Every manufacturing organization wants to become “data-driven.” It’s more than a buzzword. Being data-driven means you can make informed decisions—based on quality data that are being reliably collected and stored— that enable you to keep up with the increasing competition and tougher operational challenges that are prevalent in today’s manufacturing world. Informed decisions lead to substantial improvements in your manufacturing processes across the dimensions of cost, value, and risk.

The key is having visibility into the data you need. That can be a challenge when your data is on paper, in spreadsheets, or siloed in a variety of legacy systems. By using a tool like Enact®, InfinityQS’ award-winning, cloud-native quality management system, you can take that critical step to digitize and centralize your data—and enable real-time visibility and analysis of your operations.

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With that increased visibility, you can see past all the gaps or blind spots in production and quality operations. Put simply, your decision making becomes informed decision making—based on accurate, reliable data.

Loud and Clear

The voice of the consumer is becoming louder. Technology has made the consumer more vocal, more influential, more mobile—and more powerful. When we take a broad view of innovations in global logistics, online commerce, social media, and advertising, it becomes obvious that the consumer’s voice is breaking down the traditional rules of markets and competition.

As a result, manufacturers face volatile markets and increasingly tough competition. The voice of the consumer echoes across manufacturing: “We want better quality goods, we want them faster, and we want them cheaper.” Manufacturers can’t help but hear—and they must respond.

Optimizing Processes

The best way to respond to challenges and opportunities is to optimize manufacturing processes across the dimensions of cost, value, and risk.

Cost encompasses the entire cost base of manufacturing operations from raw material or component inputs all the way to packaging. Costs include everything:

  • Supply chain logistics and distribution
  • Energy and natural resources used
  • Your plant, machinery, and equipment
  • Maintenance and repair

—and so on.

Your cost base is largely influenced by factors such as waste, rework, efficiency, productivity, and yield.

Value refers not only to the quality of your products but also the value of your manufacturing operations—such as the ability to become increasingly agile and responsive, support product innovation, and even drive market innovation.

Risk involves both operational and strategic risks. Operational risk points to issues that occur daily or weekly in your manufacturing operations, such as quality or production issues or machine breakdowns. Strategic risk refers to occurrences such as major quality events (like food safety) that may impact the organization’s brand or reputation, or the inability to respond quickly or effectively to competitors’ tactics or market opportunities.

You need to not only minimize cost, maximize value, and mitigate risk—but also strike the right balance between them. For example, you can cut costs only up to the point where quality is impacted and the consequential risks increase. Or you can continually increase the quality of your products to the point that they become uneconomical in the markets that they serve. Or you can become so risk-averse that the organization becomes rigid and inflexible.

Finding the balance of these dimensions is manufacturing optimization.

Efficiency and Productivity

Optimizing manufacturing processes requires a close look at efficiency and productivity. We often use these words interchangeably, but they really mean two different things.

Efficiency is achieving a given level of output or performance with fewer inputs. If we have a certain amount of product that we need to get out the door every week, we try to reduce the amount of labor, raw materials, energy, or other resources that go into that process. And, generally, if we can increase efficiency, we simultaneously reduce costs.

Productivity enables us to achieve a greater level of output or performance using the same level of inputs—labor, materials, and other resources. By increasing the amount of output that we attain from using those same inputs, we generate more revenue and ultimately increase profits for the business.

Increases in efficiency and productivity do more than reduce costs (which tends to be our main focus); they increase the overall value of manufacturing operations and help mitigate risks. This may be obvious stuff for most of us. But how do we get to those new levels of efficiency and productivity that most of us continually strive to achieve?

The key ingredient is operational visibility. For example, we can identify processes that are performing well (or optimally), use them as benchmarks, and compare them to other processes not performing as well. On the flip side, we can identify processes that are underperforming and prioritize addressing the underlying or root causes. If we can improve processes across manufacturing operations, then our efficiency and our productivity both increase as a result.

Those insights can create a paradigm shift in your organization. When you’ve deployed your quality team to attack a certain problem or enhance your operations, they come back with lessons learned. That information can be shared with the entire company to create a best practice. If you have best practices across your entire company, then product inconsistency diminishes, perhaps even becomes a thing of the past. That is a goal worth striving for.

