Today’s plant-floor control systems generate incredible amounts of raw data - whether it’s the number of parts scrapped during a shift or the amount of ingredients used in the most recent batch process. That data, when put into the proper format and into the appropriate hands, can be turned into useful information to improve manufacturing and business processes.


It’s the transforming of that data into useful information that has historically posed significant challenges. Fortunately, today’s manufacturers have access to software tools that not only gather data, but format it into easy-to-read, fully customizable dashboards. These dashboards provide a window into the process by incorporating performance metrics, as well as the situational display of manufacturing information at the machine, line, plant and enterprise level.


Presented in highly visual charts and graphs, this data can provide each level of the organization with the information it needs to best perform - relative to time frame, granularity and timeliness - and communicate as one entity. Combined with reporting and analysis tools and operator interfaces, dashboards help put data into context - letting users make better decisions faster by providing localized, role-based information.


Dashboards also can be a key driver of performance improvement initiatives, offering a simple and graphical way to make key performance indicators (KPIs) visible throughout the enterprise. These measurements can focus on many different facets of manufacturing operations, including how effectively the company manages production, equipment use, material use, waste and output and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).


Key features of dashboards:


  • Role-oriented: designed specifically for each level and job role.
  • Highly graphic: dashboards that show trending can be key to establishing an early warning or predictive capability.
  • Allow and initiate policy development: dashboards allow executives and plant managers to consider the type of behavior they are striving to achieve. Done well, dashboards allow manufacturers to institutionalize goals and objectives up and down the organization.

Driving Improvements


While performance metrics tell the story of a company’s or operation’s progress, metrics by themselves don’t improve performance. Whether by root cause analysis (alerts to those who can alter the situation) or having the dashboard connected into the system guiding operations, full leverage comes from the user’s ability to take action on the information provided. The most effective dashboards allow users to drill down into the KPIs to find root causes or areas likely to cause problems. Some can even be configured to alert maintenance or support personnel when performance drops.


The ability of dashboards to display metrics in graphic representations contributes to quicker actions by helping users better understand how to respond to the data. For example, a quick glance at a trend-oriented graphic can provide powerful insight into performance history and status (compared to raw numbers) and help users more effectively make comparisons of multiple data sources using the dimension of time.


The preferred approach for many manufacturers is to collect a broad array of data and then manipulate and display the data as needed. However, it’s important not to overwhelm users with too much information. This is where sophisticated reporting capabilities of dashboard software can play a vital role. With access to predefined, Web-based reports, users can monitor key factors that impact OEE, performance efficiency and quality rate. The reports organize the data by time interval (shift, day, week, etc.), operator, part number, equipment/workcell or production line.


One driver for using dashboards is measuring and comparing different plants. For example, many of today’s advanced software packages employ an OEE model to measure or compare the performance of plants, lines, machines and even production teams within a manufacturing enterprise. The OEE model yields a single performance rating to help plant personnel determine how a particular manufacturing activity or asset is performing, while providing detailed machine event history to document performance. This data is the basis for understanding the real causes of inefficiency, waste, lost capacity and equipment states.


Delivering Results


Dashboards also can help improve efficiency and manufacturing responsiveness. Case in point: Martinrea International, a tier-one automotive supplier, wanted to implement a more efficient data collection and reporting system that would help it to respond more effectively to changing market demands. At its facility in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, the company produces a wide variety of automotive components, including chassis modules, frame assemblies and steel stampings. With an output volume averaging 10,000 to 13,000 parts per day, Martinrea must anticipate volume increase demands from top automotive manufacturers like Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.


“We had manual paperwork sheets for everything, which required double and triple entry of data across the company - increasing costs and significantly reducing productivity,” said Darren Allison, manager of IT for Martinrea at Hopkinsville.


To meet its needs, the company implemented a comprehensive plant-wide reporting solution. At the Hopkinsville facility, data coming from 150 different operations, 200 work cells and 180 plant-level controllers is now managed using FactoryTalk Metrics software from Rockwell Automation. With its Web-based reporting function and flexible reporting design, the dashboard software provides a standard tool set for generating reports and integrating with Martinrea’s operating system, which allows viewing of plant-floor information from multiple offices.


Martinrea’s Six Sigma process has especially reaped the benefits of the improved integration and visibility - reducing time for each Six Sigma project by 50 percent, while providing a cost-effective way to validate Six Sigma project results. In recording machine cycle times, events are now configured to automatically track the time for each welding operation, instantly produce reports, analyze and export the data to the appropriate person, and implement improvements to optimize operations. Martinrea management not only uses the data to improve production processes, but can now quickly respond to the demands of its automotive manufacturing customers with the ability to gather and report production data to them on short notice.


