Industry Talk

Regular Industry Development Updates, Opinions and Talking Points relating to Manufacturing, the Supply Chain and Logistics.

Data in, data out

As any Production or Operations Manager within the manufacturing industry will know, the push for profitability is never ending. Improving yield – whether it’s product, equipment or resource based – is paramount to stay ahead of the competition. Even the slightest gain through process optimisation has a direct and immediate effect on the bottom line, saving either costs or time.

Manufacturers of all production processes have a plethora of data sources. From procurement to the supply chain, production, inventory and stock control, and process and machine analytics, data is available in abundance – and what’s essential for one industry to look at will not be the same for another. For example, a printing press needs to consider planned downtime or maintenance at a time when the latest issue is not scheduled to go to print; whilst a food manufacturer needs to consider which stock came in first to ensure it is also the first stock going out, a car manufacturer will make sure the first stock in is the last stock out. With so much data available, how do manufacturers gather and present this information?

For businesses with larger budgets, it could mean implementing techniques such as Six Sigma or Lean Manufacturing technology – or both. For smaller businesses, it might be simply asking someone in the organisation to spare some time to analyse what is happening in a certain area. However, this is where problems arise, as when data analysis is open to interpretation and there is no real consistency of approach, it leaves room for error. Taking out manual input allows Production or Operations Managers to standardise processes and visualise the data in front of them.

Whichever approach is used, whilst there may be some improvements there is nearly always a wake of disconnected spreadsheets, reports, analyses, forms, databases and applications which end up being a great deal of work to maintain, difficult to support and which are rarely scalable; not to mention the need to collect and analyse the big data collected through IoT from ERP systems. These disparate systems, whilst having served their initial purpose of providing data, have inevitably become outdated. However, often the people tasked with the responsibility of collecting the data are not told, and so the forms are still filled in and the data still collected with no real purpose or intended outcome.

Keep it simple

The key is to keep it simple and break it down into manageable, recognisable areas. For food and drink manufacturing, this includes areas such as procurement, inventory, supply chain and quality assurance. Within each area, Managers need to drill down further into elements such as specific products, use-by dates or quantities of stock. For example, if you are producing Champagne or a Cornish pasty, which can only be sold as such if they are produced in those specific regions, there is a need to know where the raw materials have been at each stage in the production process. Tracking the raw materials to the finished product allows your product team to say with certainty that the product is legitimate.

Everything in one place

The likelihood is that you will have to run several reports or open a spreadsheet with numerous worksheets to get to this information – and when you do, the information is probably already out of date. Now, imagine being able to have the right data, in the right place, at the right time; a single view will give you all of the insights needed to inform decisions and ultimately, save costs. For either a top manager, or a member of the team, displaying this pertinent information in an engaging graphic is entirely possible – all that’s needed is a visual dashboard.

Departments can benefit immediately from having this data in real-time, available 24×7, with insight delivered wherever and however it needs to be consumed. There’s no need to go hunting in reports or spreadsheets and with the constant refresh capability, it’s always up to date. Additionally, because charts are quick to put together, reacting to an initiative to focus on a specific area of the business is straightforward, so real-time information is delivered when it’s needed, not when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Providing a choice

Often too much data is too much detail, and the higher up the management ladder you go, less detail is required. For example, the CFO only needs to know if the production facility is on track to meet targets, whereas the Production Manager is more concerned with employee performance and time to assembly. In these scenarios, hours and even days are saved from the time it takes to prepare, collate and distribute the performance reports generated in the organisation. Regardless of who is receiving and consuming the information, the data needs to be pertinent: providing a choice as to what level of information is being displayed will benefit the entire team, whether the screen is displayed on the production floor, canteen or communal office space, it’s a guaranteed way to ensure all employees are informed of progress against company goals.

Just think, at the next Board meeting every Board member could present their own dashboard for their area of responsibility within the business – whether it’s production, procurement, logistics, finance, supply chain or facilities management – to show targets, areas of concern and areas of success. It really is that simple.