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.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2017 Top Plant.
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.
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
March 2018
SCCR, 2018 Maintenance study, and VFDs in a washdown environment.
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
February 2018
Focus on power systems, process safety, electrical and power systems, edge computing in the oil & gas industry
December 2017
Product of the Year winners, Pattern recognition, Engineering analytics, Revitalize older pump installations
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
April 2018
Implementing a DCS, stepper motors, intelligent motion control, remote monitoring of irrigation systems
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards

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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