Integration is a word that many people in manufacturing use, fewer people interact with, and a much smaller subset truly understands. From a very high level, it makes absolute sense that various systems should be aware of each other and communicate as much as possible.

However, those quality professionals who truly understand how integration works might change the last word in that sentence from "possible" to "practical.”

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There is a common notion that more data is better, so if it can be collected, it should be collected. What are the downfalls to this approach?

  • You’re collecting data but not information—Many systems can provide lots of data, but is it useful information? Years of minute-by-minute data is difficult to distill into intelligent business decisions.
  • Your data is not available—If the data isn’t accessible for use and analysis, it is of limited value. Some systems will make data available only on a specific human machine interface (HMI). Others require manual collection, perhaps for storage on a USB drive. How often will this data really be used?
  • You’re incurring large data collection costs—These costs aren’t just limited to Gigabytes on a hard drive. Server maintenance, backups, upgrades, and other tasks have associated costs that can add up when maintaining many systems.

Does this mean that I’m not a proponent of systems integration? Absolutely not! I think integration between systems can provide critical information to any organization. That information can drive decisions that are good for your customers and your company.

So how can you tell what data is the "right data" to collect?

When determining what data will be truly useful, consider whether it falls into any of these categories:

  • Critical to safety—If you’re in an industry that makes products that affect human safety, anything you can do to make data collection faster and more accurate is important.
  • Critical to compliance—It doesn’t matter if this is government, customer, industry, or internal compliance, integration can help by reducing errors caused by double-entry or other hand-offs.
  • Improves quality—There are often parameters that are key to the quality of your products that your customers may not know. While not required, this data can guide improvements that give you a competitive edge.

The first two categories, safety and compliance, are often beyond your control because of external agency, organization, or standard requirements. The third category, improving quality, is something your organization can control, and the resulting information (not just data!) can help you obtain significant reductions in scrap, rework, and complaints—and drive efficiency improvements that impact the bottom line.

Identifying which specific systems to integrate can be challenging and requires understanding of both your products and the processes that create them. Minimal variation is the key to better products, and process control is the first step to getting there.

Spend some time near the scrap bin. Look through rework and customer complaint records. Then ask yourself, "What information would have helped avoid this?"

While you’re thinking about the answer to that question, potentially with a pile of papers in front of you, ask yourself how easy it was to compile the scrap, rework, and customer complaint records. Wouldn’t it be nice if that could be integrated into the new system as well?

A final thought: Integration is a continuous process that changes with your business needs, budget, and technology. Don’t expect your process of integration to end and you won’t be surprised when it doesn’t.

InfinityQS Quality Intelligence solutions are purpose-built for manufacturing—and designed from the ground up to enable intgration of data from disparate data sources, systems, and plants. Learn more on our website .