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Armed With Analytics: Manufacturing as a Martial Art

A change in focus can make all the difference.

A few years ago, when I was in the early stages of learning the Russian martial art called Systema, my trainer pinned me to the floor. I felt immobilized and gradually gave up. The will to fight seeped out of me.

He then told me that my focus had been on what I could not do. He suggested I should instead consider what I could do. I took a breath and considered possible actions. Though he controlled my upper body, my legs were free, and I soon escaped.

I have forever remembered the takeaway from that class.  In most cases, if you are immobilized, you are doing it to yourself. A change in focus can make all the difference. That’s a lesson we can apply in many situations, including our work life.

Imagine if you could come to work each day and no matter the challenges you faced – torrents of Internet of Things (IoT) data, quality excursions, unplanned downtime, supply chain disruptions – you could respond to them not frozen with fear, but with an attitude of engaged curiosity. 

Whether you’re facing a lone attacker or an army of challenges, you can remain calm and centered, think clearly, and survive to fight another day. Similarly, manufacturers can arm themselves with analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to protect their companies and their careers.

There was a time in manufacturing where having access to sensor data and analyzing it in real time seemed far-fetched. But today is a new day, one where industrial organizations can feel confident engaging data at sizes they never dreamed possible, much like I was able to ignore the size of my Systema instructor. 

Martial arts and an analytics platform share the common thread of awareness. This allows you to not only report on what is happening, but also predict what is likely to happen next, and take pre-emptive action that might save your life or job.  

Analytics makes you aware of critical manufacturing parameters – questionable quality findings, yield excursions and equipment anomalies. Strong data management and the power of AI provides organizations with situational awareness so they can act decisively to protect their operations. 

In martial arts such as Systema, structure, breathing, movement and relaxation are critical. These are also important for analytics and AI initiatives.

Structure. A strong, flexible and resilient physical structure is the foundation for survival, whether in martial arts or analytics. Both must be adaptable to any challenge or opportunity because emerging situations can’t always be predicted.

The responsibility for your structure is yours alone to always return to a position of strength. Ignore this mandate in business at your company’s risk. And the analytics platform should also be flexible enough – future-proofed to accommodate open source and emerging technologies such as streaming data, AI and an IoT deployment.

Many manufacturers are only learning this now, as they realize their networks, historians, MES systems or even ERP systems are not robust and flexible enough to respond to analytic workloads. With a proven, well-thought-out architecture, you can be confident your analytics structure is strong. 

Breathing. Breathing is essential. We start life with an inhale, and end with an exhale. Breathing allows the brain to communicate with the body. When you are with a threat, a lack of breathing causes you to fold into yourself. However, the right amount of breathing creates the right amount of pressure in your limbs and the rest of your body, enabling you to make an informed, calculated response. 

The same holds true in analytics. Most companies now view information as the breath of the organization and essential for survival. They previously allowed production issues to hold up operations while centralized intelligence sought a remedy. This could take hours if not days. Too little breathing. 

As sensors and networks have become more ubiquitous, some companies have also faced the opposite scenario of too much information flowing back and forth, which can overwhelm IT systems and decision-makers. 

An architecture that can “breathe” appropriately, one that is able to sense what is important and bring the right amount of analytics to the right place in the operation, offers production options. 

Movement. Manufacturing tends to behave in much the same way as a fight. A threat is perceived, perhaps an anomaly in a quality check, or an alarm on a piece of equipment or a warranty issue, and the operation comes to a standstill. 

I once worked with a pharmaceutical manufacturer that took production down for two weeks to examine what turned out to be a simple alarm with no impact on quality or safety. When a manufacturing line sits still, competition leaps ahead, anticipating customer needs, optimizing supply chains and creating new business models based on sensor data. 

Just as my new martial arts skills enabled me to keep moving no matter what, analytics enables manufacturers to keep moving while quickly analyzing threats.

Relaxation. Once comfortable with Systema principles, you’re able to apply relaxation, the most important principle of all. You can trust your structure, breathing and movement, which allows you to relax. You no longer see pain as something to fear; instead, you see pain as data. With practice and commitment, you can turn data into information and then use the information for critical decisions. 

This is analogous to the analytic life cycle of data, discovery and deployment. Understand which signals require attention, apply that attention with engaged curiosity, then make a decision for the desired result. It might mean altering your production schedule or slowing down equipment. With the right structure, breathing and movement, you’ll be relaxed enough to respond instead of react. You’ll make better decisions, faster.

Manufacturers must arm themselves with analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning. If you feel helpless in the face of sensor data streams, increasingly complex supply chains or multiplying regulatory issues, you should consider whether you are doing it to yourself.

Are you taking advantage of the structure, the breathing and the movement that are available to you with modern analytics platforms so that you can respond instead of react? Analytics allow you to take charge of your fate.

Marcia Elaine Walker is the principal industry consultant for Manufacturing at SAS.

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