Manufacturing: Big Data's Star Player
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Manufacturing: Big Data's Star Player

By Doug Woods, President, AMT

Doug Woods, President, AMT

If you’re looking for the media darling of economic revival, there’s no need to look any further than manufacturing. The industry has been hailed as a leader in creating jobs, driving exports, protecting national security and having a positive impact on almost every sector of the economy.

On the technology side, though, manufacturing has been perceived by some as an industry that’s behind the times. In the past, while the electronics, medical, aerospace and automotive industries were in the spotlight as coming out with what’s “cool,” manufacturing was often relegated to being an afterthought for developing concepts and technologies that have a broad impact. Fast forward to today and the advent of the industrial internet and data analytics. When it comes to the big data world, the biggest star player by far is manufacturing.

As Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liver is put it “Where manufacturing goes, innovation inevitably follows.” This is absolutely true in the collection and use of big data. No other industry can compare to manufacturing when it comes to using big data to leverage capital efficiency. Sensors and PLCs are now practically flooding the factory floor due to their rapidly declining cost and ubiquitous nature. The widespread availability of data gathering tools has made automation easier, more effective and more efficient than ever. Sensors can now be embedded throughout every machine, measuring and analyzing operations down to the finest detail.This process of turning big data into innovations and improvements is revolutionizing manufacturing operations, and also being emulated in any number of other industries – in the operating room, in oil fields, in jet engines as they fly from one continent to another.

But collecting data is just the first step. As noted in ASME’s Advanced Manufacturing Environmental Scan, the integration of sensing, modeling, simulation, and information tools is giving manufacturing the ability to be more intelligent and self-aware – and make real time adjustments in ways never imagined.

This has impact throughout the entire supply chain. The ability to exchange information between machines on your factory floor and the corner office has and will yield enormous benefits in productivity and dollars. Yet the intra company gains pale in comparison to the impact on work in process (WIP) and the cost of supply chain management. Once big data begins to meet up with a company’s supply chain, “just-in-time” gets an exponential improvement. No longer will WIP be measured in months and weeks — it will be in days and maybe even hours. The cost savings in interest payments on inventory alone is staggering.

From consumption-based, real-time feedback provided through networked tool vending machines to reduced development cycles and better enabled localized manufacturing with additive technologies; agile manufacturing is only as good as its supply chain. The ability to acquire, compile and associate data to make more informed decisions begins to describe the Advanced Manufacturing Enterprise. Ultimately this will lead to “making exactly what I want, exactly where I want it, exactly when I want it.”In terms of cost, even realizing just a one percent efficiency improvement could have a massive impact on a number of industries. GE estimates that applications of the industrial internet – aka the “Internet of Things” – by 2025 could be expanded to be applicable to $82 trillion of output worldwide. In terms of specific industries, just a one percent efficiency improvement in commercial aviation could yield $30 billion in fuel savings over 15 years. Similar dramatic efficiency gains could be seen in medical, energy, and other transportation industries.

At AMT-The Association For Manufacturing Technology, one of the most noteworthy contributions we have made toward gathering, analyzing, and utilizing big data has come through our development of MTConnect – a free, open-source standard that allows manufacturing equipment and devices to speak to one another in a common, XML-based language. By fostering an open channel of communication between devices, equipment, and systems, all of these sources are then allowed to exchange and understand each other’s data. From there, users are empowered to create applications that are aimed at making operations more efficient through improved productivity and production optimization.

ITAMCO, a machining services and open gearing provider based in Plymouth, Indiana, has developed MTConnect applications both for wireless data acquisition and sharing (iBlue) and for wearable technology utilizing Google Glass. Many other manufacturers are using MTConnect to track things like energy usage on individual pieces of equipment, as well as performance metrics such as aggregate energy usage, downtime, and other data related to efficiency, productivity, and utilization.

I would encourage all manufacturing executives to examine the possibilities offered by big data. No manufacturing operation can be considered “advanced” unless it’s utilizing the technology available for data collection and analysis. No manufacturer will remain competitive on a global scale unless it is leveraging this data to its greatest advantage.

The landscape for big data offers manufacturers a universe of possibility never before seen. For increasing revenue, reducing costs, improving productivity, and optimizing shop floor and supply chain operations, the story has just begun for this latest wave of innovation. Stay tuned, because there is much more to come.

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