Empowered by the Facts

The key to making better decisions about shopfloor activities is having access to reliable, actionable information. This is the promise of data-driven manufacturing and the reason we are devoting a new monthly column to this topic.


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In my April 2014 column, I said that data-driven manufacturing was an important concept that indicates a new direction for manufacturing. I still believe that this is true. In fact, the importance of this trend has compelled us to start a new column in Modern Machine Shop, the first addition to our lineup of monthly columns in almost a quarter of a century. You’ll find the premier appearance of this article here. This new column focuses exclusively on topics related to data-driven manufacturing and is called Deciding Factors, a name chosen carefully to suggest both its content and its viewpoint. The intent of this column is to report and explain developments in data-driven manufacturing so the reader can grasp their significance for real-world applications.

The name of the new column aptly suggests what we believe is the essence of data-driven manufacturing—that reliable, factual information must be the consistent basis for making decisions about shopfloor activities. When based on facts and figures, not guesswork, wishful thinking or unproven theories, these decisions will be better. As a result, manufacturing will be more efficient, less wasteful, more productive and more profitable. This trend toward fact-based decision-making will also make manufacturing more rewarding and fulfilling for the people involved in this pursuit.

This last point cannot be overemphasized. Data-driven manufacturing improves the effectiveness of both people and machine-based systems. Finding and emphasizing the ways data-driven manufacturing empowers the human workforce will be a guiding principle in the selection and interpretation of content offered in the new column.

The data we need to drive manufacturing can come from many sources and exist in many formats. However, data that is in a digital format will be the most useful, because it can be collected, processed and stored by computers. We now have better methods to gather this information in real time from across the shop floor so it can be analyzed and organized in software applications that make it usable by people who make decisions.

Combining fact-based decision-making by people and by computers is very powerful. Computers excel at making decisions instantly and automatically, thus coordinating the actions of machines and systems in near-perfect synchronization. People, however, excel at applying judgment, intuition and compassion in their decisions, thus fostering teamwork and creativity. Data-driven manufacturing enables this combination to thrive.

Finally, the concept of data-driven manufacturing should be seen as an opportunity for genuine leadership in the management of shops and factories. Presenting examples of this leadership will be a steady goal for the new column. Deciding Factors will frequently provide a place for proponents of this approach to manufacturing to present their insights and advice, along with their testimony to the positive results of its implementation.