Unlimited data collection does have its limits

We are overwhelmed with data – or at least that’s what I read in a recent study on the topic. Our data is now portable, too. I broke down a couple of months back and got a BlackBerry, which fits in nicely with my laptop, my home laptop and my personal cell phone. I’ve got recharging cords of all shapes and sizes.


We are overwhelmed with data %%MDASSML%% or at least that’s what I read in a recent study on the topic.

Our data is now portable, too. I broke down a couple of months back and got a BlackBerry, which fits in nicely with my laptop, my home laptop and my personal cell phone. I’ve got recharging cords of all shapes and sizes.

If a pen is mightier than a sword, what does that make a BlackBerry? A weapon of mass distraction, that’s what.

A quick online search of the words 'manufacturing data collection’ shows there is no shortage of companies out there who will help you collect, manage, collate and synthesize all the data out on the plant floor. You can measure anything, even things you never knew you had. You can get your hands on data you never knew existed %%MDASSML%% probably data you didn’t WANT to know about. But there it is, in a tidy little spreadsheet, beeping its way to your handheld, 24/7.

Aren’t you glad we live in the Information Age?

As a result, any small hill of ignorance about what was happening on your plant floor is replaced by a mountain of numbers and measurements and instant analysis. It is a daily task to scale that mountain.

We are caught between two truisms in our lives:

  1. You cannot manage what you cannot measure.

  2. There are lies, damn lies and statistics.

    1. Finding an effective route in between those truths is a skill that cannot be measured. The innate skill plant engineers have to turn data into action comes from the experience to understand the limits of data analysis.

      There’s much to be said for the organizational effectiveness of Lean, Kaizen, Six Sigma and the like, but there’s still no replacement for MBWA %%MDASSML%% Management By Wandering Around. If you don’t spend a good deal of time away from your data to explore your plant floor, you’re missing the chance to see everything the data can measure %%MDASSML%% the skill of your workers, the ideas they bring to your process, and the touch and feel and smell of the equipment each day.

      As you look at PLANT ENGINEERING this month, check out the words in the headlines: 'Monitor’, 'Ensure’, 'Understand’, 'Develop’. They’re all action words. Those words don’t show up in spreadsheets. They’re not data-driven. They depend on the unique experience of each plant manager and the unique enterprise of each manufacturing operation. They enjoin the plant supervisor to action.

      Even as manufacturing professionals like you wrestle with the mountain of data %%MDASSML%% and make no mistake: more is on the way %%MDASSML%% there are still the things the data cannot measure. It’s that combination of data collection and individual expertise that bring success %%MDASSML%% measurable success.

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
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Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

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