The Role Big Data Will Play in Manufacturing

Ramu I.

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This is a summary of the article "Data is the Key to the Factory of the Future" by Daniel Castro, the director of the Center for Data Innovation and vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. It was originally published in the the Economics & Statistics Administration Under Secretary’s Blog by the U.S. Department of Commerce.



Manufacturing is an important part of the global economy and many countries depend heavily on it. In the United States, for instance, it accounts for 12.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) and is responsible for supporting 17.4 million jobs in the country. Major American initiatives such as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) focus on the development of advanced manufacturing practices and, according to expert opinion, these smart techniques will create over $370 billion over four years. They can also help American manufacturers to become globally competitive by streamlining design, improving performance and controlling risk in the supply chain.  The role data will play in these advanced manufacturing practices is described below.



Data Driven Products


Data has the capability of supporting the process of manufacturing innovation from a product's inception. To start with, before commencing physical production, design driven by data can contribute to cost reduction and superior alignment of the product features with the requirements of consumers. Computer Aided Design (CAD) is now becoming much more data driven with the development of algorithmic initiatives. These will allow product designers to better create designs based on material and performance specifications which can then be manufactured to the highest degree of precision. Vehicle manufacturers such as Volvo have taken the lead in carrying out the performance analysis of design but it will not be very long before this becomes the standard practice in many industries.



Data Driven Performance


Data analytics can also be used to optimize performance on the shop floor. The development of the Internet of Things is resulting in a proliferation of the technology used in low-cost sensors and this means that every single manufacturing operation and component can potentially become a source of data generation. Companies can analyze this data to gain insights into the process of physical production as well as the reduction of manufacturing defects and improvements in efficiency and yield. The wealth of data which now becomes available means that insufficient data can no longer serve as an excuse for under performance.



Data Driven Processes


Finally, data can be a major help in the management of supply chains. The complicated nature of modern supply chains makes them highly vulnerable to risk and better quality and more meaningful data can make all the difference between success and failure. For instance, the Oil and Gas division of General Electric uses a cloud-based platform which provides real-time information to help manage the extremely high costs of downtime in oil and gas production. The software has slashed the time required for projects involving supply chain optimization by up to 50%. Even with state-of-the-art design and production facilities, companies simply cannot rest easy unless supply chain management and operations achieve the same degree of excellence.



All of this potential for innovation and change will ensure that data driven manufacturing will present significant opportunities for manufacturers and related sectors in the future.