Keeping the CFO out of jail, and other data management benefits

The data that whirls around your plant floor - guiding production, improving quality, enhancing maintenance and other operations - has become extremely valuable to the people in the front office. Providing accurate plant data to assure compliance with government regulations, such as FDA 21 CFR Part 11 and Sarbanes-Oxley accounting reforms in the post-Enron world, can keep your facility from eno...


The data that whirls around your plant floor - guiding production, improving quality, enhancing maintenance and other operations - has become extremely valuable to the people in the front office. Providing accurate plant data to assure compliance with government regulations, such as FDA 21 CFR Part 11 and Sarbanes-Oxley accounting reforms in the post-Enron world, can keep your facility from enormous fines and/or your CFO from being jailed if he or she cannot document specific plant data.

When it comes to data management, it is no longer about who is right or who is wrong - IT or the plant manager. It can be all about proving that the CFO is right.

These aren't the only threats that the timely and accurate distribution of corporate-wide plant data can guard your facility against. The biggest threat is from global and domestic competition. Accurate data distribution and management can help increase plant production, lower operating and material costs, reduce scrap, improve quality and lower assets - all while increasing flexibility to meet customer demands.

Now it's up to all plant operations and management personnel to get that data to the enterprise to ensure that it all works. There are some basic issues a plant manager should address to ensure effective enterprise data connectivity:

1. Getting timely and accurate data to the enterprise

This stage affects processing plants and manufacturers of discrete products in different ways. In many process industries such as refineries, the entire operation is highly integrated from beginning to end using systems and components that are designed to work together and are connected to a central information center. Getting data to the enterprise from these process systems is usually straightforward because there is a central point of information that is typically integrated into the enterprise system.

Getting discrete product manufacturing data to the enterprise is often more difficult because these facilities include various pieces of production equipment that are networked together in highly engineered systems to meet specific plant productivity, quality and production flexibility goals.

2. The dangers of data bridges

Data bridges often use highly customized software running on either a Microsoft or Linux operating system to translate factory floor data into the language of the specific enterprise system. By their very nature, data bridges are time-consuming and expensive to install because of the extensive programming required to translate each plant floor data point to into a language the enterprise server understands.

Data bridges are costly to maintain as well. Any changes or upgrades made in plant floor components or systems must also be made to the data bridge.

For these reasons and others, corporate IT departments dislike data bridges. For many plant engineers, however, they are the only way to send data to the enterprise.

3. Overcoming data bridge problems

When a new enterprise system is being considered, it is important for you, as the plant engineer or manager, to step forward and request to be an equal partner with IT in the enterprise business planning process before any funds are committed. It is at this point that together, IT and plant operations can research and develop enterprise connectivity strategies and tactics proactively, rather than reactively, to assure the success of the total enterprise system.

4. Choose the data wisely

The enterprise business system will not need to know every bit of data that you use to operate and maintain your plant facility. Working with IT, you will need to establish and identify the activities that will be monitored by the enterprise, such as specific equipment and processes involved; production rates; spare parts, materials, finished goods and return goods inventories; reject and scrap rates; equipment breakdown; and repair costs. From there, values for these activities need to be established, such as line speeds, minimum raw materials inventory reorder levels, finished goods inventory levels, and more.

At this stage, discussion with IT as to what type of data is really required will focus the scope of the project to make your job, and that of the people in IT much easier. You'll have fewer data points to worry about and so will they.

Author Information

Ron Monday is the president and CEO of Online Development Inc. The Knoxville, TN company is a fast track developer of factory automation hardware and software for OEM products in the industrial market space. Mr. Monday can be reached by phone at (865) 251-5252 or by email: .

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