Unfreezing Manufacturing with Data-Driven Agility

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Chris Balow, Director of Product Management, Plex by Rockwell Automation Inc.
Chris Balow, Director of Product Management, Plex by Rockwell Automation Inc.

Winter storms once again affected many parts of the United States this year, posing risks to the public and businesses alike. And as extreme weather events continue to increase, manufacturers must make sure they’re ready to weather the next storm.

The February 2021 ice storm in Texas crippled the state’s power grid, leading to widespread blackouts and production halts. This triggered a global plastics shortage, doubling the prices of raw materials as demand increased.

The Texas storm had a domino effect, disrupting local and global supply chains. A recent State of Smart Manufacturing Report found that supply chain disruptions, including weather disruptions, were among the top three external forces to dampen company growth. Meanwhile, the shortage and increased prices of raw materials was ranked as the third-leading external obstacle to supply chains.

Production Blackouts

The increasing severity and frequency of weather events makes planning for them much more difficult. Manufacturers need strategies able to adjust with minimal notice as conditions change. This requires a deep understanding of operations and the ability to make quick, data-driven decisions to keep production running.

Manufacturers also must make sure workers can safely and reliably report to their shifts—especially in extreme storm conditions. The implications of not doing so can be far-reaching, affecting worker safety, production schedules and, ultimately, the bottom line. For example, a storm can grind production to a halt if workers can’t get to the plant.

Weathering Unpredictability

Traditional approaches are simply not designed to handle the complexity and unpredictability of planning operations in today’s environment. Automation and data-driven operations are key to achieving flexibility and agility to stay ahead of weather uncertainty.

Access to real-time data allows organizations to navigate unpredictable changes, enabling them to respond to issues and make adjustments and informed decisions in real time. Key steps for embracing data in operations and decision-making include:

  • As digital leaders progress on the maturity path, digital laggards will be forced to adapt or drop out. Manufacturers must evaluate current data infrastructure, analytics capabilities and integration with critical systems to identify areas for improvement.
  • Data-driven manufacturing means adopting a different mindset to manage the enterprise. This impacts business models and how decisions are made. Digital laggards tend to use traditional, top-down decision-making in their operations while digital leaders often embrace a collaborative decision-making process.
  • Integrating smart manufacturing systems can help foster seamless data flows. This empowers manufacturers to gain real-time insights into their operations.

Sunny Skies

Data-driven manufacturers have the visibility they need to meet their production goals and adjust employees’ schedules accordingly. The rising frequency of extreme weather events requires manufacturers to get ahead of potential disruptions.

By assessing digital maturity, embracing a cultural mindset shift and leveraging automation, manufacturers can achieve the resiliency to weather any storm.

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