helpful in thinking big, but pace the deployment of different use cases over time. Be sure to carefully define the minimum viable product for each product and the development backlog for use cases.
These three activities included as part of your connected plant initiative will help provide management buy-in, employee adoption, and the realization of significant benefits.
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