Stephen Ludlow, principal technology consultant at SAS UK & Ireland, looks at why too many manufacturers find themselves stuck in the past, prisoners of their own highly complex systems and supply chains and how analytics can help.

They sit on treasure troves of data generated by machinery, employees, and customers, but lack the ability to turn it into actionable insight.

Business intelligence (BI) has long been a manufacturing mainstay. This form of descriptive analysis allows companies to use their massive data sets to see what has happened and what is happening in their organisations.  Yet with access to the right tools, data can tell us so much more.

BI is essential to manufacturers for assessing performance, planning strategy and reporting. However, you can’t drive a car – never mind build one – with only a rear-view mirror. To stay competitive, manufactures need to complement their business intelligence with predictive analytics.

 

From insight to foresight

Predictive analytics is changing manufacturing as we know it. Leveraging the growing volume, speed and complexity of data coming off connected devices as part of the internet of things, it can apply analytics in real-time as data is being streamed to find patterns that companies can use to predict future outcomes. This is also referred to as “analytics at the edge”.

Operating under difficult economic conditions in an increasingly competitive sector, manufacturers need all the help they can get. Being able to predict the future more effectively than your competitors gives you a powerful advantage.

Analytics allows organisations to go beyond the insight that BI provides. While BI can tell you what product was most popular with customers last week, analytics tells you how many of these products you are likely to sell next month. One describes what has happened already, but it’s always more valuable to a business knowing what will happen next.

 

The commercial impact of analytics

Contrary to the popular saying, what you don’t know can hurt you. The typical unknowns of manufacturing – system failures, supply issues, and so on – can be very costly. So being able to predict when a piece of equipment will fail, for example, is a game-changer. It allows you to schedule maintenance at just the right time to ensure the component doesn’t break, saving you the cost and disruption of unnecessary repairs and avoiding expensive downtime.

Predictive analytics is an effective driver of improvements and profits in the manufacturing industry. It can identify product quality issues sooner during the manufacturing process, meaning fewer recalls, lost sales and unhappy customers. Analytics also provides the best approach to supply and demand forecasting, ensuring your customers do not have to wait a long time for order fulfilment due to a lack of stock.

When deploying analytics in your own organisation, it’s important not to restrict your implementation. Analytics is not just for solving a single business challenge. Instead, the ambition should be to make analytics pervasive across your operation. It should become active at all business levels, from a sensor embedded in a conveyor belt on the factory floor to a visual representation of next quarter’s profits in a board meeting. This helps prevent data and analytical insights being kept in silos – only by sharing data and insights across the organisation can you better understand your business to make more informed decisions.