Shop Floor Connectivity | Affordability

Connectivity and the affordability of data

Words by Atlas Team
Connectivity and the affordability of data

Over this series on shop floor connectivity we’ve looked at how your chosen solution should be scalable, we’ve discussed how usability needs to be a key concern, and how sustainability should be factored in. To wrap things up, we’re discussing how affordability relates to shop floor connectivity.

We’re not just looking at the price of the solution you go for, though that’s obviously a key element. We’re also going to investigate how your connectivity solution should provide a positive ROI. We’ll be shaking down the cost of data and how your connectivity solution should keep that price to a minimum. And we’ll be talking about how the right solution, implemented correctly, can help collect the right data necessary to keep your costs low.

The affordability of Software as a Service (SaaS)

With any digital system you’ve got a choice of delivery and as such, a choice in the pricing model associated with it. We’ve talked at length in the past about the differences between SaaS and other models.

SaaS vs COTS for example would be the central contrast and a key one for this discussion. Choosing a SaaS solution comes with many clear advantages when we discuss affordability, both in the short and long terms.

COTS, or commercial off-the-shelf, solutions can seem very appealing in the short term. If you find a COTS solution that matches your needs then the temptation to plump for it is a fair one. They’re ready to rock out of the box, they require minimal updates and adjustments, and, in the short term, they can get to fixing whatever issues you might have at that time. Finally, you’ll probably pick one which matches your price point at the time. That’s the essence of affordability, right?

When taking the long view, the drawbacks become clear. While they’re a one time buy and you made the right financial choice for the moment, restrictions in their application could end up costing you in the future.

If a COTS solution helps you grow but doesn’t scale with you, it quickly becomes a drag rather than a benefit. Trying to fit your global aspirations into a software solution designed for a single location business isn’t going to work. At worst, it’ll create an unmanageable level of technical debt.

A SaaS solution with a business focused, scalable pricing model should sit at whatever price fits your current scope. At Atlas, we’ve chosen to price our products by usage rather than arbitrary metrics like seats taken or hours used. That way the price of using Atlas scales with your use of it, matching your growth at every step.

If in the unlikely event your growth falters or your revenue takes a dip, your usage and costs would drop in tandem; ensuring you’re not punished for reacting to events outside of your control.

What do you get with SaaS?

SaaS isn’t just about the software, it is about getting the total service. That means the computers, the servers, the virtual networking, the runtime operating systems, the security, the support; in short, the total IT service.

A good analogy for this that’s risen in popularity is Pizza as a Service. On one end of the spectrum you have a completely homemade pizza. You source the ingredients, make the pizza dough, bake it in your own oven, using your own energy, and you serve it on your own table. This is your traditional, all on premises solution.

In the middle you have take-and-bake pizzas and delivery pizzas. These have some of the responsibility taken off your plate (pun certainly intended), whether that’s the creation and sourcing of ingredients or the use of the pizza joint’s ovens. But, some elements are still provided by yourself. These are your Infrastructure/Platform as a Service analogues.

Finally you’ve got a dine in experience where every element is provided to you by the restaurant you’re dining at. This is where SaaS lives.

Expanding on that analogy, you can see that SaaS offers serious benefits. Not only are you getting a software solution that’s updated regularly, you’re also receiving the benefits of every enhancement the software provider makes; from better equipment, more stable platforms, new technologies and improved delivery methods.

As their security improves, so does yours. As their infrastructure improves, so does yours. As everything on the SaaS provider’s end improves, so does yours.

What is the true cost of data?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of imagining data doesn’t cost anything. Often it can be seen as a sometimes useful, but ultimately inevitable by-product of running a business. On the surface that might be the case for many businesses.

But data is always useful, if you know how to use it. That means collecting it, cleaning it, and utilising it in the right way should be a priority and an active part of any business. With that perspective, we need to investigate the cost of data and what affects that cost.

Without a good shop floor connectivity solution implemented, linked to a smart digital platform, the cost of even collecting data will be prohibitive. Beyond that, the cost of turning that data into insight will always be too high.

Time spent connecting your equipment to a single, unified digital platform would be time and resources wasted if that platform doesn’t turn the data you’re collecting into useful information. Moreover, the business insights you’re missing out on will put you behind your competition, meaning less revenue in the long run.

