Canadian Manufacturing

Managing complexity with analytics

Manufacturers share lessons learned on software

LAS VEGAS—It’s a new era of high-tech computing and companies that don’t get on board can expect to find themselves trailing the competition.

That was the message at PULSE 2011, a recent IBM conference in Las Vegas, where computing professionals gathered to discuss IT trends sweeping across industries.

“Business today is faced with an unparalleled rate of change,” says Danny Sabbah, a conference speaker and general manager at IBM for Tivoli, a suite of software solutions.

Sabbah cited a 2010 IBM survey of CEOs that found more than three-fourths of executives anticipate “turbulent change” from increased globalization, competition and regulation.

As companies grapple with more data to manage, analytics will be essential, he says.

For Jean-Claude Boattini, a maintenance professional at JB Hunt Transportation, complexity is nothing new.

The U.S. logistics company has more than doubled its fleet in the past five years—from 47,000 to 110,000 trains, vehicles, and ships.

“With that diversification came challenges for inventory and work orders,” Boattini says.

It got harder to associate specific maintenance or repair jobs to equipment. Assigning a single job plan to a generic job also grew trickier.

The company upgraded its content management software (CMS) to IBM’s Maximo Asset Management 7, which Boattini says has helped store mass amounts of information but with flexibility to create nuances in the software specific to their business.

“The investment was in the millions,” he admits. However, the company is expecting an ROI.

Such a purchase might not be worthwhile for companies managing fewer than 15 pieces of equipment, but small to medium-sized firms are still finding software applications for their own data management issues.

“Our biggest challenge has been with custom-made orders,” says Kevin Schenk, maintenance manager at First Solar.

The Perrysburg, Ohio company makes thin film solar modules.

“Because our technology is constantly evolving, we’re doing a lot of things that haven’t been done before so we want to try to get it right the first time,” he says.

Four years ago, the company upgraded its CMS to Maximo.

“It’s made it a lot easier to link our job plans together. We can look in the queue and if we’re waiting on one order, we can work on another one ahead of it and not waste any down time,” he says.

Schenk recommends other companies do the same.

“A lot of small companies are still in the reactive mode. You’ve got to get predictive and if you’ve got a good CMS system, you can better manage to do that.”

Information management isn’t the only area where business would be wise to act in advance, according to Steve Schoaf, a conference speaker and member of IBM’s marketing team.

He cited another IBM survey, which found that over the next five years, 82 per cent of customers expect producers to anticipate their needs with custom-built products.

To do meet those demands, 78 per cent of companies said they plan to partner with retailers in co-creating products.

That will require software, such as integrated product management, to optimize the design supply chain, Schoaf says.

While newer software can improve operations, it takes time to implement them.

General Motors is currently migrating its CMS from Maximo 4 to Maximo 7 at several of its plants worldwide.

Rafael Alvarez, an IT manager with GM, says the migration hasn’t been without challenges, such as archiving work order history and transferring content from the old system to the new one.

“It also meant freezing data during migration so plants had to keep two books at the same time,” Alvarez says.

He advises managers to focus on end-user training throughout the process.

Craig Inman, an engineering coordinator at Honda, in Marysville, Ohio, agrees.

It, too, is upgrading Maximo at several of its U.S. plants.

“We have some great guys, but not all of them are necessarily good computer users. When training, it’s important to keep classroom sizes small so no one gets lost,” Inman says.

Honda also did the training on site.

“The more real you can keep it, the better.”

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