How can manufacturers get the most out of their plant data?

How can manufacturers get the most out of their plant data?
Avanceon’s Brian Fenn outlines how companies can gain new insights from the data they already gather

Elly Yates-Roberts |

Everyone collects an exuberant amount of industrial data about their products, materials, and processes. But manufacturers continue to struggle to completely leverage this data. Trending and raw data tables and reports tend to be the most common, but they are often tied to the plant floor or use specialised software that is limited in its accessibility to be beneficial for everyone involved.

In order to help manufacturers improve their operations, Avanceon has been encouraging customers to use their pre-existing IT tools to make better sense of the data they already gather. Organisations are integrating their manufacturing data into their IT stack and leveraging tools that stakeholders have access to across the enterprise. This does wonders for opening communication pathways. It makes data accessible to more employees in more departments. All of these individuals have valuable insight into their operations and need this data to surpass expectations. Their ability to use the data in new and innovative ways is impressive.

In many cases, users are able to access data on their own via the tools they normally use for other business purposes. By employing that sort of self-service data model, users can get valuable information without navigating through whole slew of colleagues, additional touchpoints and networks. This lowers the hurdle for data consumption and distillation. In addition, by making the data more accessible, it also increases the likelihood that organisations will be able to use the data in productive ways.

For example, Microsoft Teams is a flexible software that many companies have implemented and, with an increasing number of organisations using the Microsoft 365 platform, it makes sense to integrate manufacturing data into this pre-existing toolset. A number of customers now leverage the Teams front end, which their employees are accustomed to, so that they can easily integrate plant floor data and information in conjunction with their planning and concerns lists. This allows for every team member to easily compare the plans and key issues against what happened historically (or in real time) on the plant floor. Ultimately, visualisations that are quick and simple to locate helps unlock opportunities for better decision-making.

Another way to tap into an existing Microsoft investment is through PowerBI. Many organisations started to use PowerBI for their data visualisations as they connect to a wide variety of data sources. Plus, the platform provides a good user experience when creating new reports and dashboards. All of this helps everyone to see the data from new angles leading to new insights. Although departments outside of manufacturing operations are more familiar with PowerBI, it is becoming a common tool across the board at many operations too. Once manufacturing information is available, organisations are able to apply those data sets to the already existing data infrastructure, allowing them to continually monitor the situation and data across a larger number of users. This flexibility creates additional views and drill downs to help organisations better understand the nature of their operations.

In addition to the data visibility, more companies than ever are placing their trust in cloud data storage and warehousing. As companies get more comfortable and feel secure in storing data in the cloud, they are able to leverage the cost and integration benefits of scale. By creating data warehouse views that combine related, but disparate, data sets, companies can take full advantage of a data visualisation tool like PowerBI. Increasing the amount of information available and providing relational context to allow for deeper analysis is an all-around win. And by leveraging cloud-based historical data solutions, they are able to gather and store more volumes of data in an affordable manner. Both of these approaches allow for richer data sets that produce the best possible insights.

Brian Fenn is chief operations officer at Avanceon

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