It is an ongoing iterative cycle of continuous improvement that relies on a fundamental element: that it is done proactively and with access to real-time, enterprise-wide operational data.

Being Proactive

Let’s face it, most manufacturers collect plenty of data, but then—unfortunately—don’t do anything with it until something has happened. That’s a reactive operation.

What we propose with Enact is for you to become a proactive operation. We might do all the things that we want to do to increase efficiency and productivity. But if a lot of time lapses between identifying a problem and correcting it, a lot of inefficiency or less-productive output is still happening.

So, the more quickly we can identify an issue and respond to it—or even predict where an issue might occur and prevent it—the better our chances to increase efficiency and ultimately reduce costs across the manufacturing organization.

What About Operators?

Sometimes in the discussion about becoming more proactive, the operator side of the equation is overlooked. We know that these important employees are often overworked and time-starved.

Manufacturers can have high levels of automation in production lines, filling lines, packaging lines, and mixing processes—but when those automated pieces are flanked by manual processes in which human operators manually monitor machine parameters, perform quality checks, or carry out quality-related or administrative tasks, then efficiency and productivity improvements are held back.

If operators are spending all their time monitoring processes that are running within specifications and without any problems—or when they happen to take their eye off the ball to perform one of their myriad other tasks—they're not going to be aware when an abnormal trend or event occurs. That's inefficient.

We need to bring operators into the efficiency and productivity equation. But not just by automating some of their repetitive and mundane tasks (which is important) but also by giving them the tools to enable them to be more effective in performing their roles. The operators of the future are knowledge workers and will need to access digital platforms to leverage that skill.

…and Supervisors and Managers?

The same applies to management. If we spend a lot of time either at the operator, supervisor, manager, or even executive level manually collecting data, preparing that data for reporting analysis, and then distributing that data, that's highly inefficient. It's time-consuming and—when it’s still being done with paper and pencil and spreadsheets—typically presents decision makers with data that’s already outdated.

Manual data collection is potentially fraught with errors and inaccuracies: 

  • Data might be misread from the paper
  • Numbers could be accidentally transposed
  • Data written on paper may be illegible or misinterpreted
  • The paper might be damaged or lost
  • In transferring data from paper to an electronic system, numbers might be misread or entered incorrectly

Spreadsheets are unwieldy and challenging for operators and inspectors to work with. They are also very difficult to manage and organize. Plus, when the time comes for monthly reporting, get ready for a headache.

Becoming Agile

Agility simply means that you have the ability to change or adapt your manufacturing operations to different requirements that come from different places.

  • In business planning, we might need to be fairly nimble in changing the mix or the specifications of products that we're producing.
  • We may need to respond to changing market dynamics—such as those we encountered during the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • We may need to quickly adapt production process to different products, perhaps even smaller runs.

The more agile we are, the more able we are to respond to those needs and potentially exploit those opportunities in the market.

A lack of agility can have an impact on cost—for example, lost revenue associated with missed opportunities or lower client satisfaction because we weren't able to respond adequately to a change in demand.

Digital Transformation Opens the Door to an Efficiency Evolution

Efficiency and productivity aren’t new words in manufacturing. Efficiency has been the bedrock of what manufacturing has tried to achieve for a long time. Manufacturing has typically tried to move forward through automation. But automation doesn't necessarily mean optimized. Automation can still retain a lot of variability and uncertainty, and processes can still break down. Just because a process is automated does not mean it’s inherently efficient or agile.

What’s been missing until now is the discussion around automating the ancillary processes that support the main production processes: things like data collection, analysis, and decision making. Most manufacturers accept the fact that IT solutions add a lot of value by addressing some of these issues on the shop floor. But we still rely on on-premises, legacy, or monolithic applications that are costly to purchase, implement, and maintain.

Digitizing quality and operations data with a cloud-based quality solution such as Enact provides a cost-effective, tactical solution. When data is centralized and software is purpose built for the needs of manufacturing, it’s possible to make the data-driven decisions we need to improve efficiency, productivity, and agility.

Manufacturers are actively looking for greater performance improvements. The low-hanging fruit of automation has been picked. Enact is the perfect tool to help bring manufacturing to the next level in its evolution.

Please visit InfinityQS to learn more about how Enact delivers unparalleled data visibility—and enables manufacturers to solve their greatest challenges.