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Businesses need useful data, not Big Data, in order to digitise

23 June 2016

Over 90% of manufacturing data is never used because businesses are spending too much time trying to analyse big data instead of turning useful data into foresight.


That was the view from Hewlett Packard Enterprise at this year’s Manufacturing Forum, organised by the Economist Events. The event, which brought together global manufacturing leaders including Rolls Royce, Hilti, ABB, Airbus and GE Oil and Gas, explored the ways that manufacturers can digitise their operations, without neglecting their core business. And the message was clear – turn your Big Data into useful data, and then turn this into meaningful information that provides insight and then ultimately foresight, with the customer or end user firmly placed at the heart of your digitisation strategy. 

Martin Rainer, vice president and general manager of the Manufacturing Industry at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, stated: “Digitisation is nothing new. Manufacturers have always tagged goods through the supply chain and mined data. The difference is that manufacturers now have the opportunity and technology available to them to turn this data into useful information, which can empower their people to make better decisions regarding operational excellence, help to shape new business models, and enhance the customer experience. 

“The sector is being forced to manufacture individualised products as well as mass produced components, and the lines between B2B and B2C are becoming increasingly blurred. It’s because of this that the sector needs to understand where their customers see value and digitise their processes around this in order to remain competitive in the Connected Manufacturing ecosystem. ”

During the event, which combined a tour of the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry, one of the key Catapult Centres in the UK, Hewlett Packard Enterprise digitised an old 1950s turning machine, connecting it up to the cloud in order to demonstrate to manufacturers what can be achieved with digitisation, with a little imagination. But manufacturing businesses were told that they need to take their customers and their supply chains with them if they are to ensure successful digitisation.

The view from Hamid Mughal, director of Manufacturing at Rolls Royce, is that the manufacturing sector does not need smart factories, but instead requires smart value chains. He told the audience that digitisation needs a collaborative approach if it is to be successful, adding that manufacturing is no longer just about production, but about technology, research and design, re-manufacturing, and the strive to become more sustainable, effective and competitive. 

A recent report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has revealed that just 8% of manufacturers have a significant understanding of the processes likely to shape the next generation of industry. The message from manufacturing leaders at the forum was that manufacturers need to standardise digitisation with a focused approach which injects technology into the value chain when it is required, rather than going for a big bang approach. And successful digitisation requires both digital skills and digital attitudes across the workforce in order to be successful.

Martin Rainer concluded: “There’s no doubt that digital technology is increasingly changing the manufacturing landscape, but it needn’t be a frightening proposition to digitise operations. Businesses need to understand their business, their data models and standard platform architecture and start with smaller steps. 

“Take on area of your business that can be improved and digitise that first. For example, fit sensors onto your production line in order to understand why failures occur and drive down the number of part failures. Then begin to digitise in other areas. Technology is already revolutionising manufacturing, but it needs to be incorporated into existing business processes, not the other way around with processes built around the technology.”