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How Many Databases Does it Take to Screw in a Light Bulb?

By Joe Ventimiglio, Sciemetric

From Sciemetric's Signature Newsletter. Subscribe now.

Flipping through the manufacturing magazines and the many newsletters I get, I’ve noticed that the topic of using data to manage manufacturing is hot. And so it should be. With automation commonplace it is easy to push out information. Maybe it’s too easy. Now it seems there are many databases within the manufacturing plant and it’s a struggle to bring them all together in a useful way.

Much like there are all kinds of different tooling and PLCs and test systems on a line, there are different data collectors. Some may cover a line, a plant, a particular set of operations or the entire global enterprise. How does a manufacturing manager know what to do with it all? Here are some suggestions on establishing a sound strategy for managing and streamlining those databases.

1. What do you want to know?
Before even opening up those database files, draw up a list of what you – and your management team – need to know. What are the metrics that keep you all up at night? Is traceability important? Are there problem areas in the plant(s)? In short, list your objectives and determine the data you need to help meet them.

2. Take a look at the data you’re collecting right now.
Now that you have your list of what you need, take a hard look at the data that’s being collected. You need to determine whether it is all meaningful – that is, it is data that you will use one way or the other. You also need to make sure that you’re getting all of the data you need. For example, you may be collecting some basic parameters about what’s happening on the line to feed into a system like an MES. If your objective is to identify root cause and improve yields, then the data going there may not be enough.

3. Make sure you are able to use it.
Sometimes actually visualizing the data is like trying to read a book in the dark. It’s there in your hands but you just can’t see it. Find the right tools to merge and blend your data. The right tools are not spreadsheets and hours and hours of your time. Use what will help you get the information you need to act quickly and preferably in real time.

At this point, you should also review the different systems you’re using to establish whether you could centralize the data into fewer databases. There is also the issue of maintaining consistent data across the plant and, if you’re part of a large company, the enterprise. Take down the silos and you’ll make the data easier to analyze and more accessible. (OK, Rome wasn’t built in a day so this may be a challenging task. Befriend your IT department.)

4. Are you easily able to get to #1?
The measure of successful data management is whether you are able to get what you need to know, when you need it. Though it can be challenging, ensuring you can meet the objectives with the data being collected will benefit your plant as a whole.

So how many manufacturing databases does it take to screw in a light bulb? The answer would likely be “if I could make sense of what’s in those databases, maybe I could get you an answer.” If that’s true for you, take a step back and see if you can simplify the data management on your line.




For more information contact Joe Ventimiglio, Director of sales, automotive/industrial at Sciemetric. He can be reached at