• Data and AI


  • Industry
  • Manufacturing

Article February 22nd, 2023 by Nortal

Tackling the challenges in manufacturing by real-time and actionable data flow

Wearing protective clothing is no longer needed to understand the status of your manufacturing plants.

When something went wrong on-site, a typical reaction from a manufacturing plant manager used to be to jump in her car, drive to the factory, get dressed in a white coat or protective gear, and wear the appropriate headwear. Data related to production, processes, and their malfunctions traditionally sat in factories’ data silos and were only accessible with tools unfamiliar to the average office worker. With modern IoT technologies to gather real-time data and the emergence of agile low-code tools for making data actionable, this does not need to be the case anymore. 

Reduce waste, increase yield, and minimize environmental burden 

An example comes from a customer of Nortal, whose business is related to livestock. A new production site’s machinery was not working correctly, which led to unexpected levels of waste. This had a massive impact on the profitability of that site 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 system vendors and 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 manual effort was put daily into collecting and consolidating data from various sources and building reports on spreadsheets manually.  

Not anymore. Nortal helped bring this customer’s data to the center of their operations by using Microsoft’s familiar tools. The 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 like Microsoft Office or Teams. And all this 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. While this does not sound like a huge thing percentwise, it meant hundreds of thousands of euros in annual savings through improved product quality and reduced waste. This “power of one” phenomenon is frequently present when we at Nortal work with our industrial customers: the scale of operations is so massive that even little tweaks can impact the bottom line significantly. 

Feedback loops of data enable action and innovation 

The free and real-time flow of actionable data is only one of the many challenges we help our customers tackle nowadays. It is also about what happens with this data. Microsoft’s low-code platform, Microsoft Power Platform, comes to play in both scenarios. With this flexible and agile toolset, we can build reports, dashboards, desktop and mobile applications, and automated workflows that allow the creation of immediate feedback loops from insights in the backend to actions in the field.  

An example of such an action-bound solution is the interactive application we built for a manufacturing industry customer to send out maintenance service requests. The tickets on this app emerge automatically from, e.g., production speed or product quality deviations or the operator just requesting assistance by “pulling the Andond cord” on the application. The app also allows the maintenance person to interact with the back office, report the progress of the maintenance call, or, if needed, request help, additional tools, or spare parts. 

A mobile app can also greatly aid in standardizing the quality of work in situations where it frequently happens that one field service operator performs better than another. Electronic manuals, guides, or eSOPs (Electronic Standard Operating Procedures) delivered directly to the field worker’s mobile app as step-by-step guidance can help every operator become the best operator. 

Low-code applies from lean principles to light field service solutions 

An app could also help roll out Lean management procedures like daily pulse meetings. The pulse meeting is a popular way of working in many industries. It is a short stand-up meeting that helps each team reach its goals. The board in an app gives all employees an up-to-date picture of the situation in production. How are we doing? What to do next? Who will do it? All decisions are connected to real-time live data from different parts of the operations.  

Employing agile low-code development for production line optimization could mean, e.g., predicting events and driving actions accordingly. In its simplest form, when a batch of products is 80 % complete on an upstream production line, the system automatically submits an order for the forklift driver’s task list to pick it up. The order gets issued through an Uber-like application on the forklift driver’s mobile phone, which allows the forklift to be ready for pickup just in time when the batch is finalized. Sometimes, such simple automation can save a significant amount of wasted waiting time in production. 

An example of a “light field service solution” built with low-code tools could use an AI-driven predictive maintenance model in the background. Once the Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) model based on real-time process data forecasts that a particular piece of equipment has an increased risk of breaking within the near future, the automation will trigger and send operating instructions to the service engineer to remediate the issue: take these ten steps, re-check the situation and sign with your electronic signature. If the problem is not resolved, the system automatically sends a maintenance visit order to the equipment manufacturer. And shortly, we will be able to take this even further: maintenance engineers may receive ChatGPT-generated instructions in their app to support them fixing the issue. 

With Microsoft Power Platform’s tools for user interface (UI) development, application and data management, and security, each of the above-described systems and applications can share the same user experience. This will ease the everyday lives of the workers and the management alike. The applications can all be integrated into backend systems through more than 900 ready-made connectors and feed data to the same analytics tools. All this will allow production leadership to break free from unfamiliar tools, physical places, and time constraints. 

Make the most of your organization’s data potential! Data and analytics enable more than just better business decisions. Let’s get in touch and talk how we can help your business

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