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September 14, 2016

Manufacturers Not Sold on Data Analytics

George Leopold

U.S. manufacturing executives are increasingly aware of data analytics as a way of implementing platforms such as the industrial Internet of Things, yet not all are convinced that the hefty investment will yield a quick return in a tough business climate.

According to a survey of about 200 manufacturing executives released this week by manufacturing automation specialist Honeywell (NYSE: HON), a majority of respondent said they are already investing in data analytics. Most said they view analytics as critical to emerging industrial deployments expected to spearhead the shift to IoT.

More than one quarter of those executives surveyed, however, said they have no immediate plans to invest in data analytics over the next year. The reasons? Some said they simply could not afford it while others said they did not see or failed to understand the benefits.

Still, more than two-thirds said they plan to invest in data analytics even as they cut spending in other areas. Most often cited was the role analytics is expected to play in industrial IoT deployments. Those platforms are seen as viable solution to problems that can lead to costly downtime on the factory floor.

Data analytics is increasingly seen as a tool for avoiding unscheduled downtime, which was most often cited as a threat to new revenues. Indeed, 42 percent of executives surveyed acknowledged running equipment too hard. Nearly one third of respondents cited equipment breakdowns as a major issue.

Other impediments to maximizing manufacturing revenue include supply chain management, inadequate staffing stemming from skill gaps and non-standard products.

Honeywell and other factory automation vendors are pitching predictive analytics as one way to address these issues when deploying industrial IoT schemes. Indeed, about 70 percent of respondents said data analytics could help reduce equipment breakdowns and unscheduled downtime. Predictive analytics is increasingly seen as helping floor managers make decisions on real time that can help reduce waste and gauge the risk to overall operations posed by equipment failures.

Of the roughly one-third of those executives polled who said they either have no plans to invest in data analytics any time soon or invest over the next year, 61 percent said they have instead used other approaches to optimize their operations. Meanwhile, 35 percent said they benefits of big data in manufacturing are overstated.

Among the reasons for not investing are a tight budgets and the lack of qualified analysts.

Executives with Honeywell’s Process Solutions unit acknowledged that hurdles to adoption of industrial IoT schemes persist. Despite skepticism about data analytics uncovered in its survey, they also argued that industry IoT deployments could be phased in and scaled depending on each company’s requirements. IIoT “doesn’t require a wholesale change,” noted Andrew Hird, a Honeywell vice president.

The survey of the impact of big data on manufacturing was conducted between May 23 and June 8, 2016.

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