Q: What current challenge have manufacturers been wrestling with for at least 35 years?

A: System integration. Getting information to flow has always been a problem. And it still is.

Combining data from Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT) is not only essential to analysis and insights, but it is the foundation for achieving the agility and business value that companies want.

Tech-Clarity, Inc.’s current research uncovered challenges, strategies and programs that plants created for manufacturing data management. Gleaned from over 300 respondents, we uncovered a significant, and nearly universal need: better ways to integrate IT and OT data.

This blog post covers the highlights of this study. 

Manufacturing Data Challenge #1

Our research shows that 88% of manufacturing respondents feel the integration of equipment, plant, and enterprise systems is important to their Industry 4.0 success. It also shows that for 85% of those same people, plant data integration takes more than a little effort. These are just a few findings from our research report, The Manufacturing Data Challenge.

Source: eBook – The Manufacturing Data Challenge: Lessons from Top Performers

The good news is, there are emerging opportunities to allow data to flow effectively between equipment, plant software, and enterprise applications. They do not necessarily involve elaborate middleware or application integration schemes. These new approaches might be the path toward data-driven visions, including Industry 4.0, smart manufacturing, digital thread, and digital transformation.

Consistency and Context for Manufacturing Data

There are various flavors of the path forward. It is worth seeking out and evaluating how fully an offering addresses specific manufacturing issues. Some are generic data management approaches or IoT Platforms that might work for nearly any type of business. These are valuable, but if they come strictly from an IT perspective, they may still leave quite a bit of work for the manufacturing companies and their service providers.

Referring to the chart below, the other two top issues that are important to Industry 4.0 success are:
1) Consistent management of all plant data, both IT and OT data. 86% of our respondents see this as important.

2) Putting equipment or OT data into context with operations or plant IT data. Common context is important for 81% of manufacturers in our research base.

Source: eBook – The Manufacturing Data Challenge: Lessons from Top Performers

Benefits of Consistent Manufacturing Data Management

New approaches that allow manufacturers a consistent way to manage IT data and OT data could deliver some significant benefits.

  • Time Savings. Manufacturers with consistent data management will need to spend less of their skilled staff’s time and effort to create and maintain integration.
  • Path to Industry 4.0. Consistent data management could radically change the success rates of advanced manufacturing and digital transformation efforts.
  • Helping Operations. Benefits to IT and OT can spill over into operations. Production teams will get better visibility into the real-time status and performance of their operations. 

Data in Context: Benefits Across the Enterprise

Manufacturing data management approaches that also put IT and OT data into a common context could deliver additional returns. For one thing, it enables other enterprise applications to use and parse the data. For example:

  • A warranty claim from the field could potentially track and trace any other products that might have the same problem, and contain it quickly yet with minimal product recalled. Complete data in context can accelerate this process and reduce risk.
  • By correlating incoming test equipment readings with product non-conformance issues, ERP and procurement systems can immediately see which suppliers or batches of incoming materials could be a problem, enabling precise, rapid, and targeted supplier communication and management.
  • The combination of IoT, automation, and plantwide systems information about specific configurations of a product can make sense to design engineers more readily to improve new product design and development, and process engineers through PLM.

Common context for IT and OT data also opens up plant data for effective analytics. The advanced analytics approach flows in reverse order from older analytics approaches. Rather than starting with what data is available, advanced analytics begins with the problem and then identifies the information that will help solve that problem. It’s much more apparent to identify what data might help if it has full context.

Driving Success with Manufacturing Data Management

Many companies are making investments in intelligent automation, equipment, IoT, and advanced analytics – but to date, fewer are meeting their objectives and seeing business benefits. When manufacturing data sources are integrated and the data is managed consistently, and all put in context, manufacturers should expect a better data flow. They should also expect improved project results.

Seek out an approach that:

  • ensures integration is easy (or simplified)
  • manages IT and OT data consistently
  • delivers common context 

The solution must be designed with all of that in mind.

Accelerating Industry 4.0 success will look different in every industry and company, but the common foundation will be manufacturing data management. Is your data finally ready to flow?