If you’ve managed to connect your business up, with multitudes of sensors and next-gen networking, but the system you’ve put in place to handle that data lacks usability, you’re also wasting money. The data collected can’t be accessed by the people ready to make the data led decisions that will be increasing your efficiency, productivity, sustainability, and ultimately your bottom line.

All of these above considerations make data expensive. If you’re not collecting it in a scalable fashion and making it usable, then any data led efforts are going to cost you more than they make you.

Making your data affordable

So how do you avoid this? Well, start with a system that can handle simple, scalable shop floor connectivity. A digital platform that allows for all the equipment in a single location to be connected to the digital world is good, but one that allows all the equipment in a global operation to be connected is better.

The second option won’t punish you for succeeding either. As your business expands, connectivity should be an easy and integral part of your growth. Data led decisions can be made as you grow, ensuring the most efficient processes are put in place ahead of time, making your data work for you and the resources spent on it provide a greater ROI.

A smart connectivity solution should enable automation in data handling too. If you’re spending people hours on data collection and cleansing, you’re wasting money and talent. Your connectivity platform should be capable of handling the grunt work on its own, freeing up time and resources to be spent on innovation and achieving the next big thing.

Your chosen solution should have usability at its core too. Without it you are again going to be wasting hours of your experts’ time that could be better spent revolutionising your business. Going further, if your solution is usable by all the people in your company then they can turn it into insight that helps you save money in a wider variety of areas, not just those your shop floor experts might have eyes on.

How GloboBake cost their data

Our imaginary baking empire has had a lot to consider on their journey. From scalable supply chain management issues to usability in connectivity, we’ve really put them through their paces and seen how they rise (no pun intended!) to any challenge.

One problem they’ve faced is how to make their use of data affordable. From oven temperatures to product viability, their facilities produce mountains of data and they need a way to make it usable. Even more importantly, they need those means to be affordable.

During their initial growth period, their systems were very manual. Unconnected equipment needed to be read manually, with that information being loaded into siloed systems that failed to handle data in a meaningful way.

From their shop floor operatives through to their sustainability champions, no one had easy access to the data they needed to make meaningful change. On top of that, any data collection and processing they did required excessive time and resources committed to it.

They needed to commit people to checking the machines for readouts. They needed to commit hours to getting these readouts loaded into a clunky system. Then they needed to commit resources to making this data usable.

This was costing them too much and holding them back from scaling in a way that worked.

How did GloboBake make their data affordable?

By introducing an intelligent shop floor connectivity solution, GloboBake was able to make leaps forward in the way they handled data. The system they chose was robust enough for them to link up massive amounts of sensors as well as unique, bespoke pieces of equipment.

With everything connected, their chosen connectivity solution collected and sorted data, turning data chaos into data insight. Their technical heads were able to put their expertise to good use, building AI bots they were able to deploy to edge devices around the globe that allowed for even better data handling within the platform.

With data flowing in accessible, meaningful ways, the rest of the organisation were able to get to putting that data to good use. Their sustainability experts were able to spot areas where energy efficiency could be improved and costs reduced. Their logistics experts found redundancies that could be removed, again saving money and minimising waste.

Throughout the business small improvements were made at scale as well as big changes in unique areas. They were able to roll out improvements to their processes that kept them in line with changing legislation, avoiding costly repercussions from lagging behind on legal requirements.

By implementing an intelligent connectivity system, GloboBake made the collection and utilisation of data not only affordable, but profitable.

Avoiding costs and capitalising on opportunities

Affordability isn’t just about the cost of a product or the day-to-day improvements it can bring to your business, it can also be about using data harvested through connectivity to avoid expenditure and capitalise on opportunities.

How connectivity can help you with legislation

All industries have to comply with legislation somewhere along the line. Whether that’s in terms of energy efficiency, quality control, health and safety, or any other area for concern.

By having total control of the data produced within your organisation you can avoid costs associated with non-compliance. If your equipment isn’t operating efficiently, if you’re consistently shipping products that don’t meet compliance, these things will eventually incur fines or requirements to upgrade your facilities, potentially halting production.

With connectivity implemented correctly, you can be ahead of these legislative challenges. You can constantly be monitoring and adjusting your equipment and systems so that you’re always compliant and ready to adapt as and when you need to.

