Company-transforming technologies with big-data benefits
From food manufacturers to car makers, and from pharmaceutical companies to construction firms, big data has the potential to cause major disruption. It wouldn’t be dramatic to say that the revolutionary opportunities presented by the Internet of Things (IoT) age, combined with insight gained when an organization unlocks the power of the data it generates, will change the face of business across the globe.
What is the Internet of Things? (IOT)
There has been a great deal of talk about ‘The Internet of Things (IoT)’ in recent years.
But when we boil it down, what does this actually mean? Simply put, it describes the network of physical objects that come embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies. These objects are there to enable smoother connections and data exchange with other devices and systems over the internet.
It’s already had a big impact in the packaging sector, specifically within companies that work with metals, paper, films, or composites. IOT is able to make production more efficient and trouble-shooting increasingly effective, while the real time and shared data potential will continue to encourage wiser QA and QC processes in the future. This will both protect the reputation of businesses while keeping consumers happier and – in some cases – healthier too.
What is ‘Big Data’?
The increasing digitization of manufacturing, the impact of the IoT, and the advent of intelligent packaging means that companies are now collecting huge amounts of data – more than traditional analytics can handle. And this is where the concept of ‘Big Data’ comes in.
It’s a term used to describe massive, sophisticated reams of datasets collected across all aspects of an organization. Big data, and the way that we analyze and learn from it, is improving the way that the world uses business information.
But just because organizations have access to this valuable insight and the company-transforming potential it offers, analyzing it effectively and taking full advantage of its potential is a stumbling block for many. It’s early days yet, however over the coming years we can expect to see a rising amount of big data gathering and examination across a wide span of industries.
How smart is your packaging?
Before we venture into how big data is impacting upon the packaging sector, let’s take some time to explore how packages can generate more useful information to maximize efficiency and reduce waste.
Still in its infancy, the concept of ‘intelligent packaging’ seeks to strengthen communication channels across the supply chain – from manufacturer to consumer. Forward-thinking companies are now fitting their packaging with sensors and indicators that can keep track of a number of important variables – ensuring that their goods arrive in tip-top condition.
As we approach 2022, increasing numbers of companies are kitting out their packages with RFID (radio frequency identification), NFC (near-field identification), or even Bluetooth tags. The data generated allows for a more sophisticated tracking capability – helping to make better informed decisions, faster.
The potential is huge. Anything from the storage time to temperature and the freshness of a product can be measured with the right technology – with masses of data fed back to the manufacturer for analysis. This allows organizations to report back to base when things go wrong, or could be improved.
In the past people relied on sell-by dates and visual inspection of the product alone to offer insight. Now, the conditions of the package (both inside and outside) can be checked. Sensors react to different environmental stimuli. Imagine, for example, a frozen foods producer equipped with the knowledge that their products had encountered a potentially dangerous period of thawing after leaving the warehouse – this insight will help them to assure the quality and safety of the food before it reaches the customer. Ultimately, data enables them to protect against any reputational damage…plus it may push them to find more reliable routes to market!
What can be derived from Big Data and how does it affect QA and QC?
You can have all of the data in the world, but it’s useless if you don’t analyze it effectively. Yet with the right approach – translated and understood insightfully – big data is a powerful tool to maximize the efficacy of quality assurance and quality control processes.
When captured and read with purpose, it offers an omnipotent vision of your products and the way you make them. It can be used to streamline resource management, optimize R&D efforts and product development, while encouraging smarter decision making. It can help you to make better quality packaging with less waste, which in turn cuts costs and helps you to remain competitive. All this can happen while your reputation is protected in a world obsessed with sustainability and planetary protection.
With more sophisticated information you can determine the source of failures, defects, and common issues in near-real time – you can do this in a way that’s faster and with increased accuracy.
Big data will give you a firmer grasp of how well your production and packaging lines are operating – a seamless addition to your business that can maximize the efficiency of all QA and QC oversight.
Look back to move forward
You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve come from. Take the example of a can manufacturer; after being in the business a while, a company is likely to generate reams of data across all aspects of operation. From the speed of production lines, to the efficiency of machinery, to the ratio of defective cans manufactured.
Much of this valuable intel is archived to gather dust and never sees the light of day again. But the power of big data analytics unlocks and unleashes its potential in a manner not traditionally thought possible.
Feeding historic information into modern, interconnected analytics systems will give you an improved understanding of whether the machines you use are fit for purpose. It allows businesses to understand where common errors have arisen and how adjustments could lead to more efficient, better quality outcomes.
How does near instantaneous response times to quality and performance issues sound? Big data analytics strengthens an organization’s ability to pounce on a problem immediately.
Your test and inspection equipment may be sophisticated enough to tell you when something has gone wrong, stopping production lines to stop a dodgy package hitting the supply chain. But normally this follows a period of consideration and analysis from the supervisory team.
These days the technology spots product defects and line issues faster and more accurately than the human eye. It can use all datasets, past and present, to automatically identify how and why things have gone wrong. And then determine and present the strategic solutions available to redress the situation without slowing down production.
This instant auditing of your operation can not only save time and money, but also evaluate where your processes could be improved to reduce product and energy waste, lessening your overall environmental impact.
In, not out, with the old
One of a manufacturer’s biggest investments is the heavy duty mechanical equipment they use on the production line. As such, many organizations can be hesitant to replace legacy equipment, even when there are more efficient alternatives available.
Many trusty machines may still need to be manually operated in isolation and feature stand-alone computerised control systems. And while a company would like to bring in leaner, more interconnected technology…the budget might not stretch that far.
But the revolution in IoT technology has led to specialist companies offering all kinds of gadgets to bring even the more senior equipment in line with the demands of the modern production environment. The cost of the once-expensive IoT sensors is falling fast and now it’s becoming increasingly easy to connect legacy equipment into the modern era – offering a new lease of life by transforming its ability to communicate and share big data analytics in a modern and sophisticated manner with its younger counterparts.
Company transforming potential
Big data analytics and IoT has the potential to make every manufacturing business leaner, greener, and more efficient. Properly collected and evaluated, it can guide your R&D efforts – ensuring you don’t repeat past mistakes – and sharpen your QA and QC functionality. It does this while helping you to understand and quantify risk so that you can identify more profitable opportunities on the horizon.
Simply put, big data offers forward thinking organizations a big opportunity to get ahead if they are willing to learn how to generate it, collect it effectively and use the intelligence it offers strategically.
Given its potential to reduce waste, optimize energy use, and strengthen a company’s R&D efforts with more, better information, it’s a particularly useful tool for packaging manufacturers. This will only become more apparent in the years to come as consumers demand more ecologically sustainable products and working practices from the brands they support.