Making data smaller is suddenly a big deal

You have to see the Big Picture when tackling Big Data. But that’s no small task.

03/19/2014


You can’t buy a Small Mac at McDonald’s. You can’t go into 7-Eleven and purchase a Small Gulp. It’s doubtful the star of “Sesame Street” would have attracted as much attention if he was named Small Bird.

That’s because we love big things. It’s pervasive in our culture. We love big shows and big tops and big valleys. Smaller canyons won’t do; we need a Grand Canyon. And while we have big cities, there is only one Big Apple.

So it stands to reason that if we were going to name the proliferation of information available to plant managers today, we’d come up with the name Big Data. It fits. It matches the size and scope of the information available to plant personnel today, delivered through a variety of devices. And as the data gets bigger, so too do the rooms we build to try and contain it. 

When we look at the explosion of data and data delivery today, we see more than just size. The data delivery is relentless. We have alarms to manage and data points to evaluate and information to ponder.

We must do it all while keeping the line up and running. The flow of information and the flow of product must run in parallel, because it is dangerous when they intersect. That’s when bad decisions are made, when processes break down. 

So while we call it Big Data, we in manufacturing also are trying to make it smaller. Companies focus their efforts on helping manufacturers slice through the volume of data and the noise of alarms to get at the right information at the right time.

That’s the key, of course. Leaving aside our national preference for bigness, what is most important about data is not its size, but its ability to help us understand the world we live in. 

For example, we use temperature to tell us how many layers of clothing to put on each morning. In Chicago over this past winter, the answer was seven. By the time you receive this issue, I’m hoping the answer is down to two. Regardless, I’ll use the data to help me make that choice.

We evaluate data as a matter of course every day. Our new cars can warn us about low tire pressure and high engine temperature, and ping us when we’re running out of gas. While that data may be valuable at various points, what we’re primarily concerned with as we drive is the speed of the car. It’s the essential piece of data we need to effectively operate the car. When we are alerted to other issues, we need to evaluate our need to respond based on where we’re going, how fast we have to get there, and whether this might be a good time to stop and do some maintenance.

Plant managers must make these same calculations, on far more systems and sensors each day. Still, the essential questions must still be answered: where are you going, and how fast do you want to get there?

Synthesizing data is now a crucial part of our manufacturing process. It’s not just about making a decision, because you could respond to any piece of data with a wide range of decisions. Where the large control rooms now play a large role is in bringing all that data to a single point of reference and creating collaboration among stakeholders in the process to understand quickly what the effects of any decision might be on the operation as a whole. 

And that’s important because no one person has all the answers. If you create a collaborative process to evaluate systems and solve problems, you bring together all the people who can contribute. If you try to see just one piece of data, or react to each alarm as a crisis, or fail to involve the whole team in the data analysis, you’re going to miss something important.

In other words, you have to see the Big Picture when tackling Big Data. But that’s no small task.

The new control rooms show us that we must do more than just collect and manage data. We must see it as one more tool in our ability to run an efficient plant. We have Big Data, and to a point, that’s a good thing. We have all of the knowledge we could possibly want on what our plant is doing, how well it is operating, and where our equipment’s performance is heading.

We also need a way to shrink that data to fit our needs. Then it becomes Smart Data, and that is a really Big Idea.

 



Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
July/Aug
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
May 2018
Electrical standards, robots and Lean manufacturing, and how an aluminum packaging plant is helping community growth.
April 2018
2017 Product of the Year winners, retrofitting a press, IMTS and Hannover Messe preview, natural refrigerants, testing steam traps
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
August 2018
Choosing an automation controller, Lean manufacturing
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me