What are you going to do with all the available data?

In the classic film, “It's a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey was able to keep the Building and Loan open for another day simply by having two dollars on hand at the end of the day. He and his staff gleefully put the bills aside, suggesting that they might mate overnight. Thus the idea of compound interest was born.


In the classic film, “It's a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey was able to keep the Building and Loan open for another day simply by having two dollars on hand at the end of the day. He and his staff gleefully put the bills aside, suggesting that they might mate overnight. Thus the idea of compound interest was born.

On that day, George Bailey's measure for success was simple %%MDASSML%% enough cash on hand to keep the doors open one more day. Tomorrow, they surmised, would take care of itself. It may have been a wonderful life, but George Bailey wouldn't have survived long as a manufacturer.

Plant managers have two measures of success %%MDASSML%% a long-term, strategic plan and a minute-by-minute view of what's happening on their floor. The ability to measure plant floor activity in real time %%MDASSML%% what product is being made, using how much energy, with the alarms recognized and the waste recorded %%MDASSML%% increasingly takes hold of our vision. Dashboards that track each product movement through the plant pipeline give managers a real-time scoreboard of the day's activities.

All that data is great. It's clean and colorful and at your fingertips. Only one question remains %%MDASSML%% what are you going to do with it?

We get caught up in the minute-to-minute. We also need to step back and figure out what the data tells us about our specific operation. We need to find the time to unclog the bottlenecks and adjust the process. We need to move new lines into action and retool for the next great product coming from R&D. Finding time for all of that while cranking out as much product as we can as fast as we can with as high quality as we can is the challenge of modern manufacturing.

In reality, data is just another wrench in a plant manager's toolbox. Throw data at a problem, and you could bring the operation to a halt. Too much pressure on data, and you could disable the equipment. And you wouldn't use a wrench when what you really need is a screwdriver. Not all data is created equal, either.

Overall equipment effectiveness is one of the new terms we've come to know over the past decade. OEE is really just a way to quantify what we've sensed for a long time. We constantly want to know if we're getting all we can from our equipment. OEE gives that a number. As we discuss in this month's cover story, that number means different things to different plants.

We can become a slave to the data, or we can, as George Bailey did, just hope for a better tomorrow. Sometimes, that hope is rewarded %%MDASSML%% but it's no way to run a business.

The third option is to find the data that helps you understand what's really happening on the plant floor, and then act on it to improve operations. The data captured today is giving us greater knowledge than ever about what's happening on the plant floor.

What happens next is the key.

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