Knowledge is power.
That’s why “big data” is so hot right now: Data is information, and information put together the right way creates knowledge. More and more, technological improvements create an “Internet of Things” — computerized products that communicate via sensors and provide feedback to each other. Maybe they regulate house temperatures throughout the day or monitor traffic and lights to ease rush-hour traffic, but every sensor, every piece of data in that feedback, adds to the knowledge of how people interact with their environments.
With the right analysis, every bit of data your business generates — and the amount of that information is increasing at jaw-dropping speeds — can give you the knowledge to take your manufacturing process to the next level, increase your profits, and streamline your methods.
1. Pinpoint existing problems in your process or product
Maybe your business depends on the purity of ingredients, like pharmaceuticals or foods. Big data analysis can boil down hundreds of streams of information to measure quality and purity before they become major problems. Maybe your business relies on performance, like defense systems or aircraft. Boeing already manufactures its planes with sensors that report back to the company during the flight, adding to the information available from black boxes and voice recorders. The information gathered not only helps make existing planes safer, it builds a foundation for the next generation of aircraft.
Computerized management maintenance systems can synthesize work orders, asset histories, inventories, vendor histories, and maintenance logs to help you pinpoint bottlenecks and glitches. That makes it easy to spot and fix problem areas.
2. Get insight on how to improve customer service
Several years ago, new car buyers drove the car off the lot and sometimes straight to a store to buy a GPS system. Light bulb time for auto manufacturers: People must value an easy way to get directions. So automakers began adding built-in GPS systems — first for high-end cars, but now even inexpensive models include them.
Data from other sources may give you a good picture of what common add-ons people value, and that can show you where and how to expand your manufacturing process.
3. Predict supplier behavior
Conflicts in Africa can lead to shortages of coltan, an element necessary for most of today’s electronic devices. If you’re a manufacturer in the electronics industry, you want to figure out ways around shortages of components before they cause glitches in your business.
Many things — strikes, natural disasters, even road construction — can threaten your supply chain, but the right computerized data analysis can predict the risks and help you figure out solutions to minimize any problems.
4. Track the efficiency of your daily production
Overall, your production stats may look great — everything gets out on time and runs like the proverbial top. But maybe every day is a nail-biter for your workers because some of the necessary machines aren’t working at peak capacity.
A good computerized management maintenance system can analyze patterns in your maintenance logs and other documents and alert you to possible weaknesses right down to the machine level before they become disasters.
Big data analysis holds great promise for many other things, too, including better forecasts of demand for your product; the integration of IT, operational, and manufacturing systems toward the creation of smart factories; and predicting and supporting customer needs quickly and smoothly for better customer service.
As the “Internet of Things” — those interconnected machines, electronic devices, and other products — grows, the amount of data available to manufacturers will continue to multiply. That means more information, more knowledge — and more power for the businesses that use big data wisely.