From shop floor to top floor: embedded analytics in manufacturing
Analysing a manufacturing plant’s performance is not a new concept. Most manufacturing companies have at least some sort of LCD screen on the shop floor reporting actual versus goal production metrics to keep everyone on track.
While this is tremendously helpful for the production process, it’s really only one piece of the analytics puzzle. Manufacturers should be implementing a more comprehensive view to gain an advantage over their competitors.
Now more than ever, manufacturers need vertical visibility – from the shop floor to the top floor – to understand not only how their manufacturing plants are performing from an operational perspective, but also to understand the implications their performance has on the organisation’s financial picture. The primary way of achieving this transparency throughout the organisation is to embed analytics at every level.
The shop floor
People working at each level of a manufacturing company have different roles – and therefore, different analytics needs.
First, we start at the shop floor, which is usually comprised of line workers trying to meet daily production targets set by management. Most of these workers don’t need to delve deep into the data; they just need to quickly gauge how they’re performing against key performance indicators (KPIs). That’s why we see large, centrally located LCD screens installed on many factory floors today. They let everyone on the shop floor easily look at the metrics and immediately gauge how they’re performing in relation to their production targets. In effect, this enables shop floor workers to self-manage their performance and adjust to production changes in real time.
But some workers on the shop floor need to go beyond viewing these high-level KPIs. Unit managers are one example: these employees are responsible for monitoring line workers. While they, too, can review the LCD screens to gain a general understanding of their production line’s daily status, they may also need to view individualised analytics (e.g., production reports) that allow them to react and manage the production line in real time.
To meet end users’ needs, analytics at the shop floor level also need to be mobile-friendly. Analytics embedded in an iPad or other portable device enables easy viewing while workers are walking around the shop floor, allowing unit managers to make proactive decisions to improve production efficiencies or avoid production line downtime.
Depending on the complexity of the production line, some plants also have engineering experts working on the shop floor. These experts are doing self-service analysis at the machine level in order to maximise overall machine performance. Engineering experts like these could benefit from purpose-built analytics solutions, which collect data from multiple machines and production lines. These tools give users a clearer picture of where efficiencies are (and are not) occurring across their value chain in real time.
With this information in hand, they can better respond to events in near-real time, reducing both production inefficiencies and downtime. For larger manufacturers, reducing inefficiencies by just one percent can equate to millions or tens of millions of dollars in cost savings.
The plant manager
Sandwiched between the shop floor and the top floor is the plant manager, who is responsible for a manufacturing plant’s entire production process, from when raw materials enter the plant to when the product exits the plant for distribution. The plant manager needs to know what is happening throughout the entire production process in real time – and that requires monitoring analytics from all of the machines, people, and processes that constitute an organisation’s production process.
A plant manager wants to see operational KPIs related to how the plant is performing, such as:
- Am I meeting forecasted production? (their most pressing need)
- Where are my production line inefficiencies? With people, processes, or machines?
- What do I need to change to get back on track?
- How do I reduce or eliminate production line downtime?
Plant managers – more than anyone else – need to be able to dive deep into the analytics of their respective production processes in order to determine which methods, machines, or people need adjustment. They also need an easy way to communicate down to their unit managers and up to their managing director. Having some form of write-back functionality within their analytics suite will help them communicate any changes or status updates to their process stakeholders. With the ability to create and share real time customised analytics reports, plant managers will be able to get on the same page with their constituents instantly.
The top floor
A manufacturing company’s top floor is comprised of vice presidents of operations, directors of operations, and presidents. At this level in the organisation, employees want to view analytics at a higher level than a plant manager or shop floor employee. They have multiple plants and managers reporting into them, and typically they don’t have time to go too deep into the weeds of a particular plant’s operations.
Top floor managers are more focused on connecting operational KPIs with financial KPIs – e.g., forecasting, investing, and budget allocation – and correlating operational data with that of their company’s ERP system. These managers expect operations to move along in a certain fashion, and having the ability to analyse and visualise how their operations are running in comparison to their associated financial investments broadens their understanding and discussion of their organisation as a whole.
Although they may be more focused on the holistic view of their organisation, these managers still need to be able to customise their own reports and views through self-service analytics. The same form of write-back functionality that plant managers need should also be incorporated at the top floor level, since managers at this level need to respond to client and senior management needs in real time.
Ultimately, analytics can provide manufacturers essential information about how they can meet future demand – but the only way to gain such a complete and thorough view of operations is to embed analytics at every level.
Patrick Chartrand is a Solutions Strategy Analyst at Logi Analytics