Looking to the future, compliance isn’t ever just about the here and now. For one extreme example, the aerospace industry requires comprehensive data to be kept for the life of an engine plus twenty years. This could be decades worth of data for a single product. Any connectivity platform needs to facilitate the affordable archive, storage, and eventual retrieval of that data to ensure costly gaps don’t appear.

It’s also vital to be able to sort between what is and what will be needed to keep costs down. The most comprehensive solution might be to keep every single piece of data, but that can quickly become unmanageable and make retrieval of vital data difficult. Instead, you need a system that knows what must be archived, and what data can be set free, and when.

How connectivity can help you meet customer requirements

Similar to the legislation question, though not looking at storing data for legal requirements, manufacturers need to easily prove their efficacy when engaging with potential new clients or markets.

With a system that is fully integrated and connected across all equipment, sites, and throughout your supply chain; you can build a comprehensive, tracked and traceable record of success.

Once again, this isn’t just about storing everything, because providing a new customer your entire business life story is going to be unwieldy at best, and off putting at worst. Instead you need a system that can automatically create a certificate of conformity that can build confidence in your potential customers using just the data they need to see.

Furthermore, intelligent shop floor connectivity solutions can be directly linked to feedback systems from your end user. As customers receive and evaluate your product, you can instantly make adjustments to your manufacturing processes to better meet their expectations.

Time and resources spent collecting and analysing customer requirements, only to translate them into meaningful change in your production is minimised. Your value gaps are closed, your time to market for new products is reduced, and your production processes are constantly evolving and improving.

The data you pull in from your connectivity solutions meets your customer requirements in a digital platform that allows for simultaneous understanding and improvement, minimising waste and maximising revenue.

How connectivity can help you achieve business insight

Taking control of your data through intelligent connectivity systems puts business insight into your world and under your control. More often than not 3rd parties are needed to help provide real business insight, but with all the information at your fingertips that shouldn’t be necessary.

Connectivity in the fourth industrial revolution means business insight can come from within. With your entire supply chain connected to smart systems you can see from the top down and inside out where redundancies exist and improvements can be made.

Discrete manufacturing enterprises can live up to the lean and Six Sigma ideals of overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and statistical process control (SPC), meaning every step of the manufacturing journey can achieve absolute efficiency. Money wasted on subpar products and inefficient methods of production can be minimised and eliminated where possible.

Intelligent connectivity systems can enable this by collecting, cleaning, archiving and evolving data over time as necessary. Minute by minute data collection can happen and be utilised in the moment, before being aggregated and understood as long term trends and patterns. All this makes real-time adjustments as possible as future decision making based on well presented data.

How connectivity can help improve your OPs world

Whether it’s DevOps, Enterprise Ops, Machine Learning Ops (MLOps), or whatever Ops you can imagine, they all live and die on the data available to them. Next level connectivity means not only is the data provided to your Ops operatives good, but it can be put to good use.

MLOps teams can create bespoke solutions to unique problems and deploy them to edge devices around the globe. Your Enterprise Ops teams can create simple, scalable solutions that make minor changes on a massive scale for real return on investment of time and resources.

The data you produce can be put to use by experts that make it both an affordable option and one that increases overall revenue.

What’s the bottom line?

Scalable shop floor connectivity solutions are smart because they allow for data to be harvested, understood, and made use of by your whole organisation. As you feel the positive impact you can grow without these solutions hamstringing you due to their limited focus or application.

With usability at their core, your shop floor connectivity solution can remove the barrier to entry for experts throughout your organisation. Data can be collected from throughout your supply chain and put to use at any link within it. Small changes can happen en masse while complex problems can find elegant solutions.

Sustainability improves as data insight illuminates hidden areas where energy and waste expenditure can be minimised. Compliance can be met and as new technologies and methodologies arise which allow for ever more efficiency, they can be seamlessly integrated into your business.

At the end of it all, a good shop floor connectivity solution is an affordable one. It’s one that makes everything from data harvesting to data analysis and insight affordable. It means these efforts don’t sit as inevitable costs but smart investments.

What’s next?

Now that we’ve wrapped up this series of articles, we’ll be working on putting them out into the world in new and interesting ways. Much like our previous series on supply chain management solutions, we’ll be creating an ebook based on the thoughts we’ve covered. We will also be holding a webinar in the very near future where our own experts and other industry leaders will engage with you on these topics.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to find out when these are happening, and so you can book your seat early!