The role of data in navigating change
Key process data includes for design, production and supply-chain management
Big Data Insights
Big Data involves the extremely large data sets that can be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends and associations.
Big Data in manufacturing is generated by “software machines” such as sensors, pumps, motors, compressors or conveyors.
Big Data is often managed using a hub and spoke methodology: create one hub or centralized view fed by spokes to form a single view of the truth.
The systems integrator’s mission today involves using data for smart, lean production, innovative supply management, pre-engineering involvement, simplified interfaces, in-depth system understanding and provision of readily available hands-on support. Harnessing the power of data streamlines processes, reduces waste and optimizes productivity.
“Systems that support quality-assurance testing without taking samples to a lab save time. Automating data collection means less paper, fewer human error,” said Heather Johnson, automation manager, Interstates.
Demand for and reliance on automation follows from widespread labor shortages. This data-driven approach aids clients in enhancing accounting processes, safety procedures and regulatory compliance.
“Tailored dashboards allow clients to have access to accounting files or safety procedures at their fingertips. On the process side, having this data available is critical in the event of state or government audit,” Robert Phillips, also an Interstates automation manager, said.
Supply Ordering Practices
Because of bottlenecks associated with supply chain management, supply orders appear earlier in project timelines than ever before. “Many clients proactively order materials before projects are fully funded. This approach ensures long lead time materials are secured in a timely manner,” Johnson said.
In some cases, custom or reengineered equipment is needed to overcome supply chain constraints. Timely resource decisions allow projects to progress smoothly.
SI guidance on alternative possibilities and potential redesigns address supply chain challenges and avoid dependence on any particular supplier or material. Considering lead times on critical parts or types of equipment during the pre-engineering phase promotes efficient project execution.
Leaning on Pre-Engineering
Collaboration during the pre-engineering phase ensures designs align with client needs and budgetary constraints. “This approach allows clients to have a clear understanding of the project scope and associated costs well in advance,” Phillips said. “During this stage, the point is to provide design options and suggest volume engineering to optimize resources.”
Johnson emphasizes that deep understanding of industrial processes is the basis for insights. “Experience in a range of industrial sectors is a major enabler of efficient project execution and quick ramp-ups,” she said. Additional requirements identified can include network integration or interfacing with enterprise business systems. Considering these factors early on leads to accurate cost estimates and optimizes the project timeline.
Simplifying operator interfaces
Simplifying operator interfaces ensures operators have the tools and information to run processes smoothly, even with relatively new hires. Leveraging automation and advanced control systems reduces complexity at a time when the workforce is experiencing significant changes.
“To make the interface simpler to use, we create control narratives, which are basically step-by-step documents that guide operators through the operation. Narratives help operators understand how various instruments and devices should behave under different conditions, minimizing the need for manual intervention,” Phillips said.Interstates Automation Manager, Raymond Berning emphasizes that the younger generation of operators expects intuitive and user-friendly interfaces. “Everybody uses iPads, cell phones and smart devices where information is at your fingertips. We take this into account, ensuring that interfaces align with modern user experiences. Our aim is to build on what was provided by previous generations and give the next generation of workers a platform to go further,” he said.
Across market sectors
Understanding clients’ systems is a key factor for success as a system integrator. “Interstates’ expertise spans diverse sectors, including pet care, food & beverage, and value-added agriculture, allowing us to transfer knowledge and best practices across many kinds of projects,” Johnson said.
Interstates is continually expanding its support capabilities. In closing, Johnson mentions its ongoing efforts to develop regional EIC (Electrical, Instrumentation, and Controls) tech teams. “These teams, consisting of skilled technicians located strategically, will aim to provide on-site support for electrical, instrumentation, and control issues,” she said.