Manufacturing is a funny thing. From 10,000 feet it looks like a rather benign problem to solve.
- Receive and stock your materials.
- Pick the material you need for a run.
- Deliver the material for each step along the manufacturing process to a qualified team of humans and machines.
- Assemble or Produce.
If we could literally do what was described above, I think we would all agree that we wouldn’t need to squeeze much more efficiency out of the process. The reality is the layers of effort packed into each one of those sentences above is enormous. At its best it can be some of the most challenges issues we solve at our jobs each day and at worst it can be what causes a company to fail to deliver a quality product or to fail as a company.
At its beginning, manufacturing always blended a nice mix of market demand and heuristic rules that was achieved through trial and error. Individual craftsmanship and skilled tradesman would build what they could to meet the demands of a local village or town. The industrial revolution introduced mass production through mechanization(non-digital automation) and human labor. Mathematics, along with scientific and statistical methods were introduced throughout the industrial revolution accompanied by massive adaptation of human factors that included workplace culture and training. W. Edwards Deming introduced his 14 Points for Total Quality Management (TQM) 50 years ago and the world was never the same. Productivity surged for all manufacturers…..big and small!
TQM and other programs like it leveled the playing field between large and small manufacturers. These quality programs have nothing to do with the the amount of capital or computing power a company has. It was a process that changed the culture of all of us.
Times. They have changed.
I read Jaron Lanier’s book - “Who Owns the Future?” - and it made me do a lot of thinking about the big and small manufacturer. Lanier has a theorem that simply states that the entity with the most computing power always has the competitive advantage. Think about that. In an age of machines, math, and statistics driving everything, the company with the biggest computer wins. The Wall Street firm with the fastest computer executes and intercepts trades ahead of their competition to get a competitive edge. The Social Media giants can sift through user data and usage habits with their artificial intelligence algorithms running on massive computers. Great software, lots of user data, and big hardware equal great rewards.
And if you look around, that theorem is playing out everywhere. Large manufacturers have the latest technologies and lots of customer and shop floor data. They can manufacture product more cheaply than ever before. The software systems that large companies can introduce into their manufacturing process are the most sophisticated decision makers ever used by mankind. The lines above can be unpacked like never before. They have a complete view of their past and are using that data to see into the future. Do you have that advantage? Can you afford not to have that advantage in order to compete?
The inequality gap seen between large, well capitalized manufacturers, and their smaller counterparts comes down to one factor: data. The smaller the manufacturer or company, the less electronic data they tend to have. There is data, but many companies store their ISO and regulatory data in old fashioned paper log books and registers. The data can be recalled for auditors and regulatory personnel that need to review past manufacturing data records, but the benefit can stop there. Paper storage does not allow a company to take advantage of the new software systems that allow a company to have better insight in their manufacturing and sales trends. These companies have to continue to rely on 20th century technologies instead of using 21st century tools that can make them more productive.
Imagine a world where anything created today can be be used to create something tomorrow so that customer focused products and services enjoy a continuous improvement and can be produced as cost effectively as possible…...not linear but logarithmic improvements. Employees and Operations personnel benefit by augmented decision making. Less mistakes. Less stress.
Picture seeing how different suppliers of raw material and different personnel or crews can affect your day to day operations. Get insight into data only IT tools can give you.
Businesses of any size can enjoy the benefits of analyzing their data. But you have to start gathering it. You have to gather the data that makes the most sense for your company. Start small…...finish Big!
In the next article will discuss the technologies that allow companies of all sizes to get data to work for them. By using the sensors in your facility that are already in place and using some software technologies like OPC and a commercial off the shelf product in order to get to Paper on Glass manufacturing data collection, you can be well on your way to creating your own Crystal Ball....
To be continued…...