Continuing with our topic of manufacturing technology trends, fast decision-making will be one characteristic of successful manufacturing operations of the future, and technology is providing faster access to a greater volume of information both from the factory floor and from external sources.
The drawback of all of this information is that filtering the unimportant information from the important information can become a problem. Technology offers a solution to this problem.
Internet of Things
Sensors embedded in machines, combined with machine-driven analytics, will let managers make sense of the torrent of data and allow them to make more informed decisions faster.
Sensors will all be connected, wirelessly or otherwise, giving you instant feedback on everything that can be automated.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that these trends are emerging just as computers gain the ability to process this level of data.
To give you some idea of the volume of data involved, a friend at an Internet of Things startup told me that their collect-everything alpha product gathered 3 GB of data a minute. This involved just one complex machine. Now imagine that, instead of just one machine, we're collecting data from your whole factory.
The key to taking advantage of the Internet of Things will be to surface the right information about the factory and let managers drill-down when something isn’t right. Too much information hinders decision-making just as effectively as too little.
Although not practical for most businesses in the short term, machine intelligence is rapidly improving and will no doubt have an impact on some manufacturing industries wherever its ability to use a higher volume of data to make decisions faster than humanly possible is an advantage.
Computers are too fragile for many factory floors, but the widespread penetration of mobile technology is changing this, giving you nearly instant feedback from the floor staff charged with overseeing the operations.
While sensors embedded in your machines will give you immediate data, mobile phones give you the ability to send push notifications to the floor and alert people who can act on it. Workers on the shop floor will also be able to access all of that internal and external data from the shop floor while making a decision.
Being able to call someone on the factory floor and talk to them has its uses too.
These technologies will change how you collect and understand information from the factory floor, but the interface between this internal data and external sources of data will also change the speed of decision-making.
Embedded sensors will give you better insight into your supply chain.
Suppliers will also have more real-time data to share and manufacturers will need to integrate with those suppliers.
Real-time information on sales, market conditions, and similar data will affect how you plan inventory and production volume.
Making Sense of Data
Data is only useful insofar as it helps you run your business.
Too much data can be overwhelming and cause you to miss important signals in the mass of data generated by these technologies. Data tools like your ERP system will have to be configured to alert you when important data needs attention. Key performance indicators will need to be carefully chosen to let you know that there is a problem, and analytical tools will need to let you drill down into this data to discover the source of the problem.
These problems aren’t new and neither are their solutions. Companies that solve these problems will stay ahead of the competition by reaping the benefits of faster decision making.