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Production data a new goldmine

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Companies that put smart production data to better use have a good opportunity to reduce production disruptions and plan more efficiently, says THABO NDLELA.

The smarter use of data collected from production and better collaboration between different parts of the enterprise offers asset-intensive South African companies a significant opportunity to reduce production disruptions, increase utilisation of production resources and plan more efficiently.

That’s according to Thabo Ndlela, Director of the IFS Africa Board. He says that most local companies in asset intensive industries such as mining, oil and gas, energy, and utilities could potentially do more to ensure that their systems for production, automation and maintenance work more closely together and in a more integrated manner.

This would enable them to achieve better data for decision-making, in turn helping them to increase asset reliability and optimise production. “It’s an opportunity for companies to continuously improve their competitiveness,” says Ndlela. “By looking for optimisation opportunities closer to the production process, capital-intensive companies can continually improve their ability to produce the right quantity at lower cost and with sufficiently high quality and delivery precision.

The market has matured

The key is to get production and maintenance to work together by bridging the gap between production systems and business solutions. This will allow executives to use the data that’s generated in the plant to make better decisions and – in the long term – create a more efficient organisation that better uses its resources, says Ndlela.

He adds: “Many of the standards for data exchange today have been around for a decade or more. That means that the technical cost of sharing data between systems is reasonably low today. What’s more, the industry is more aware of how profitable it can be to optimise systems and processes in this way.

This creates excellent conditions for improving business processes and getting various parts of an organisation to collaborate better. One practical example, is where IFS is working with ABB Holdings to integrate its business software with the latter’s power and automation technologies.

Huge amounts of real-time data analysed

“In collaboration with ABB Holdings, we are striving to give operators on the production line better access to the business applications,” says Ndlela. “This means that they can easily transform alerts and events in production to fault reports that move up through the business applications in a seamless flow. This has been possible for some time, but making it work with the latest user interfaces increases the usability and power of this feature.

In collaboration with ABB, IFS is closely creating a flow into the business applications for events captured by the operators. In capital-intensive industries in particular, every percent or fraction of a percent in the form of a key performance metric like OEE can potentially result in large increases in revenue.

Refining the effectiveness of an existing complex flow can be an alternative to or complement investing in new equipment. Even though it’s mostly a matter of applying technology, organisation and collaboration, “efficient analysis of production data is ultimately a question of honing your competitive edge and increasing profitability.

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