Integration is a word that many people in manufacturing use, a subset of those 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. I’d like to make an addendum and change the last word in that sentence from "possible" to "practical".
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?
- Collecting data vs. 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.
- Data availability – 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 with a USB drive. How often will this data really be used?
- Data collection costs – These costs aren’t just limited to Gigabytes on a hard drive. Server maintenance, back-ups, upgrades, etc. can add up when maintaining many systems.
Does this mean that I’m not a proponent of integration? Absolutely not! I think integration between systems can provide critical information to any organization that can drive decisions that are good for your customers and your company. How can you tell what data is the "right data" to collect?
- 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, these data can guide improvements that give you a competitive edge.
The first two, safety and compliance, are often beyond your control because of external agency, organization or standard requirements. The third item, improving quality, is something your organization can control, and the resulting information (not just data!) can result in significant reductions in scrap/rework/complaints and efficiency improvements that impact the bottom line.
Identifying the specific systems to integrate with 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 or looking through rework and/or customer complaint records and 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/customer complaint records. Wouldn’t it be nice if that could be integrated into the new system as well?
The final thought on this is 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.
Sign up for the free, live webinar on "Quality Control Data Integration" on Wednesday, June 20th at 2pm EST here.