To some, it’s a daunting mystery. It can follow you around, tracking your decisions at work and as a consumer. While you could be using it to anticipate customer requirements and better forecast your product needs, your company could also use it in production to ensure quality. At the time he wrote his ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw,” in 1898, Henry James could never have anticipated the potential of what we are talking about now__big data.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran “How Many Turns in a Screw? Big Data Knows,” which highlights how companies, such as Raytheon and Harley Davidson, use automated systems to gather and analyze factory floor data.
“Manufacturers are looking harder at data partly because of increasing pressure from customers to eliminate defects and from shareholders to squeeze out more costs. Regulators are also demanding more data collection to trace safety problems,” James R. Hagerty writes. “The cost of computers, scanners, and other hardware has also come down, and technology for storing and moving data has improved.”
At Raytheon, manufacturing execution systems (MES) are able to monitor tiny yet important details, such as if a screw that needs to be turned 13 times is turned only 12 times. When you are building missiles, those screws need to work exactly right. Raytheon uses its big data to monitor the names of all the machine operators who worked on any part and the humidity and temperature at each stage of production. That helps company leaders look back and determine what went wrong if flaws emerge.
At Harley-Davidson, leaders used their MES to find bottlenecks in production, keeping them on track for their goal of building a motorcycle every 86 seconds. For example, managers recently used data to determine that the installation of a rear bumper was taking too long. A factory configuration change enabled faster installation. Likewise, the system can keep the fan speed and temperature in painting booths constant, which creates more standardized product outcomes.
Revealing the mystery
While there are many definitions of big data, according to the APICS Big Data folio, experts agree “big data encompasses creating, enabling, and operating a data storage, processing, and reporting structure that enables deep insight resulting from the analysis of all available data. Big data becomes a foundation that permits applications such as data mining or data analytics.”
In the future, supply chain and operations management will depend on information. Lots of it. Therefore, you now need to increase your understanding of big data, position your company and career to take advantage of it, and know what to expect. With its extensive research on the subject, APICS can help. Visit apics.org to download the APICS big data report and folio. Then, consider how you can put big data to work for you.