An Oracle blog about Internet Of Things

  • February 9, 2017

Situational Awareness for the Factory Floor

Supreet Oberoi
Vice President, IoT and Big Data Applications

I have perfect situational awareness. I'm like a poet. - Archer


I was surprised to  see so many executives touring a metal galvanizing plant – the air was repulsive with the smell of sulfuric acid into which tons of iron were dropped for cleaning. There were the cold outside winds blowing into the open factory floor, and the harsh, hot flares coming out of the huge vats that held millions of gallons of molten metal. This wasn’t the place that I’d expect to see so many people in hard hats and expensive suits.

This was also 2016, in one of the most advanced galvanizing plants in America. The company had just received a large order to be filled before Christmas; the senior leadership team had driven from HQ to be on site at 5 am to monitor that all went well.

The company is no supply chain slouch. Quite the contrary, it’s a pioneer in inventing new logistics protocols for the business, and as a result, it has had tremendous success in the marketplace. Competing on price, quality, and agility – a result of a developing excellence in its supply chain logistics – the company has presence in all the regions of the continental U.S., with the ability to service orders with large cargo volumes in under a day.

And yet, the executives felt compelled to be on the factory floor at 5 am to monitor progress for that order, for that day.

Is automating  your supply chain enough?

While supply chains have in reality becomes complex networks, the basic steps – procure material from upstream, add value to create products, and distribute the products downstream – are still largely accurate. Over many decades, the supply chain process has made tremendous strides in automating the transitions through these steps. For example, with SOA and BPM, suppliers and manufacturers collaborated and automated to make manufacturing lean and efficient. Process flows are now integrated across organizational boundaries, optimizing product lifecycle management, procurement, logistics, and order management. One can comfortably say that the supply chain is now largely automated.

But is that enough?

We assume that when a system becomes automated, it also becomes conscious and knowledgeable of its surroundings. In some respects, this is true for modern supply chain systems. When the transportation of a raw material gets delayed, or when a motor in the factory burns out, the supply chain logistics get updated – eventually. But as manufacturers build decision trees based on shorter delivery cycles, the lag in responding can be catastrophic. So, no! Having just an automated supply chain system is no longer good enough. Now, your supply chain not only needs real-time visibility, but also the ability to act and react in real time.

Why do we need even shorter cycles?

To have shorter manufacturing cycles, we need real-time operability on the production process. Let’s try to understand why businesses find value in reducing production cycles. With reduced production times, manufacturers can service their customers faster, leading to greater customer satisfaction. With more agility, manufacturers can keep a smaller inventory of raw materials, reducing costs and waste. By scheduling manufacturing to the latest possible time, manufacturers get more accurate data about customer demand, which eliminates lost profits due to incorrectly produced product volumes.

As a consequence, manufacturers can now produce smaller batches of products that precisely meet customer orders, and can service the market currently not exploited by mass-produced products. The last point is especially vital. While we assume that the supply chain process improves the operational bottom line, it also can contribute to creating new products and revenue channels. Markets such as self-publishing and the delivery of perishable goods wouldn’t have been possible without significant innovations in logistics.

How does the Oracle IOT Production Monitoring application call attention to a supply chain dark spot?

We developed the IoT Production Monitoring application because we’re convinced that modern sensing technologies provide the real-time visibility that will significantly improve the efficiency of your factories, resulting in a more robust supply chain.

We developed an application to help the Factory Manager, VP of Supply Chain, VP of Manufacturing Applications, and others to address questions such as:

· Is my factory operational? What’s the status of my machines?

· Is my factory meeting its production goals?

· Can I improve the automation of incident management? Can I predict incidents such as machinery breakdown?

· Can I compare current performance of a plant against its historical averages? Can I compare the performance of the plant against other plants?

· Can I reroute customer orders to other plants to meet demand and schedules?

What’s the value of providing answers to such questions, besides keeping the nicely dressed executives away from your factory floor?

Reduce production downtime: Most modern factories run 24x7 to keep their operating costs competitive; time lost due to broken machinery has a significant detrimental effect on the company. Ideally, the supply chain system should detect and recommend servicing of the machinery before it breaks. If not that, then the system should accelerate resolution of any issue, that is, automatically file a work order with all diagnostic information.

Track progress against a master schedule: Here’s an interesting question: When is it too late to know you’re late? The reality is that it’s already too late by the time that question is asked. A company, SC&O, typically reconciles the progress with master schedules on a batch basis, which was acceptable when the production cycles were longer. Now, however, with very tight production schedules, it’s vital that the progress is validated in real time against the schedule.

Sometimes, the production doesn’t stop, not wanting to miss the schedule. It simply starts slowing down (it can be for a variety of reasons that ought to be instrumented). In this case, the trending performance needs to be compared with the master schedule.

Adapt production schedules: Staying with the previous example, if the machinery breaks down, then the VP of Manufacturing Applications has real-time visibility into the workload of the other plants, and could reroute the customer order to another plant.

Improve customer satisfaction: In many cases, I’ve found manufacturers instrument their production processes to not only find internal inefficiencies, but also to give visibility about the order to the customer – we thought you’d like to know that we’re putting finishing touches on your product and it will be ready to ship out tomorrow. Customer contact always goes a long way, especially when your customers have their own customers waiting for what’s essentially the next link in the chain.

Add traceability: Providing traceability in your production process in not just for regulated industries. Knowing the environmental conditional when the product was developed can provide important insights into understanding not only the quality of the order that was filled, but also in predicting the quality of future batches.


The executives at the galvanizing plant took the acidity in the air followed by alternating blasts of cold wind from the fields and hot blasts from the furnace in stride. As commendable as these leader visits are, they take valuable time from the manufacturing schedules. The executives realized that they required a technology solution that scales to multiple plants, sites, and orders, and that provide rich insights into both the production and the consumption aspects of responding to a customer order.

Next, we will discuss how Oracle’s IOT Production Monitoring addresses such needs. 

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