Data, data, everywhere

Like most Irishmen of her generation, my grandma had countless snatches of poetry tucked away that she’d unleash on us kids if she felt the occasion called for it.

On thirsty summer days, for example, Bridie would invariably dip into The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and hit us with “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

I’m reminded of those lines today as I hear packaging engineers talk about their growing reliance on data. But where the ancient mariner’s problem was that he was awash in undrinkable salt water, those managing today’s packaging lines are awash in unmanageable data. With apologies to Coleridge, it’s a matter of “Data, data, everywhere, but where’s some actionable info?”

Maybe the way out of this dilemma is less data. Maybe the problem is that because managers are feeling more pressure than ever to increase efficiency and maximize all assets, they are looking for ways to collect more and more data. But in the process, focus and clarity fall victim to information overload.

That is the premise of a new white paper put out by Activplant Corp., a Canadian firm focused on providing business intelligence to manufacturers. The message is fairly simple: If managers can block out extraneous details and concentrate on only the most valuable data, they’ll be able to see a clear picture of the enterprise’s manufacturing strengths and weaknesses and can then take meaningful action in real time.

The white paper goes on to address the importance of what it calls “role-based reporting,” a viewpoint recognizing that not everyone in the enterprise needs the same data or processes data in the same way. Timing is important, too. Analysts like to talk about how increasingly important real-time data has become. But does the continuous-improvement team really need information in the same time frame as the machine operator or managers at the executive level? The Activplant author suggests that data is best managed in a manufacturing organization if we sort out the stakeholders along these lines:

Operators. Operators need immediate and continuous feedback provided in an easy-to-understand format. Terminals showing graphic representations of the line or plasma screens with real-time process measurements (such as red, yellow, and green lights) can be very useful.

Manufacturing Supervisors. Hitting shift productivity and other short-term goals is the focus. Pushing traditional reports (as email attachments) to supervisors on a regular basis enables them to keep track of line performance and make immediate adjustments.

Operations/Plant Management. As the bridge between manufacturing supervisors and executives, these managers require both real-time and trending reports. They need to receive information from all parts of the plant and they need the flexibility to access additional data.

Continuous Improvement/Engineering teams. These “power users” typically want a large amount of data to support their analytical capabilities. They value both real-time metrics and in-depth historical information, which they use to drive efficiencies in overall operations.

Executive Management. With ultimate responsibility for the enterprise, executive management requires information to be supplied as analysis and delivered in concise formats. This information may be shared with other divisions of the business, and is used for decision-making that affects profitability.

All in all, the Activplant paper (www.activplant.com; click on Media Center) is a thoughtful take on data acquisition. Speaking of data acquisition, it’s the central subject of the opening and closing presentations at the fourth annual Packaging Automation Forum, sponsored by Packaging World and Automation World. There’s still time to register at www.packworld.com/paf. Hope to see you there.

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