Efficiency unleashed: Digital transformation in operations

It isn’t new, or novel to say that digitising production, operations and logistics will lead to more efficiency, higher quality, and improved output. What’s less understood is how to reach that point. How do organisations achieve their optimisation ambitions?

Industrial organisations with globally distributed sets of operations, all strive toward operational excellence by reducing unplanned downtime, and speeding up equipment purchasing and material flow. At a high level, these organisations all want:

  1. A forward leap in process optimisation for improved, Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and takt times (“takt time” is a manufacturing term to describe the required product assembly duration that is needed to match the demand).
  2. Better outcomes on Health, Safety and the Environment (HSE) by introducing increased monitoring and early warning systems, automation to remove humans from risky spaces and careful use of natural and energy resources, without impacting efficiency or productivity.
  3. Support in meeting Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments and clear pathways to build sustainability into any industrial infrastructure changes.
  4. Increased supply chain efficiency and the intelligence to spot, react to and avoid disruptions.

Hurdles to optimisation

As industrial environments generate huge amounts of data, collecting and transporting the right data at the right scale becomes challenging. Organisations are finding that their infrastructure isn’t capable of collecting and analysing (or transporting the data to the cloud for analysis) without adversely impacting edge and global infrastructures – namely the local area network (LAN), WAN, security and cloud.

Securing OT data, even if it’s not merging with IT Anything that connects to Industrial Automation and Control Systems (IACS) is a potential threat to security, and this is a hot issue. Organisations are struggling to instantly detect and identify connections to their OT LAN or wireless network, even though this is increasingly part of compulsory security audits.

Measuring and combining data into actionable insight depends upon continually measuring the status and performance of all elements of the supply chain, both internally and externally. This near real-time data feed involves a detailed network of sensors, data exchange and analysis that can only be achieved through a broad digitalisation roadmap, rather than being isolated ‘within the factory’.

And lastly, scaling efficiency globally means standardisation – identifying the best blueprint for an optimised operation, and then orchestrating it at a global level. This involves navigating through different suppliers’ procedures, processes and interfaces which can include interacting with several hundred different suppliers, and a complex mix of different sets of regulations, environmental influences and technological foundations.

Using the data path

You can’t optimise what you can’t measure. So, collecting, sharing, moving and analysing data with the right frequency, speed and security is essential to increasing efficiency. The process of using the data path to define infrastructure, connectivity and overlaid technologies generally follows three steps.

  1. Build a resilient network base with foundations capable of supporting the technologies of today and into the future.
  2. Add specifically selected technologies that transform operations, architected to meet current goals, with potential built in to evolve to meet future goals, too.
  3. Scale globally to reap the benefits with centralised monitoring and orchestration to deliver control and enhanced security, secure and auditable infrastructure and the ability to grow without any of the limitations currently experienced.

We began with the question: ‘How do organisations achieve their optimisation ambitions?’, and these three steps make it seem simpler than it is. A significant part of the answer comes from drawing on the tried-and-tested expertise of solution providers. Every team can agree that optimising production and warehousing efficiency, quality and output would drive the organisation forward. The right solution partners can create a bespoke route to help organisation use digitalisation to achieve greater efficiency, higher quality and improved output across their operations.

Article written by Duncan van Jaarsveld, Head of Mining, BT Business

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