Jonathan Wilkins discusses how manufacturers can use their dark data for commercial benefit
In 1945, an engineer named Percy Spencer was testing energy sources for radar equipment in a laboratory, when he realised a chocolate bar in his pocket had somehow melted.
Not long after, the microwave oven was born. In the manufacturing industry, it is also possible to make accidental discoveries; one avenue which is proving particularly fruitful is the use of dark data.
The phrase ‘dark data’ is used to refer to information collected by a business but not used for any operational purpose.
For manufacturers, the data can be collected during a production process or from business enterprise operations.
The phrase is often met with a shudder due to a lack of understanding of what it is how it can be used. However, dark data doesn’t necessarily mean bad data.
In the dawn of Industry 4.0, fast moving manufacturing facilities have become increasingly data heavy environments, with information sourced from machine logs, equipment sensors and even social media and consumer demand.
Data comes from a myriad of places – but not all of this data is used effectively.
In many cases, if analysed and integrated with the value chain, dark data can be used to make better decisions.
Currently, data can be captured from such a wide range of inputs that the potential to make smarter and faster forecasts and decisions is rapidly increasing, as long as plant managers know where data it is stored and what to do with it.
Data relating to production information and consumer insight can be used to drive innovation or improve quality; this information can be used by designers and engineers to improve customer experience and product performance. However, not all data collected can be used to produce a meaningful result.
Good data versus bad data
Despite the potential benefits, not all data is worth saving as it can be expensive to store and maintain. If the data is customer related, risks can also arise from breaches and unauthorised sharing, damaging a business’s reputation.
In some industries, such as pharmaceuticals, there are stricter requirements on the storage and formatting of data.
If a pharmaceutical company had an issue with the storage or formatting of its clinical trial data, it could lose valuable insights and may be liable for any losses.
Dark data can offer manufacturers an untapped resource for potential insight, or may be a costly waste of space.
To decide whether to make the most of the data or to erase it, companies first need to understand where their dark data is and where it has come from.
For most manufacturers data is generated by either staff or equipment before it is stored and forgotten.
Enforcing data policies and training staff on the handling and analysis of data will help companies make better business decisions.
If a new machine or system is added, the plant manager should consider what data it will accumulate and how this will be managed.
Manufacturers should be aware of where data is coming from and what regulations specify they can keep.
Being more aware of where data is coming from and how it can be used can benefit manufacturers looking to make intelligent business decisions, as well as those who just want to save time and space.
With diligent data analysis, who knows, you might even discover something as groundbreaking as the microwave.
Jonathan Wilkins is marketing director at obsolete equipment supplier EU Automation.