It’s difficult to talk about any industry these days without hearing the phrase “Big Data”. In the era of the “Internet of Things” it seems every piece of consumer technology we encounter is communicating with the technology around it and everything we do online ends up in some marketing database. But how can a manufacturer leverage the Big Data innovations to increase profits and improve quality to drive higher sales? Is “Internet of things” real technology and can it help? Let’s get beyond the marketing flash and see how this can benefit manufacturing.
First, the good news. Most manufacturers already own the costliest part of a Big Data system – the software to house and process the data. This is generally your ERP system but could also be an MES or MRP system. These software systems provide the tools to slice, dice, and analyze the data you collect. Oops. Now the bad news. Most manufacturers are not feeding these systems with real time data. Often that is because the cost of acquiring the data is high due to a reliance on pen, paper, and labor. The high wage cost (production level pay for entry level data collection), loss in productivity (a production worker is spending 20-30% of her time collecting data instead of producing), and bad/missing data have been the limiting factors. But there is a solution! Often with a payback period of 6 months or less!
“Internet of Things” is a marketing buzzword that is thrown around far too often. What it really refers to is the same type of automated data capture technology that has been around for 40 years. We are going to focus on two technologies in the “Internet of Things” that can most help manufacturers feed “Big Data” and reap the rewards of data crunching in the form of increased profits and more sales.
Use RFID to track location, movement, usage, cycles, production, and tie it together for traceability
The first is radio frequency identification (RFID). Automated RFID systems allow you to capture case, pallet, or item information by passing in the vicinity of an RFID read station. Mounting these on your equipment allows you to do real time material issues to a work order with full lot traceability and real time production tracking of new WIP or finished goods you produce. The cost of data acquisition is essentially zero and there is no human intervention. That means no missing or bad data from forgotten scans or lost/illegible tracking tickets. You can also automatically monitor throughput and process time at, and between, your workcells. Additionally, you can improve preventive maintenance on your molds and fixtures by measuring cycles and linking molds to early detection of quality issues.
An RFID system integrator will work with your ERP/MES/MRP provider to ensure a secure, flexible data collection and management partnership. An RFID system that can directly feed data into your existing ERP system allows your company the opportunity to get the highest return on its investment. RFID has the ability to provide your decision makers with the reliable information they need to make the tough calls to get your company operating at its highest potential.
Use IOT Appliances to monitor almost anything and automatically trigger corrective action
The second is IOT appliances. Despite the fancy name, these are basically the same sensor-based data acquisition systems that have been around for decades. What has changed is the ability of these devices to internally filter, process, and format the raw data and feed it directly into your MES or ERP system. IOT appliances allow you to connect production equipment to your software and monitor and record temperature, humidity, down time, alerts, flow, etc. As an example, let’s suppose you currently rely on a production worker to notice if the gauge on the oven is reading over temperature and hope they call someone from quality. Instead, your IOT appliance could continuously monitor the temperature and automatically put all trays coming from the oven during an over-temp event onto quality hold in your ERP system. Imagine having up/downtime data on a machine 24 hours a day and being able to view that at the same time you look at throughput data. Perhaps, most importantly, the output of these devices can be used to stop something that is going wrong in production almost immediately to allow corrective action. Virtually any measurement that can be captured electronically can now be part of the data suite you feed into your existing software systems.
Beyond the Buzzwords
Big Data is really about collecting as much information as possible about your production process and the resources you use. The cost to store and process this information is significantly lower than even a decade ago. From these data, you can develop your key performance indicators (KPIs) and success metrics. You can spot trends (good or bad) early and act on them. Since most customers already own the tools to house and process the data the form of ERP, MES, and MRP software, our focus has been on capturing and delivering the data to these systems in a cost effective manner.
The Internet of Things provides the data capture solution. Automated RFID systems capture the location, movement, usage, and production of materials, WIP, and finished goods. IOT appliances capture measurements and messages from your equipment. Advances in technology have allowed these devices to talk directly to the big data software and have greatly reduced the cost of data capture. By combining all this data together, manufacturers can now have the tools to improve profitability, increase capacity, and increase quality.