The manufacturing sector needs to make better use of the valuable data that often sits unused within their production environments, in order to dramatically improve efficiency, production operations and quality management. This is according to Jason Chester, Director of Channel Programs at InfinityQS, who outlines how the channel can play a crucial role in helping organisations better integrate ‘information technology’, into shop-floor, within manufacturing plants.
Chester comments: “Historically, technology investment by manufacturers at shop-floor level has been consigned to process and control technologies, such as automation, machinery, hardware, devices and PLC’s etc., however, investment in ‘information’ technology in the shop-floor has remained incredibly low and for many manufacturers almost non-existent. Because of this manufacturers still struggle to address fundamental issues surrounding the improvements in cost, value, risk and agility amongst their production processes. This is despite years of Lean, Six Sigma and other lean manufacturing paradigms.
“For this reason, manufacturers are now looking ever closer at their production environments to see what greater insights can be gleaned from valuable production and machine data, to improve the efficiency of their production operations. Often in real-time rather than improvement cycles over the days, weeks or even months using more traditional lean manufacturing methodologies.
“These older more established programs such as continuous improvement, Lean, Six Sigma for example, are delivering diminishing returns as the ‘low hanging fruit’ has already been harvested. It is worth remembering that many of these methodologies where developed decades ago, before we had ready access to digital information from PLCs, sensors and inline inspection equipment, and before we could put powerful workstations connected to sophisticated cloud-solutions powered by massive data-centres and ubiquitous networks in the hands of lineside operators.As a result, manufacturers are now casting an eye to advanced shop floor information technologies such as manufacturing and quality intelligence and analytics to boost performance and better optimise manufacturing processes.”
Chester continues: “Whilst it is tempting to think of the wider trends around machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive automation that we are beginning to see so much of in many other applications across the business, the shop floor is simply not ready for this yet. A critical component to the viability of those technologies is the widespread collection, aggregation and storage of digital information (read Big Data and IIoT), but most production environments are simply not capable of that yet and so investment would be futile. So really, the future needs to be about building the foundations and getting this digital infrastructure in place.
“So how can the channel support this? More often than not, it is the operational management of a manufacturing business that is leading or pushing these projects, and IT are largely acting as facilitators and consultants to the process.
Chester concludes: “Unlike their IT counterparts, operational management have little experience of working directly with IT vendors or the IT industry. Because of this they are turning to their incumbent suppliers of industrial and automation services who are quickly having to extend their experience and remit to cover these information technology requirements. This also means that the vendors of manufacturing, especially shop-floor, oriented information technologies will increasingly find themselves working with clients via third parties, which in itself presents a massive future opportunity for the channel.”
InfinityQS have recently launched a brand-new Global Channel Partner Program in order to fulfil global demand for its innovative cloud-based Enact solution.