When data exposure is a good thing

June 17, 2022

“If you start to see workers engage and driving real change in production solutions, you are going to see significant improvements.” Plex Systems’ Michael Hart emphasized how data can empower and energize an organization’s workforce.

What does it mean to expose data? And what benefits does properly exposed data offer to those who use it?

Those questions infused Michael Hart’s ROKLive presentation, “Production Visibility: The Key to Continuous Improvement,” which explored how clear visibility enables manufacturers to turn plant-floor insights into action. The director of product strategy with Plex Systems also explained how increased visibility, with tools such as Plex Production Monitoring and Plex Asset Performance Management, can drive continuous improvement, particularly during disruptive periods like our current state.

Industry 4.0 has delivered on many of its promises, Hart explained, but challenges persist in regard to leveraging all of the related smart technologies. And there are plenty at play—cloud computing and wireless approaches, for example. Critical, he noted, are solutions that can unite the key capabilities of, say, 40 such technologies. Just like one of the platforms at the center of his presentation.

The single-stack nature of Plex Production Management—a digital system of record and engagement—connects people, machines, systems and supply chains to automate business processes while tracking data from the plant floor to the top floor in order to drive more informed decisions, Hart said.

And why is that important? First, the speaker explained, it elevates the conversation with enhanced visibility into asset performance. It offers higher-quality insights and greater control capabilities for assets, and it improves relationships within factory walls and outside them. Think suppliers and customers.

This comprehensive visibility of operations, with properly exposed data at its core, enables business leaders to, as Hart phrases it, “solve the right problems at the right time.” Those common problems likely sound familiar to all of us in this space—working with incorrect information, slow reaction times to bottlenecks, antiquated connectivity setups.

Most important to a proper connectivity setup is what Hart refers to as a “single pane of glass” between operations leaders and plant-floor personnel: two-way communication empowered with real-time data to enable everybody to make decisions with confidence and speed, affording all stakeholders immediate, constant access to those decisions. “And you can adapt this approach to your practices with visualizations that make sense for your business, all with the goal of improving operational excellence.”

The end result is developing what Hart describes as “the right data for the right purposes.” That might be the spindle speed of a CNC machine or the temperature of a belt in use alongside a furnace.

In these situations, the Plex Asset Performance Management solution enables greater machine monitoring, more granular asset-health reporting and the development of sharper historical data, added Hart. “With those in place you can drive toward continuous improvement,” he said, advising that these drastic improvements might require some culture change among those who will be implementing and benefiting from these improvements.

This solution, Hart explained, allows bi-directional connections throughout facilities focused on job types, the personnel tasked with those jobs, associated known faults in assets and processes and alerts about elements to monitor. “Once all of this this is figured out, you can pull all the noise away, extract the right information and begin true condition-based monitoring and maintenance.”

A lot of us are not there yet. Nowhere close, really. Many digitalization projects get to a certain point and then stop, said Hart. They reach an end-of-life state. And that discourages those who had been the projects’ most vocal cheerleaders. “But if you start to see workers engage and driving real change in production solutions, you are going to see significant improvements. This opens up opportunities to have those conversations. To get feedback from operators about how to improve processes. It’s a chance to start the connected-worker conversation.”

That conversation benefits all parties.

During his presentation, Hart recalled an anecdote of touring an industrial plant that had recently adopted Plex Production Monitoring. He noticed an operator using his smartphone to snap a photo of the dashboard screen on his machine. The Plex rep asked what the operator was up to. The operator explained that run times displayed on the dashboard were the best they’d ever been and he wanted proof to show his boss.

Sure, his boss could and likely would easily access this data through the software solution. But the enthusiasm exhibited by the operator was an indicator to Hart of true buy-in, actual enthusiasm for a digital solution that warranted memorializing via digital photo.

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