Digital transformation continues at an accelerated pace across diverse industries and platforms. Companies that embraced digital early are surging ahead, widening the performance gap between them and their late-adopting counterparts.
However, with the move to digital devices come large quantities of data generated by these devices. Making sense of the data collected to optimize processes and reduce time-to-market becomes challenging given the amount of data available. Extracting the key points of value requires the right tools.
Top automation companies are releasing solutions that can be implemented to help collate and extract the valuable statistics and advanced analytics from the raw data. Displaying the data contextually on easy-to-read dashboards on tablets, laptops or even phones means that valuable insight is available in real time and at-a-glance. Depending on the automation company, these solutions are not necessarily one-size-fits-all solutions. Nor should they be. They should be customizable to meet the specific needs of the industry.
A closer look at some specific industries and their unique challenges and needs will help illustrate the benefits of adding advanced analytics solutions.
Life sciences, pharmaceuticals
In a recent SCM World/Cisco survey, 45 percent of industry executives reported the inability to access data as a key barrier to solving their challenges. Yet, with a 202 percent increase globally in FDA warning letters over the past two years, and with 57 percent of those letters being linked directly to data-integrity deficiencies, according to Unger Consulting Inc, the value of strong data analytics tools becomes clear.
Extended value chains and networks in the pharmaceutical industry are becoming more complex, making visibility of product recipe data across the process more important. To respond quickly to market changes, the process must be set and produce consistent batches every time. Easy access to recipe data all along the value chain makes scaling up production simpler. Achieving a golden batch each time also requires accessing and understanding the data from previous batches.
Data challenges impact not only executives. Engineers and technicians on the plant or process floor will feel the impact more keenly. They are tasked with keeping the process running, ensuring the right ingredients are added in the right quantities at the right time. Without real-time insight into the process, it is more difficult to tell when a batch is in danger of slipping outside of batch parameters.
When the message in the data is understood and applied to the processes, business performance can be improved. Optimizing in real-time reduces costs and improves time-to-market. Where before sampling a recipe along the way required manual sample collection and testing, it can now be done automatically, without risking contamination of the batch. Manual sample testing often takes hours if not days before a report is generated. By that time, it is almost impossible to apply corrections to the batch in progress. The information becomes a snapshot in time, instead of real-time actionable insight. Similarly, FDA reporting can be accomplished with a few keystrokes, providing up-to-date statistics on batch consistency, safety and production.
The pharmaceutical industry is subject to significant scrutiny, which can slow production processes if an error or contaminated batch is flagged. If an error is not caught in time and a defective product reaches the market the prospect of fines and possible lawsuits looms. Pharma relies heavily on analytics for reporting purposes and equipment diagnostics on the plant floor. However, to optimize and digitalize the process, the next step is moving toward more predictive and prescriptive analytics that impact ongoing continuous and batch processes. Anticipating changes and taking steps to help prevent them from impacting a batch or process saves time, money and additional reporting to meet regulatory compliance.
Food and beverage
Food and beverage processors face several challenges. First and foremost meeting production demands coupled with consumer demands for new flavors and products, all while staying competitive and achieving consistent quality.
It is surprisingly not uncommon for recipes to be stored in spreadsheets or in simple desktop databases. Some are password-protected, but those passwords can be shared, which also means unauthorized changes can be made to the recipe. In mostly analog facilities, it then becomes more difficult to pinpoint where a problem could have started. In these kinds of legacy batch systems, expanding production and speeding up time-to-market puts an additional strain on processes, especially when striving for consistent golden batch results.
The case for retrofitting and updating a facility with digital devices is that it allows a company to leverage advanced analytics and deliver consistent access to recipes. Taking much of the manual part out of the process reduces the chance of errors or contamination with the wrong ingredient. Cross-contamination along the process can lead to needing to scrap product or issuing a costly recall.
The benefits are increased efficiency, reduced waste and faster time to market, which will appeal to the technicians and engineers, as well as executives.
Extracting value from data
For both the pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries — though the learning can be applied to other process manufacturers — there is significant value in the data their digital devices generate. Helping a company extract the relevant, tailored data provides the means to optimize a process, reduce manual activities, reduce errors and meet regulatory requirements. That is the last piece of the digital transformation that makes it work smoothly.
An industry-specific tailored solution that can aggregate the data and represent it on an easy-to-read dashboard takes the guesswork out of what is happening at what point in the process. The success of a digital transformation requires more than just installing digital equipment.
To take full advantage of the value in the data requires an analytics engine that can take structured and unstructured data from various devices, sensors, tags and business systems. This kind of analytics engine will use that data to successfully predict a future outcome as well as prescribe actions related to that outcome.
Leveraging all that a secure digital infrastructure in a facility has to offer allows technicians and engineers to quickly connect all data that is important on an asset line. They can monitor performance and make predictions about future performance in real time. That is the true value of leveraging real-time data.
Kevin Gagliostro is a commercial marketing manager for industry marketing at Rockwell Automation. He has worked as a product and marketing manager for various automation solutions and technologies in numerous industry segments such as automotive, food and beverage and CPG, and is now supporting multiple launches of industry-themed solutions with Rockwell’s Industry Solutions group.