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    Is Your System Smart? The Value of Processing Plant Floor Data Real-Time

    In today’s world of interconnected everything, too many manufacturers are finding themselves a day late and a dollar short when it comes to quality, on-time delivery, and inventory management. Why? Because by the time the information is collected and reports are cobbled together and delivered to the top floor, the data is already obsolete.

    The gap between the time when information is collected and when that information is used for business decisions can quickly separate the leaders from the followers. This has never been more apparent than during COVID-19. Almost overnight, manufacturers had to make decisions as quickly and accurately as possible. The ability for some businesses to not only ensure the safety of its employees, but also continue to fulfill orders to keep essential products and goods coming off the line, despite global supply chain disruption, created a clear delineation between businesses that struggled, and businesses that survived or in some cases, thrived.

    Consider the story of our customer Olde Thompson. This private label and branded spices and seasonings company is one of the manufacturers that, heading into the pandemic, had foresight into ordering and chose to proactively raise its stock levels. They utilized their supply chain planning software to manage this inventory, which helped them not only survive the pandemic, but also bring on three new customers this summer. While some manufacturers saw shutdowns or drastically lower production levels from March through May, Olde Thompson doubled its monthly output. This planning and forward-looking strategy ultimately put the company in a position of financial strength – in July, it acquired another company to become the largest private brand spice company in the U.S.


    An Accelerated Digital Revolution 

    For all the momentum around the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Industry 4.0, the truth is that many manufacturers are still stuck relying on paper-based systems or Excel to run their business. This makes data input a manual function that can be hours, days, or even a week behind what’s happening in real-time. When a system is reliant upon a single person or a physical sheet or white board, progress is not only slow, but risk becomes amplified. In a post-COVID world, this is simply not acceptable. 

    According to our State of Manufacturing Technology report conducted at the close of 2019, only 24% of global manufacturers had currently implemented a smart manufacturing initiative. Another 22% are in the pilot stages. Smart manufacturing, a simple way to refer to Industry 4.0, encompasses the convergence of physical and digital systems, leading to the rise of smart factories. Gartner, Inc. predicts that “one of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on global manufacturing is a significant uptick in the interest in cloud-native/cloud-enabled solutions for manufacturing operations.”

    This shift is important because the cloud provides a mechanism to collect and synthesize data coming off the plant floor. Suddenly, a manufacturer that may have been scrambling to manage 30 different business systems that produce 30 versions of the truth could have a single platform with which to contextualize all of the inputs coming in – delivering one single system of record that can be relied upon across the organization, anywhere in the world.  


    Data….Data Everywhere

    As manufacturing organizations become digitized, there is an extraordinary opportunity to digitize existing business systems and processes, but also to begin monitoring things that previously existed in the physical world to further drive the decision-making process. For manufacturers, this could be machines, forklifts, or calipers used for quality checks on the plant floor. 

    Once collection is underway, some manufacturers can become overwhelmed at the vast amount of information coming in, and assume they have to hire analysts, data scientists, and additional software to understand information. This usually isn’t the case – if you have the right technologies, processes, and systems in place. Manufacturers today shouldn’t only be thinking about the value of individual solutions, but also how they work together to seamlessly deliver a single, real-time view into operations. 



    Human intuition is no match for data-driven decisions, period. As more manufacturers join the smart manufacturing movement, the more opportunity for gathering real-time, system-wide data and contextualizing it to drive meaningful insights will grow. This movement will empower manufacturers to respond more quickly, accurately, and positive to disruption at any scale.


    About the Author - Jerry Foster is CTO of Plex and leads technology strategy, along with research and design initiatives focused on next-generation cloud solutions for the manufacturing enterprise. A founding member of the Plex team, Jerry has been instrumental in the evolution of Plex, overseeing the technical transitions in each phase of the company’s growth. Jerry earned his degree in Computer Science at Liberty University.


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