Article August 24th, 2023
by Ergin Tuganay, Head of Data & IoT
Time to capture the silent knowledge of machine whisperers
One day, Paul came to work only to see that the production line was temporarily shut down. Something had gone wrong with the machine, but no one had seen it coming. Well, one person might have.
A week before the factory faced a major unplanned shutdown that cost tens of thousands of euros, Martin, the factory’s chief maintenance engineer, had taken one last look at the machinery and then walked out the door. After working for decades in the factory, he finally retired. And when he left, the company lost something they didn’t even realize they had: the silent knowledge of a machine whisperer. You see, Martin knew everything there was to know about using his senses and experience interpreting the equipment’s data without ever seeing the actual data collected by the factory’s many sensors.
But this is something we’ll be facing. Factory workers worldwide are growing older; we are seeing the simultaneous retirement of a large group of experienced workers. At the same time, we live in a data-driven business century, in the middle of fourth industrial revolution where digital manufacturing revolutionizes the industry.
If you think these things won’t affect your business, think again. People in production, quality, and maintenance departments are typically the ones whose productivity grows the longer they do their jobs. When this group retires, industries worldwide will face a problematic skills shortage while also adapting to the new reality of smarter, digital manufacturing. This wave of retirement is about to begin.
It’s time to start thinking about your process data as a first-class citizen
However, people retiring is only one problem; there is another big issue. It’s not a secret that in today’s fourth industrial revolution and digital economy, the phrase “data is the new oil” holds true, acknowledged as one of the most valuable resources in business. Thus, the innovative digital solutions to replace machine whisperers have taken – and will take – leaps. Data equals profitability and new revenue streams. Value buried in data is becoming increasingly crucial for all organizations.
In Europe, the data economy has already taken off — when entering the 2020s, it was valued at €325B. That’s 2.6% of the EU GDP. Furthermore, the Commission thinks that if the right policy and legislative framework conditions are put in place in time, the value of the data economy can increase to €550B by 2025, representing 4% of the overall EU GDP.
Additionally, connectivity – the foundational prerequisite for data – is fast growing as another critical driver of success. According to the WEF report (2022), a highly connected factory where all assets, like machines, products, materials, and the workforce, are linked via a shared network helps a company in two essential ways. It enables more extensive and effective machine-to-machine and human-to-machine communications. It also allows companies to leverage data better to generate new insights and facilitate more real-time decision-making.
Thus, it’s fair to say that industries that cannot translate machine whisperers’ knowledge into actual, visible data will have difficulty succeeding in the future. It will either lose clients, revenue, or profit to its competition or be out of business sooner rather than later.
Capturing and translating the silent knowledge – and going beyond
Digital manufacturing has been implemented in numerous factories nowadays. The optimization of factory processes has been executed to the maximum, but the utilization of the data itself still hasn’t been fully optimized. In many cases, companies may not even know what kinds of data they have in their databases or how to take full advantage of it.
For example, we helped a customer cut costs significantly after bringing their data to the center of their operations. Their new production site’s machinery was not working correctly, leading to unexpected waste levels. This had a massive impact on that site’s profitability and the environmental burden caused by it. Even worse, it was difficult to identify and categorize the causes of waste to take corrective actions because this significantly sized department had many different automation systems from various vendors and at varying ages. The data in these systems were siloed, and each system provided its view of the data with a proprietary set of tools and user interfaces. For the process and maintenance engineers and supervisors, it was challenging to gain a holistic understanding of the status of the production line. A significant amount of daily manual effort was put into collecting and consolidating data from various sources and building reports on spreadsheets manually.
Using modern digital tools, we helped bring our customer’s data to the center of their operations. Plant management can now access production lines’ various process data, trend analyses, and anomalies through an easy-to-use interface that can be accessed through everyday tools. And all this happens in real-time. By having this data always at hand and reacting to any deviations swiftly, the organization reached almost a one percentage point improvement in the yield within 12 months. It meant hundreds of thousands of euros in annual savings through improved product quality and reduced waste.
The good news is that the silent knowledge of both the senior workers and data silos can be captured and translated. You need to take complete control of the data your factory produces, collects, and stores. By leveraging cutting-edge hybrid cloud technologies and modern tools, it is possible to get actionable insights on data without massive projects, steep investments, or writing custom applications whose maintenance and updates might prove problematic.
Empower your success through a holistic data strategy
What you’ll need in the first place is a holistic data strategy and a digital innovation that facilitates connectivity, communication, and collaboration, as well as the creation of a digital twin of your factory. This will result in the ability for the entire production process to adjust in real-time, automatically, to unexpected circumstances, guaranteeing “zero unplanned downtime” at the production-system level.
The fusion of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) is also paramount. Integrating these once-disparate realms yields a holistic data strategy with profound benefits. Nowadays, success can even be said to hinge on IT/OT convergence. A holistic data strategy rooted in this fusion empowers confident decisions, fuels innovation, and guarantees competitiveness in a dynamic era.
The inability to institutionalize silent knowledge can impair your production and profitability. But your factory will start working more efficiently by digitalizing that knowledge empowered by the holistic data strategy. Therefore, you can significantly reduce the time needed to onboard younger employees.
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