Toward a smarter industry

Thomas Wilk explores how data-driven decisions are generating secondary benefits.

By Thomas Wilk, editor in chief

Back in the ’90s, I had the chance to simultaneously teach for The Ohio State University and work with the environmental restoration team at Battelle Memorial Institute. Part of what made those years so interesting (beyond the rise and fall of grunge music) was that each of those jobs informed the other.

By day, I helped turn data from soil, groundwater, and sediment samples into risk assessments that would pass muster with federal, state, and local regulatory bodies. By night, I took what I learned at Battelle to coach engineers and other science majors in the finer points of scientific and persuasive writing. The next morning it would be back to work on reports, but with a better appreciation of the types of audiences I was trying to reach, thanks to working with so many different science majors.

The sessions at this year’s Smart Industry event reminded me of those experiences. Specifically, I was struck by how many presenters went beyond the digital transformation projects they had embarked on, and emphasized the secondary benefits they discovered along the way.

The first of these takeaways was delivered by Navistar’s VP of analytics, Dan Pikelny, who used his keynote to highlight the way Navistar is using GPS and other data to identify real-world fleet usage patterns and then modify future vehicle designs to meet those needs.

One of Pikelny’s secondary a-ha moments was when he compared the amount of time he thought he would spend doing analytics (~70%) and data prep/integration (~15% each) with the time he actually spent on each – roughly 50% integration, 40% data prep, and only 10% analytics. This finding went beyond future vehicle design and influenced the way he approached project planning and resourcing.

Another insight emerged from a presentation by Mauricio Medaets of Emerson InSinkErator and Theresa Benson of Red Lion Controls, whose companies teamed up to increase the efficiency of Emerson’s Grind2Energy industrial food-waste recycling system via deeper visibility into real-time operations. The primary goal of the project was to improve reliability of the recycling systems by predicting and preventing system breakdowns. In one memorable example, a customer dumped 4,000 eggs into its disposal system on a hot day and flipped the switch. This resulted in unplanned downtime due to a very large surprise in-tank soufflé.

However, secondary benefits quickly emerged in the form of streamlined fleet operations – once the data collection systems on each tank were active, Emerson was able to automate dispatch of waste collection trucks and improve tank utilization from 75% to 97%. Site management also became much less onerous, dropping from 1 customer-service FTE per 25 sites to 0.1 FTE per 70 sites.

The lessons? Stay open to all the benefits of your own digital journey, and be careful how you dispose of 4,000 eggs.

 

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