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Enterprise manufacturing intelligence comes of age

Enterprise manufacturing intelligence tools are approaching a tipping point as IDC expects widespread adoption among manufacturers this year.

For as long as manufacturing has existed, manufacturers have looked for ways to use the data generated in the factory to make better business decisions. But the concept of connecting "shop-floor-to-top-floor" systems has proven stubbornly elusive. The factory produces so much data that mining it for fine-grade ore is no easy matter. Data integration has not gotten easier.

Then there's the issue of how to connect factory key performance indicators (KPIs) such as overall equipment effectiveness, or OEE, and cycle-time efficiency to enterprise information systems to inform management decisions. For example, managers need to be able to activate contingency plans if a machine or plant is offline. Traditionally, there has been no expedient way to gain this visibility.

All of this may be changing. Enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) or operations intelligence (OI) is coming of age, due in part to the rise of automated data exchange in technologies such as machine-to-machine and Internet of Things (IoT). Also driving adoption is a plethora of powerful analytics tools available in a range of price points and lightweight delivery models, including cloud.

Enterprise manufacturing intelligence spurred by new technology

"The biggest trends in the [EMI] space have been around big data analytics, cloud and mobility," said Matthew Littlefield, president and principal analyst at LNS Research. Advances in these areas have enabled manufacturers to much more easily bring together transactional financial data and real-time operational data and deliver it to decision makers on mobile devices, in context and personalized for better decision making, added Littlefield.

Over time, existing enterprise manufacturing intelligence applications will easily connect to more IP-enabled devices and sensors, leveraging new types of analytics that bring together structured and unstructured data types, connecting systems from the asset on the plant floor all the way up and out to enterprise applications, suppliers and customers.

This year, according to IDC Worldwide Manufacturing Predictions 2015, 65% of companies with more than 10 plants will enable the factory floor to make better decisions through investments in operational intelligence. The key difference this year, according to Bob Parker, group vice president of research for IDC Manufacturing Insights, is that now manufacturers are using EMI/OI to surface data trends that are actionable in the present, rather than just evaluating what happened in the past.

"It used to be about reporting, driving the boat by looking at the wake. The newer stuff has been complex event processing," Parker said. "Can we evaluate the streams of data and understand how they relate to each other?"

For example, readings suggesting a vibration problem on machine A might automatically trigger an alert to a system upstream so someone could take a look at it before a major problem develops. Even more significant, added Parker, the newest tools include situational context and awareness, automatically sensing that the vibration problem on machine A might affect temperature on machine C, so that can be addressed proactively as well.

Smaller manufacturers still at tire-kicking stage

Still, most small and medium-sized manufacturers interested in EMI are mostly at the tire-kicking stage, Parker said. "Twenty percent are taking a holistic view of [operational intelligence], with a program management office and full deployment across plants." The middle of the pack -- 60% -- has deployed EMI/OI in a point approach with a pilot or two or full deployment of a single plant. The final 20%, added Parker, are using EMI/OI in the form of backward-looking scorecards.

Engineering-oriented industries, such as aerospace, with complex products are the furthest along the EMI/OI adoption curve, according to Parker. That's because of their focus on yield and quality.

The factors driving uptake of EMI are the same as the drivers for virtually any other type of technology used by manufacturers, Littlefield said. Now, as ever, "manufacturing companies are most challenged with increasing product variability, increased volatility of customer demand, increasing product complexity, increasing need for traceability and documentation, [and] shortened new product introduction cycles." EMI systems arm manufacturers with data, in a timely and contextualized way, to cope with these realities.

Parker encouraged manufacturers considering buying an EMI system to take a holistic view of their entire enterprise. "No plant is an island," Parker said. Even if you start small and contained -- as do most manufacturers dipping into the EMI waters -- be wary of making decisions now that will close out your ability to deploy the system on a broader scale.

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