Industrial automation makes way for information automation
25 May 2022
Automation has been the driving force behind manufacturing advancement, dating back decades. Replacing physical tasks with automation has served as the bridge taking industries into the era of mass production that we know today.
Businesses are always striving to rise to the forefront of new developments in technology or employ new industrial initiatives. All of this acts in service of making significant efficiency and productivity gains and ultimately increases growth and profits.
Today, the vast majority of manufacturing processes are automated on some level, and only growing more so. But can the same be said for our cognitive activities and information-related processes? Collecting, analysing and extracting value from data is surely the next step in optimising industrial processes, yet the way it is currently treated in terms of technological investment and prioritisation would suggest otherwise.
As the big wins from industrial automation have already been had, it continues to deliver ever-diminishing returns. Instead, the manufacturing sector needs to turn to the valuable data that often sits unused or underutilised within their production environments. Doing so can dramatically improve the efficiency and productivity of production operations, eradicate waste and greatly improve product quality. It’s time for manufacturers to pivot and focus their attention on the data-driven side of industrial manufacturing.
A contrast in advanced technology
Even in highly automated industrial environments, it’s not uncommon to see process parameters, product quality checks and lab checks recorded manually, potentially even still on paper. In fact, it is fairly common to see. Monitoring production processes and quality simply aren’t on the same level when it comes to automation and technological innovation, and performance only suffers as a consequence.
Advanced shop floor information technologies, such as manufacturing and quality intelligence solutions, help to boost manufacturing performance in real time by optimising end-to-end manufacturing processes. Preventing small errors in production compounding, or eradicating unnecessary variability in a process produces less waste and less risk of creating subpar products which can damage consumer trust. When scaled up across the entire manufacturing lifecycle and all facilities, the net improvements can be significant.
This is done in principle by ensuring that the right data is available at the right time in the right place to the right user and presented in a way that can ensure they are constantly making the most informed decisions. That relies on the effective automation of these data-related processes – from data acquisition, statistical analysis and visualisation.
In outdated manufacturing environments, for any meaningful analysis of manufacturing operations, data must first be collected, prepared, imported and analysed manually. This is a tedious waste of workers’ time – time that can be better spent putting employees where they are needed the most and maximising organisational profits. What’s worse, the risk of human error with data entry is much higher than through an automated system, leading to results and analysis that might not be entirely reliable all of the time.
Improving efficiency and optimising operations
The way is open for information automation to take the lead, as data rapidly becomes the next battleground in the war on efficiency and productivity. Manufacturers should take the opportunity to automate their data collection processes or make their manual data collection processes more efficient and robust. This can be implemented in the form of timed data collections, data collection workflows and more, all controlled and directed to give workers the information they need when they need it.
As data is collected, it can then be further analysed in ways to provide real-time insight and alerts to workers. We now have the technology capabilities to effortlessly capture data in real-time, analyse that data in real-time using sophisticated algorithms, and present the result of that analysis in highly intuitive visualisations. This makes decision-making much quicker and more effective, enabling critical decisions to be made in real-time to ensure that production processes are running optimally.
In legacy manufacturing environments that do not have even a modest degree of digital maturity, much effort is spent monitoring stable processes so that we can be ready to catch abnormal or problematic situations. But today, that constant monitoring can be performed automatically. This exception-based approach to monitoring is a critical approach to eradicating operator inefficiency. It now becomes easier to be made aware of violations or problems in real-time and be able to act to prevent or avoid issues before the damage is done. Where processes are not running optimally, production teams can instantly gain insight into where problems lie, or where they are most likely to occur and intervene proactively before there is any impact on manufacturing performance.
Enjoy viewing the wider perspective
As information collection and analysis becomes more automated, this also translates into wider scale insights on manufacturing performance across the company. Beyond the plant floor, quality professionals, operations managers, and C-suite executives can use the enterprise visibility attained through manufacturing and quality intelligence solutions to monitor and analyse automatically generated dashboards. These dashboards can be presented in real-time to show essential data and insights according to each user’s role, access permissions, and level of responsibility.
Decision-makers can apply optimal adjustments and best practices from top-performing plants to all sites for enterprise-wide benefits. They can also compare quality across multiple sites, products, processes, lines, shifts, or production runs to identify continuous improvement opportunities that lead to global transformation and exponential cost savings.
By unifying your data in a centralised, unified repository, you can gain the benefits of enterprise-wide visibility and operational intelligence, and gain consistent process and quality improvements as you prepare your organisation for the next steps in its digital transformation. Embracing information automation across all sectors is the key for manufacturers to understand and continue to future proof their operations, and ahead of competitors.
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