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Optimising? Think About the Big Picture

I think I am comfortable with saying that – from my experience – after nine years of Industry 4.0 some people still do not understand the importance of operational data! When properly collected, analysed, disbursed, displayed and exploited this data really does have the potential to revolutionise manufacturing and process operations, but some people still just don’t get it.

The end goal of creating a data-capable infrastructure is not just optimisation of existing assets, it can also lead to the digital transformation of the entire enterprise. Once you have capabilities in place, a whole new world is opened up, with the data unleashing the capability to deliver better analytics, more accurate predictions, robust adaptations and the ability to deploy advanced visualisation and AI solutions that can help with design, testing, installation, commissioning operation and maintenance.

Optimisation is a great concept – and is certainly a laudable aspiration that should be near the top of the transformation hit list. But when tied to one process or one machine, it is also one of the low-hanging fruits, hence the reason why so many people think it is a primary target in the short term. In many cases it is, but from my experience, users could be missing a trick if they have their mind set on single-instance optimisation as a primary target so early in the process.

When you want to optimise a process, in real life you would go to the core IT/OT managers and say: “I would like to have this data-based optimisation solution.”

 They request a business case, which is subsequently approved, and set about examining every facet of the project – especially those that deliver information, be they electronic or paper-based. Nine to 12 months later, you have the beta version and you spend the next three months ironing out the kinks. That’s a year of wasted opportunity. And, worryingly, your new solution could already be out of date.

It’s therefore not just a question of getting access to data, the real driver should be getting access and getting it as fast … and as simply as possible. Use cases can expire incredibly quickly in today’s fast moving environment, so speed really is of the essence.

Further down the process, in a large proportion of my customer interactions, they tell me that they have data scientists who understand and know how to leverage data in a meaningful manner for their organisation, but where they stumble is how to apply all these models and then how to scale them and eventually implement them.

IT/OT teams can take ages to develop and test these platforms, when actually what they really want is a solution they can test and try out very quickly. The key here is agility, not just in the process, but also in the mind set.

When you start an analysis, you have a rough idea of what you want to achieve, but you don’t actually know what the outcome will be. You have to be prepared to be thrown a few curve balls in terms of your results.

It may turn out that something you thought was unobtainable in the short term, is actually an even lower-hanging fruit, with your initially perceived predictions or targets, not actually being capable of delivering what you need as quickly as you need it. Stay agile and choose your targets wisely – let the data decide for you.

We recently assessed 169 different installations, where we were aggregating results from data-based IOT projects. From these we were able to extract 15 primary use cases based on what our customers were trying to achieve. These 15 use cases then became the basis of FactoryTalk InnovationSuite, powered by PTC, a software suite that enables companies to optimise their industrial operations and enhance productivity by providing decision makers with improved data and insights.

We started in June and said: “OK ‘customer A’, you want to optimise and we are going to help you do it… fast.” We installed InnovationSuite, explained how it works and then gave them 10 days to use it, with the request that they came back to us with the 10 most important use cases they could tackle.

The general consensus after 10 days was: “Wow! This is so much bigger than we thought.” With others adding: “It opens up so many additional ideas for our transformation. We need another four or five weeks and will come back to you once we have reprioritised our use cases.”

We always preach that it should all revolve around people and processes – technology is simply an enabler. This enablement helps people to reinvent processes and develop new ones – maybe even ones with faster and larger ROI.

The lightbulb moments comes from data. What you then do with these results is vital and sets the foundation for subsequent improvements. Seeing data in a different format creates new paradigms, which, in turn, define new pathways towards optimisation… and these pathways don’t always head towards the low-hanging fruit.

FactoryTalk Innovation Suite is part of our SPS IPC Drives showcase, along with a myriad of other interconnected and data-capable solutions. Why not come along and join us on stand 205 in hall 9. You may be surprised what you can learn. You need to look forward to your “Wow!” moment, and we’ll help you get there.


Michel Huy
Regional Sales Director EMEA ISPB, Rockwell Automation
Michel is passionate about helping companies transform their operations and finding new ways for customers to become more efficient and effective.
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