The Value of Real-Time Data
by Glenn Nowak
What is real-time information? For some manufacturers, accurate data only can be acquired when a shift ends and the production reports are logged or the data from the shop floor is uploaded, resulting in an unfortunate up to eight-hour "real-time" reality. For others, the real-time information range is shorter, and depends on the design and technology limitations of their reporting software.
Today's competitive manufacturers need to ask themselves, "Why is that an acceptable margin?" The answer is: It's not! When pulling information from the shop floor and back office, the reports should be run against live data, not data that is delayed. Too many manufacturers miss out on critical decision-making pieces of the puzzle because of a lack of timely production details. A lack of real-time information can cause crippling effects throughout the entire enterprise. Live data, on the other hand, can reduce the loss of time, resources and, ultimately, money from the bottom line.
Real-time of the past is not the real-time of today. Out on the shop floor, the robots and work centers are gathering tremendous amounts of data. Production details regarding performance and maintenance are being tracked, as is in-depth information about the products being made. In the past, this data was trapped within high-value production equipment because of a lack of connectivity back to a central location.
Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) movement, sensors and programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are able to capture that data and communicate it, through highly connected IP networks, back to a central enterprise-based system (such as ERP and MES solutions) in real time. This machine to machine (M2M) technology allows manufacturers to finally access critical data in the here and now for thorough analysis in modules such as Statistical Process Control (SPC) or through powerful user-defined graphs, gages and reports.
Armed with the power of the IoT, what is considered real-time information? The answer should be instantaneous, but that is not the case with some ERP vendors who claim to provide "real-time" information. The best real-time data these ERP vendors can offer is hours later! There are a couple of reasons why reporting information is delayed. The first is the ERP vendor offers a third-party, interfaced together reporting solution. Not designed as part of a single system, the programs are not integrated or comprehensive, resulting in data that not only is delayed, but also potentially not even complete. The other reason is batch transfers due to technology limitations. For example, some Cloud ERP software do not allow user defined reports, queries or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to report against live data. Instead, these systems rely on a data warehouse that only is updated hours later in batches.
So, what is the answer to this information delay? The solution is an Online Transaction Processing (OLTP) system. OLTP efficiently facilitates high transaction orientated applications, such as ERP software, for immediate feedback and concurrency. The very nature of OLTP is characterized by high performance data transactions and processing, much of which can happen in near real-time (sub-seconds), in order to provide accurate data for many users.
By capitalizing on OLTP capabilities within a database such as Oracle, accurate real-time data is provided to all departments within an organization. This allows for immediate response to alerts, trends and opportunities which otherwise would be missed in non-real-time systems. Without this capability, users would not be able to respond to quickly changing needs or requirements throughout the enterprise, which can result in costly rejects or rework.
Getting information, data and reports in in a timely manner is crucial to the growth and success of a manufacturing facility. It is time to stop reacting and begin proactively making decisions about what is occurring on the shop floor. When selecting a new ERP solution, don't settle for a less than real-time existence. Search out a provider that can offer immediate answers to these challenges.