Analytics to Answer the Next Question and the One After That

New tools are emerging as the need to drive information to and from the shop floor becomes even more key.

Editor’s Note: Following the news that Plex Systems has extended its IntelliPlex Analytic Application Suite to encompass production analytics, EECatalog took the opportunity to ask Plex Systems and Hatch Stamping, which employs Plex Systems solutions, about approaches to capitalizing on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and related topics. We thank Janice D’Amico, Plex Specialist Lead at Hatch Stamping, Karl Ederle, Vice President of Product Management, Plex Systems, and Alexi Antonino, Product Manager of Business Developments, Plex Systems for their thoughtful responses.

Courtesy Hatch Stamping

Courtesy Hatch Stamping

Janice D’Amico, Plex specialist lead, Hatch Stamping

Janice D’Amico, Plex specialist lead, Hatch Stamping

EECatalog: How do you define the “Industrial Internet of Things”?

Plex Systems: The Industrial Internet of Things is about asking the question, “What happens when every part of my extended manufacturing process—from materials to the customer—is connected?” How will that open new areas of innovation, bring us closer to customers, enable new manufacturing processes, and even create new business opportunities? For a lot of organizations, the hard part is knowing where to start. The cloud winds up being a great foundation because it is inherently connective, so each machine or device you bring into the operation can be plugged in, in order to share data and open new opportunities. At Plex, one of our favorite things to do is go out on the customer’s plant floor and experiment with new connected devices and technology; inevitably we learn something new or discover a use case we never imagined.

Karl Ederle, Vice President of Product Management, Plex Systems

Karl Ederle, Vice President of Product Management, Plex Systems

EECatalog: How do IntelliPlex production analytics fit into the IIoT for Hatch?

Hatch Stamping: For years Hatch has been extracting data from many different sources and manually building the company’s key measurable system in Excel with a lot of human intervention. Our management teams will meet weekly and monthly and review those manual reports. Our intent with analytics is to work with each functional department across the organization, determine what should be measured and how that can be captured within Plex, and then drive analytics to provide real-time dashboards at our fingertips anytime and anywhere. This will naturally improve the accuracy of the measurable system and empower decision making instead of reactionary responses.

EECatalog: What else would you like our readers to know that may not have been addressed, or covered in depth, in the release about your IntelliPlex Production Analytic Application and “visibility all the way down to the shop floor”?

Plex Systems: The IntelliPlex Analytic Applications Suite—including the newest Production Analytic Application – is built on a powerful platform that takes this huge trove of data stored in Plex and makes it instantly available for business decision-making. We built a cloud-based data warehouse that allows for fast data analysis and manipulation, while also enabling users to drill down into the transactional detail. To do that with a traditional, on-premise system would require huge investments in standalone hardware and software. For our customers, they just activate it. Sometimes the behind-the-scenes stuff is much more powerful than people imagine.

“What may start out as a concern about scrap levels on a specific production line can quickly turn into a measure of materials quality and supplier performance.”

Because Plex analytics leverage our core system, they also open opportunities for organic growth. Each time an organization adds end points, such as adding new tools, equipment, systems, or devices like wearables, those new connections contribute to intelligence gathering and the resulting analysis and impact. The ability to use these tools, layered onto data that can be trusted, adds up to a future where manufacturers can freely experiment and explore ways to improve their businesses.

Alexi Antonino, Product Manager of Business Developments, Plex Systems

Alexi Antonino, Product Manager of Business Developments, Plex Systems

EECatalog: In moving from turnkey analytics for sales, order management, procurement and finance to analytic capabilities for production, what were the pitfalls to avoid and how did Plex experience help?

Plex Systems: The Plex Manufacturing Cloud connects all aspects of manufacturing, from suppliers to production line equipment, people, processes and even customers. That means we collect data from every corner of a manufacturer’s business, so our approach to analytics is to start with a very simple idea: What questions do our customers have about their business, and how can we help with quick, accurate answers?

It turns out that manufacturing questions are complex. What may start out as a concern about scrap levels on a specific production line can quickly turn into a measure of materials quality and supplier performance. The key with our analytic applications is that you can analyze multiple facets of the business—quality, scrap, supplier scorecards, financial performance—all from one dashboard. We look at things holistically because that’s the way our customers run their enterprises.

EECatalog: What helped Hatch decide to invest in bringing strong analytics to your shop floor?

Hatch Stamping: Hatch has always been keen to drive information to and from the shop floor, and believes there isn’t anyone who wants success for us more than our operators, who take pride in their productivity and the quality of their work. With the launch of Plex in 2007 we have been providing real-time information to our people from the shop floor to the executive boardroom. When we learned of analytics we were excited about the opportunity to improve reporting features and glamorize the process seamlessly. Throughout our facilities today, we demonstrate live screens of the Visual Shop Floor and Workcenter Replenishment. With the Analytic tools, we are standardizing our dashboards to display across the organization as well, in real-time.

EECatalog: Did you face any internal challenges when choosing to implement production analytics?

Hatch Stamping: People fear change. We had a lot of manual effort going into providing the companies high level and low level ops. We were not interested in replacing any of our people with analytics but instead we were interested in better use of our people’s times. Because analytics is so easy to develop, our IT team has been able to structure the High Level Ops and Low Level Ops and hand it off to the administers of the weekly and monthly meetings. They then are being provided training in how to structure the dashboards to their liking for those meetings. This is one of the strongest features that sold us on Analytics: You don’t have to have full time programmers on staff to use it, and you can build it from department to department with security at different levels to protect the structure overall.

EECatalog: How has listening to customers and potential customers made a difference?

Plex Systems: Plex was built, literally, by walking back and forth between the shop floor and the offices of a manufacturer, understanding the needs of the business and finding ways to manage processes and collect accurate data where it happened. We still take that approach today, spending time with customers in their work environments, collaborating via our online community and with our strategic advisory board. For our analytic solutions, two key design factors directly relate to customer feedback. First, the solutions had to deliver value instantly with a set of turnkey analytics that work as soon as the customer turns them on. Second, they had to be able to extend into new areas of data and new performance indicators based on an individual customer’s need. The idea is that we answer all the questions you have today, but we make the solution capable of answering the next question and the one after that as well.

EECatalog: Why can Plex Systems pivot quickly if needed?

Plex Systems: The power of Plex is that we are the backbone for our customers’ business, which means our systems are managing all aspects of manufacturing. About 50 percent of the data we manage comes from the shop floor; the rest comes from connections to suppliers, customers, and business administration activity. The breadth and depth of Plex data effectively means we can answer almost any question a customer has about their operations. Every time we deliver a new analytic application, there is always one new measurement or key performance indicator a customer asks for—that’s the foundation of our continuous innovation model.

EECatalog: How have IntelliPlex production analytics enabled Hatch to respond to customers more quickly and make your data more actionable?

Hatch Stamping: Analytics has all the bells and whistles to woo the observer. Our initial efforts have been in building dashboards for our internal use. The second phase will be building our dashboards for our Customer and Supplier Portals. We see the power of including these deliverables in our sales presentations as well as in our supplier auditing sessions.

EECatalog: What competitive advantages have you seen since deploying analytics?

Hatch Stamping: We are a world leader in stamping manufacturing, we know that knowledge is power. We are confident that using Plex with analytics is giving us a leading edge with our competitors who still struggle today with outdated systems and data. We are seeing that fruition in our sales growth, which has increased 25 percent in the last two years.


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