“In effect, we’ve established a common template for plant performance reporting that maximizes our productivity and efficiency,” said Allison. “We have less downtime and are extremely pleased with the products and support we’ve received. Each new application we add to the solution is seamlessly integrated with our existing infrastructure, and that is exactly what we need to continue to succeed in the automotive marketplace.”


Expanded Reach


Some companies are implementing dashboards and portal technology to improve interactions with suppliers and customers by establishing a customer Web portal for all order entry and tracking - a portal that exchanges information directly with the factory floor. Integration benefits extend into customer service, as well, with the ability to connect manufacturing to customer relationship management (CRM) systems accessed by salespeople and supplier networks. Real-time sharing of knowledge in a way that helps both the manufacturer and the supplier means higher sales, while offering customers expanded choices and improved responsiveness to market demands.


Companies are using dashboards for more than just establishing performance benchmarks. For one steel producer, managers are using the dashboards to make performance data more widely available to their operations team. And automated logging of production downtime is helping provide a more accurate idea of machine performance.


Whereas the operators previously logged delays manually - and often inaccurately - the dashboard software component of the company’s manufacturing execution system (MES) now automatically logs delays to the fraction of a second. On the occasion of such an event, operators are presented with a screen embedded within the existing SCADA for each mill; this allows them to enter details about the delay from drop-down menus.


The solution has given the steel producer a tool for tracking uptime as well as downtime. Now it can track what it produces during operation, and determine whether it tallies with the expected rate of throughput, in the same system that tracks why the machine is stopped. The automatic logging of events alone is saving each supervisor up to an hour per shift in entering the data. Both supervisors and operators can now apply themselves to running the plant instead of getting buried in paperwork.


The value of plant-floor visibility and enabling technologies is tied to how it’s utilized. Working in concert with your internal team, your automation and IT partners can lend incredible amounts of insight into the best strategies for implementing dashboard solutions. Those companies that capitalize on this technology and expertise will be the ones that forge a sustainable competitive advantage in the years to come.


Using Dashboards to Delivering Contextual, Role-Based Information


In the ultra fast-paced car racing industry, well-informed decisions are crucial - the outcome of the race depends on it. Like racing teams, manufacturing organizations also must have the right information to operate at peak performance. And, peak performance means giving the right information to the right people at the right time – no matter if you are a line operator, plant supervisor or upper management.


In many ways, line operators can be compared to race car drivers when it comes to their dashboard needs. That is, they both interact directly with machinery and must react immediately to changes that might affect performance. While the race car driver needs information about the health of his car, the line operator needs information pertinent to the health of his line or machine.So, it is imperative that the line operator’s dashboard is designed with easy-to-read gauges and displays.


Operators must continuously track process variables, including temperature and cycle time, and confirm that machinery is running effectively. Paired with a human-machine interface (HMI), the dashboard serves as a window into machine operations - providing operators with the real-time, granular data they need for quick machinery and line-specific decision-making.


Plant supervisors need different data. Serving as the “pit-crew chief” of the plant floor, they are most concerned with the strategic analysis of production information. Not only are they in charge of the plant floor crew, but they also are responsible for key decisions surrounding the plant’s overall efficiency.The plant supervisor needs a software program that can not only aggregate data from one line or one machine, but multiple machines or production lines. An optimal dashboard system will pull information from many different areas - including historical logging systems and downtime analysis programs.


For plant supervisors, the most valuable dashboards include tools that help them access and analyze time-lapsed data and identify the KPIs associated with each process variable. A KPI analysis helps them best evaluate how teams and lines are performing against a given metric. And, just like the crew chief measures how long it takes for pit stops, plant managers are concerned with how long it takes to perform maintenance on their machines. The longer a machine is down, the less time is spent being productive. Armed with day-to-day production information, managers can provide the proper maintenance needed to improve plant-floor operations.


Upper management can be compared to the owners of a racing team - both need visibility into how their teams are functioning, how much it is costing and how it is stacking up against the competition. Although they do not have a hands-on role in the day-to-day, plant-floor activities, senior managers need windows into operations to be certain that the enterprise operates at maximum efficiency. The ability to effectively link the KPIs that are used in the plant and the financial and business metrics executives rely on to gauge overall company success is critical.


The executive team needs to see a large breadth of information - information relative to the entire plant or multiple plants across the enterprise. The data must be clearly presented in order to be read and interpreted as quickly and efficiently as possible. Delivering accurate data to senior management is critical, as they have the authority to make key process improvements. With a better understanding of all aspects of the entire enterprise, upper management can make better business decisions.


It is imperative that all levels of the enterprise are on track. Using software dashboards to organize and display pertinent production information, companies will foster stronger communication among all levels of the enterprise and will ultimately speed ahead of the competition.

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