Data Chase 2006

Editor in Chief Joe Feeley expects the pursuit and corralling of operating and lifecycle factory-floor data will do nothing but increase in the future, and he offers more evidence of how this will impact machine OEMs.

By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

BY THE TIME you read this column, some two or three weeks after I've finished writing it, the news still will be bubbling over in most any place where manufacturing jobs are at issue. When it announced plans today to close 14 plants and cut up to 30,000 jobs, Ford Motor Co. basically rewrote the classic MBA thesis: “How to try to look good while finding yourself with no recourse but to gut your workforce after decades of abysmal executive decision-making.”

That’s kinder than most of the reactions I’ve heard. It’s upsetting when a story ends at a point where the answer has to be the sacrifice of more U.S. jobs, which gives more uncertainty to Tier-One and Tier-Two supplier houses, and the machine builders that supply them.

It’s no surprise that the pressure stays on for better, faster, cheaper. So, leaving sound research and marketing decisions aside, what should Machine Builder Nation be on the watch for from its customers?

While writing this, I realized it was in my February 2005 column that I let off some steam about end user companies that push their machine builders to provide advanced data-handling capabilities—even if the end users aren’t prepared for what to do with the data when they get it. Better to spend your time making better-performing machines, I concluded. I took some flak for that, even though it confirmed that some of you were thinking the same thing.

That pressure is still there, and a new study I recently received tells me it’s time to pass along some new intelligence on data-handling expectations your customers might soon be bringing to you. A study by researchers at Aberdeen Group explored what companies are doing to, in my words, “not be like Ford,” at least at the operations interface. It’s all about data, and a lot of it is about factory floor machine data.

Aberdeen says best-in-class manufacturers will be closing the loop with real-time “detect, sense, and respond” technologies. “Now is the time,” says the report, “[for manufacturers] to take advantage of business process modeling tools, service-oriented architectures, component applications, and the incorporation of ISA-95 standards.”

The report also stresses factory-data-to-the-boardroom strategies. Manufacturers should “harness manufacturing and technology to provide executives with the information they need to make informed decisions,” it says. “Provide summaries of this information and allow drill-downs into data on products, facilities, processes, compliance…and other manufacturing information.”

The study also scolds what it calls “laggard” companies, those 30% of enterprises that are “significantly behind the average of the industry” in manufacturing evolution. It tells them they had better get moving on factory floor integration, become more customer focused, and begin to “empower operators and supervisors to make prompt decisions by delivering real-time technology solutions.”

Simple translation: get that operating and lifecycle data out of the machine and use it throughout the enterprise, and do it now.

The report adds that for 63% of discrete manufacturers, collecting, normalizing, and managing data from across manufacturing—from inventory records data historians and factory floor devices—remain the top challenges. “Specialized systems, incompatible technology and the complexities and costs associated with integration have held back achievement of this goal.”

Gee, I guess I was right last year. That and $2 gets me my small black coffee from the shop across the street, buy it certainly doesn’t help you any.

Nonetheless, the pursuit and corralling of factory-floor data will do nothing but increase, along with other consolidations and future plant closings. You already know from experience that your customers want you involved in significant changes. This will be no different. And it’s getting closer all the time.

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