Last year, Hillshire Brands -- formerly Sara Lee (IW 500/116) -- uncovered a bit of a problem at its Newbern, Tenn., facility.

At the end of a line, after the plant processed and wrapped its Jimmy Dean sausages, the plastic-wrapped meat came to a binary junction with the checkware system that determined its fate. After all the work was done, it all came down to weight -- product that measured in range was passed on to shipping, anything else was trashed.

See Also: Manufacturing Industry Technology News & Trends

The problem there was a subtle one. "There was no real visibility into the system," explains Jonathan Riechert, senior project engineer at Hillshire. "We had no insight into where the weight fluctuations came from or what our actual giveaway of meat was in each package."

Furthermore, he says there was no way to capture or record any fluctuations on a consistent basis -- meaning staff had to be on-hand to watch the checkware if they wanted to get anything out of it. And even then, there were few insights to draw; there were simply good products and bad with no mechanism to determine the cause.

This isn't a unique problem, of course. This same scenario is playing out in manufacturing plants all over the world as companies unleash new intelligence platforms to drive them forward. 

But until last year, this wasn't even a problem. For over a decade Hillshire's system had kept the sausages rolling through production perfectly well, just as it had in many similar plants.

The fact that it is a problem now says a great deal about the plant and, indeed, the industry as a whole. It says that progress is being made, that manufacturers are examining their legacy systems and pursuing real insights and visibility into their processes. It says companies are no longer satisfied with yesterday's success. 

Suddenly, in this age of intelligence, in this age of visibility, it seems these legacy systems just can't cut it anymore.