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Manufacturing Value with Big Data

Big Data's Global Impact

The unfortunate statistics is that babies that are born prematurely are facing about 25% chance of getting an infection that can result in a very negative outcome.[i] Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children has been working on changing that using big data analysis techniques. Researchers discovered that changes in premature babies' heartbeat can be a sign of infection and can serve as an early warning system allowing hospital to potentially save lives of these children.[ii] There has been a lot of buzz recently around Big Data and the insights that can be generated by analyzing large volumes of data as well as what it means for Retail, Technology and Finance industries. Yet other industries are starting to rip the benefits of Big Data as well. Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children efforts to collect large amounts of physiological data and predict an onset of potentially dangerous infections is just one such example. Companies around the world are starting to realize the benefits inherent in being able to make decisions based on billions bits of data close to real-time. The data can be used to predict the need for raw materials, smooth out inventory levels, identify future staffing needs. It also gives an ability to conduct experiments allowing for better decision making. Thus, businesses are responding by making significant investment into these technologies. ABI research predicts that the Big Data global investment should reach $114B by 2018.[iii]

Manufacturing and Big Data

Manufacturing has been slow to adopt new technologies and methodologies for dealing with large volumes of data but that is starting to change. Harley-Davidson's plant in Pennsylvania has an operations center that keeps track of all aspects of production including the temperature, humidity or number of rotations of the blades within the fan in the painting booth. If any deviation from norm is detected then the equipment gets automatic instructions on how to recover.[iv] When the data told Harley's managers that assembly of the rear fender was preventing a motorcycle from getting through the production lines on time they changed how the motorcycle was put together.[v] Rio Tinto RIO which is a mining company in Australia has been able to generate about $90M in savings by continuously monitoring and analyzing processing data from companies 5 geographically distributed sites.[vi] GE has certainly made a large push into the world of big data and is promoting its vision of Industrial Internet where machines, from manufacturing plants to plane engines, are connected and pumping out large amounts of information about their operations. This allows to increase their operating effectiveness and even foretell a potential failure.[vii] GE predicts that improving our data analysis abilities could lead to 1.5% increase in productivity translating into billions in benefits to US economy.[viii]

Going Beyond Lean Management

Collecting and analyzing data does indeed allow manufacturers to optimize operations, anticipate events, or to improve quality. But, these companies can go beyond cost cutting and create value for their customers as well. They can share their data with the customers giving them an ability to use their products better and extend product lifetime. Data-enabled trucks could provide transportation companies with data on its fuel usage and mileage allowing them to optimize their operations. And, connected power and water meters can supply information to power companies and municipalities on resource consumption allowing for better planning. Such value-added services provided by manufacturers could serve as a huge differentiator and provide important benefits to their customers.


For decades now, manufacturers across a wide spectrum of industries have been turning to lean management or outsourcing, or both, to cut costs and remain competitive among their peers. Unfortunately, the result was that these companies have been increasingly looking more and more similar across the board to their customers which invited substitution. However, rather than having to compete on price, Big Data can give manufacturing companies a shot at differentiating themselves from the competition and offering value to their customers beyond commoditized products.

Getting a handle on fast flowing vast amounts of information is not an easy task for any company. Just being able to store, organize and leverage data can be a huge technical challenge for our clients. Performing analytics and getting right insights pushes that problem to a next level of complexity. Fortunately, the rewards of 'getting' Big Data right can be enormous.

[i] Nicole Bogart. Research in big data analytics working to save lives of premature babies.
[ii] Nikki Comeau. The promise and risks of big data.
[iii] ABI Research. Big Data Spending to Reach $114 Billion in 2018.
[iv] James R. Hagerty. How Many Turns in a Screw? Big Data Knows.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Engineers Australia. Big data results in big savings at Rio Tinto.
[vii] Fast Company. The World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Big Data.
[viii] Fast Company. Most Innovative Companies 2014.


Great post very interesting points, will be sharing with everyone at work.

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