Today's plant-floor control systems generate incredible amounts of raw
data – whether it is the number of parts scrapped during a shift or the
amount of ingredients used in the most recent batch process, write Michael
Panaleano and Todd Smith, product managers at Rockwell Automation.

That data, when put into the proper format and into the appropriate hands,
can be turned into useful information to improve manufacturing and business
It is 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 – enabling users to 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).
Dashboards are role-orientated, designed specifically for each level and job
role. They feature high graphics that display trending which can be key in
establishing an early warning or predictive capability.
Dashboards also allow and initiate policy development by allowing executives
and plant managers to consider the type of behavior that they are striving
to achieve. Properly developed dashboards allow manufacturers to
institutionalize goals and objectives up and down the organisation.

Driving improvements
While performance metrics tell the story of a company's or operation's
progress, metrics by themselves do not 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 is
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 pre-defined, Web-based reports, users can
monitor key factors that impact OEE, performance efficiency and quality
rate. The reports organise 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.

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 also extend into customer service, with the ability to
connect manufacturing to customer relationship management (CRM) systems
accessed by sales people 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.

The value of plant-floor visibility and enabling technologies is tied to how
they are utilized. Working in concert with the plant's internal team,
automation and information technology 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.