Posted on 5/3/2017

Manufacturers: Make Data Work for You Now

Alexi Antonino

Walk through any manufacturing conference or pick up your favorite business publication and inevitably you’ll find discussion of Industry 4.0 and the comprehensive reinvention of how we imagine, design, make, deliver and service products. New technologies like 3-D printing, cloud computing and the Internet of Things are being combined to disrupt markets. Things we make are getting to customers more quickly, are becoming more highly customized and even turning into ongoing services instead of discrete products. Organizations that constantly take advantage of innovation as an opportunity for competitive advantage, as always, have the greatest chance at leading the next wave.

As a technologist in this rather extraordinary time in tech and manufacturing, I’m most interested in how we take the incredible spectrum of data that comes from these new platforms and leverage it for practical business tools today. 

Historically, business software systems focused on either the administration of a company (financials) or industrial automation (the machines and materials on the shop floor). Today, with the cloud, we can bring those things together. That’s important because more than half (potentially much more) of a manufacturer’s critical data—such as production rates, performance time, quality specifications, and inventory information—is generated on the shop floor. Now that we can capture that rich data, I’m working with manufacturers to tap into it for analysis to support business decisions.

One organization I’m working with is a Michigan-based metal stamping manufacturer. The company is complex – they have multiple facilities and product lines – and they’re constantly working to find ways to obtain a better understanding of overall performance to support more informed decisions. Their leadership team has an initiative in place to apply consistent measures and key performance indicators across their individual plants and departments that could then be vertically aggregated to support enterprise-wide goals and strategies.

What’s truly awesome about cloud based technology is that we can take the transactional data we already have from the company’s manufacturing and administrative operations and look at it through a new lens – analytic applications. Without any big software deployment project, we just apply a different view of the same data.

We learned some key things right away. To make the data actionable, this manufacturer found it also needed:

  • Data views personalized to the needs of various departments or individuals across the organization, from the top floor to the shop floor.
  • Options to compare plant performance across eight separate facilities, allowing enterprise-wide visibility with the click of a button, while recognizing any exceptions.

With various departments able to connect to the analytics—from finances to quality to procurement—this manufacturer now leverages real production and transaction data as an essential factor in decision-making.

While Industry 4.0 will continue as a long-term vision for the future, it’s important for all manufacturers to recognize that opportunities to leverage data are here now. Manufacturing leaders who continuously innovate and also leverage the new technologies they already have in place can achieve amazing benefits in the short term as well as the long-term. And by doing so, they will define Industry 4.0 instead of waiting for Industry 4.0 to define them.

About the Author

Alexi Antonino | Plex Systems

Alexi Antonino is senior product manager, analytics, Plex Systems, helping manufacturing leaders find solutions to business challenges with the Plex Manufacturing Cloud.


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