The future of Manufacturing from an IT perspective
During my MBA days, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about Manufacturing, Operations, Supply Chain management and of course a lot of other courses in the form of lectures/case studies/web/books. When we spoke about process improvements during those days we spoke more often than not about the lean manufacturing concepts, the six sigma's, the Toyota production systems, the value stream maps, business process reengineering's and all this was not long ago (last decade). Today's organizations when challenged with these issues have started relying more and more on their data and this data is generated from none other than their own backyard "The Shop floor" powered with Big Data.
Manufacturing Operations has become more complex and intriguing than ever before. The key driver for this has been the ability to generate data from the shop floor, analyze the data and then be able to take the right/much required kind of business/manufacturing decisions.
Recently, I had the opportunity to read through a fine case study pertaining to General Electric, as to how they have been able to generate data. This plant is enabled with over 10,000 sensors, all these sensors tightly knitted with their integrated IT systems across the globe (more than 400 plants). These sensors monitor the performance of each of their manufacturing processes and build information viz. temperature, humidity, energy used. If something goes wrong, the system triggers a notification/message to the process owner's hand-held device/phone/mail and this timely notification to process owner will enable him in taking the right decision. This was envisioned (data collection through sensors) for improving their own processes to start with and now that they have improved their process tremendously, their focus is improving the costs and how to get more out of this plant? Think "complete system" is the mantra they are going to rely on. This was an attempt by GE to build a world class manufacturing setup, they call it "brilliant factory" and this also is the test bed for research into the use of their own "Internet of Things" using process suite GE Intelligent Platforms.
To sustain in the long run, organizations have to take a leaf from GE, where they are able to implement an integrated system that is able to collect, synthesize, analyze data and is intelligent enough to make decisions for the respective process owners/stake holders. It is easier said than done, as most of the organizations are on legacy systems and will have to revisit their IT strategy, IT setup and realign the architecture. To manage this kind of colossal data, with inputs and outputs in different formats. Big Data happens to hold an answer to many of these questions.
To conclude, there is abundance of data available and there is no question about the capability of the advanced and integrated IT systems that we have today. The question is "Are these really enough to attain meaningful and desired business decisions to reap maximum business benefits". The answer seems to be a big "YES"!