Data-Driven Manufacturing

Decisions that control the manufacturing process should be based on facts, not guesses, wishes, theories or opinions.

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Lately, it seems that any discussion of manufacturing turns into a veritable beehive of buzzwords. These include digital manufacturing, the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, cyber physical systems and now, data-driven manufacturing.

All of these new terms point to useful concepts that characterize the change in direction that manufacturing is taking. At the moment, the one I find particularly valuable is data-driven manufacturing. Both denotatively (what the words say) and connotatively (what the words suggest), its meaning is worth some study.

Data-driven manufacturing implies that information is moving production forward. Facts and figures determine the path a manufacturing process should take, and they propel it ahead. Although we frequently use “data” as a synonym for information in a digital format (when stored in and processed by a computer, for example), data simply means any collection of facts.

To drive manufacturing, factual information has to be available so that people, as well as computers, can use it. In some situations, computers can respond to information faster and more effectively because they can be programmed to do so automatically. In other situations, people can respond more appropriately because they can apply judgment, intuition and compassion.

Combining fact-based decision-making by people and computers is very powerful. This article is a good example of this power in action. Information (facts and figures) helps operators, managers and their computerized systems to make better decisions. The benefits, it seems, should please everyone involved.

Having data on which to base decisions changes the dynamics of human interactions. Facts tend to neutralize emotions and defuse disagreements that arise when opinions clash. Reliable information reduces guesswork and builds trust. Facts enforce truthfulness and promote openness, which may cause some discomfort at first.

When facts are available, the right questions get asked and the answers have more certainty. For example, why do we need more spare cutting tools? Here’s the proof that shortages hurt the numbers. What training will help the most right now? Show us how to fix this downtime issue and you’ll see part counts go up.

That the MTConnect communication standard promotes data-driven manufacturing is one of the other main points of the article cited above. At the factory featured in this piece, MTConnect is a vital enabler of an effective machine monitoring system. MTConnect makes it possible for machine-generated data to become people-usable data when it is processed and organized by a well-constructed software application. In fact, this link between MTConnect and data-driven manufacturing is the theme for the upcoming MTConnect conference (April 8-10, 2014, in Orlando, Fla.).

Data-driven manufacturing appeals to me because it signifies that empowerment on the factory floor is shared by people and their machines. This is something to get buzzed about.

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