From small fixes to big solutions

From small fixes to big solutions

Exploring the value of putting real-time data to work

In writing this article I’m going to take a leap of faith. I’m going to take it for granted that you have a healthy understanding of the modern manufacturing environment, and don’t need a history lesson on how we got here. Equally, you don’t need to be told that “you must do this and you must do that” to keep pace with the competition – or some (seemingly) never-ending digital transformation agenda.

No, instead let me paint a picture of the practical value of real-time data, and the realistic advantages it can deliver across any manufacturing operation.

Let’s get started.

Moving beyond manual

One thing we can all appreciate is that you don’t have to look far in any manufacturing plant to find data. It’s everywhere on the shop floor, from product specifications and process guidance to machine variables and safety checks.

Information that has a tradition of being shared on paper that dates all the way back to the industrial revolution! And we’ve long recognised the slowness inherent in such a manual approach:

  • Production teams and schedulers can spend longer trying to acquire, clean, and prepare data than they do actually analysing it
  • This can then contribute to a lag in responding to quotes (checking resource and material availability etc.), updating pricing, or making key production decisions
  • And this at a time when sales cycles continue to accelerate, pricing remains volatile, and buyer timeframes are only getting shorter

Driving positive change

The advantages of real-time data are largely self-evident in that they help ‘speed things up’ – certainly in terms of decision-making. They also align neatly with any manufacturer’s core efficiency goal: to run their production lines at optimal speeds with minimal downtime.

Yet below these headline benefits I would suggest that more intrinsic, day-to-day value can also be found:

  • First there are the insights on offer that help manufacturers finally get to the bottom of the productivity challenge
  • Then there’s the trust issue, and avoiding the problem of production teams ignoring outputs from planning systems because they believe them to be out of date or inaccurate – and where timely, trusted data instead affords a realistic benchmark of productivity and utilisation
  • Finally (for an overview at least) there’s the ability to address that long-held need to simply know if a problem is emerging from a process in time to actually do something about it – where speed of reaction becomes a defining quality, allowing you to discover how and where unit costs can be reduced and quality improved

Enhancing workforce productivity

Many of these benefits are of course already available today. The moment data capture becomes seamlessly integrated into production processes (via simple scanning/touchscreens etc.), the insight exists as a potential – challenging businesses to develop the capabilities needed to uncover it in a timely fashion.

All of which brings us to workforce productivity. The simple truth here is that enhancing utilisation levels inside most manufacturers is not about making them work harder or faster. Instead it’s about removing any barriers or restrictions that prevent them from operating at maximum intensity.

As we know, the reasons holding employees back are often outside their immediate control, as they wait for somebody else to finish/deliver/spray/lift/check/sign-off etc. But it’s no good identifying these bottlenecks after the fact. That’s why real-time data is so important – as long as it’s accompanied by other actionable data that helps ensure your response to any problem doesn’t cause a new one.

Informing your response

Finally, it’s important to cover off what manufacturers should expect in terms of how this data is accessed. As already mentioned, data collection needs to fit effortlessly into any production process. Making it available and interpretable needs to be equally simple to achieve:

  • Any view of labour productivity needs to be integrated with existing ERP capabilities to mix resource implications with activity
  • The information needs to be instantly ‘slice-and-dice-able’ enabling the user to quickly drag and drop by common values (product/task/operative etc.) to drill down into the underlying cause and effect
  • As well as being ‘pulled’ information also needs to be ‘pushed’ (via alerts) to inform you of any emerging problem – and to give you the opportunity to react in time to save the day. What’s more, you also need the context, as in the cost to the business of a halt in production, to help prioritise and inform your response

Summing it all up

Once considered a ‘pipe dream’, the ability to collect, access, and act on real-time data is well within the grasp of most manufacturers. At MESTEC, we’ve been helping many get to the root causes of utilisation loss, and to spot the small fixes that can often lead to big improvements.

You can watch a short video detailing the capabilities mentioned above by clicking here.

To arrange a more in-depth demo from MESTEC, please feel free to get in touch.