The Importance of Data Analytics in Decision-Making for Manufacturing

If you’re going to make smart decisions, you need to make smart measurements. If you’re not measuring everything all the time right now, and if you haven’t given thought to what the most important things are, then you will just move from crisis to crisis with no way of ever figuring out how to fix it, let alone prevent it. Data analytics will help you make smart decisions, but you have to collect all the data to do it.

For example, we’re having a major heat wave in Texas right now, and we all know that manufacturing machines do not do well in the heat. Add to that fact that most manufacturers don’t air condition their facilities — it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to cool a manufacturing plant, plus a few million dollars to install* — and you have machines that start breaking down.

(*To be clear, it’s not like no one has ventilation in their plants. At Robroy, we had swamp coolers and fans circulating air in the place. And we always made sure the plant managers had a bucket of ice with bottles of water. Whenever I would go out there, my expectation was that everyone would have a bottle.)

So if you want to figure out whether the heat is a problem and when the problems are going to arise, you need to measure everything. Everything and everyone.

That means measuring things like the outside and inside temperatures and correlating them to productivity and maintenance issues. Does productivity go up when the temperature goes down? Are there more or fewer injuries? What about heat-related injuries? And how often do the machines break down above a certain temperature? You may decide that you need to close down on especially hot days to save your machines.

Or if you’re making fiberglass liners for oil field tubulars — like we did — you’ll learn that on cold days, your resin doesn’t flow very well. (We don’t heat our plants in Texas in the winter either.) Of course, it flows very well in the warmer months. So by measuring everything, you’ll see that your consumption of resin goes up in summer and down in winter. That means your productivity will also go up in summer and down in winter.

If you know this ahead of time, you can start making production plans to work around that fact. Do you need to run overtime? Do you need a second shift? Or do you start making some product ahead of time just so you have enough in the colder winter months? Or do figure out a way to keep the resin warm and flowing easily when it’s cold outside?

What Do You Do About Leaders Who Don’t Want to Analyze Data?

Data analytics is an important part of digital manufacturing and productivity.Ultimately, this becomes a culture issue. If you’re the top person and your staff doesn’t want to do analytics, you can always insist that they learn or find people who do. If you believe in data analytics, then you’ll ensure that it gets implemented.

But if the leader doesn’t believe in it, then it will never happen. Everyone will continue to fly by the seat of their pants, relying on gut instinct and feelings. You’ll miss important signs that things are not going well, or they’re going wonderfully. You’ll only bounce from crisis to crisis, fixing broken machines, solving broken processes, and never knowing when the next one is going to come.

Data analysis is critical in this day and age, especially as we move further into the digital manufacturing era. There’s no going back to the days of old when we had mechanical machines that just worked and worked until they didn’t.

We have machines that require precision and care, but they also provide us with mountains of performance data. How many units did they run? What were the specs? Were they within tolerance or were they just slightly off? Who ran the machine? Which individual unit was made incorrectly? What was the outside and inside temperature? If you can ask it, the machines can tell you.

Once you’re armed with this information, you can ensure that your machines, people, and processes are all working at peak efficiency with little to no downtime. And your competitors, who are still flying by the seat of their pants, will be left in your dust as you sail past them.

I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business, including pivoting within their industry. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Photo credit: (Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

Author: David Marshall
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.