Lack of visibility into manufacturing processes is the most prevalent issue plaguing manufacturers today, according to the results of a new survey. The results of the 2014 Smart Manufacturing Technologies Survey from location intelligence solution provider Ubisense, show that 40 percent of manufacturers have no visibility into the real-time status of their manufacturing processes. The results of the survey, which was conducted by SME and Manufacturing Engineering Media, are based on the responses of 252 manufacturing engineers, product designers and quality management professionals.


Visibility is crucial for process improvement and control but it also has a bottom-line impact. According to responses from the Ubisense survey, nearly 10 percent of factories spend half their day simply looking for equipment and products. This non-value-added time can result in significant wastage. For example, a few minutes spent finding each vehicle in a heavy vehicle plant can accumulate to several hundred thousand dollars in lost inventory costs annually, the report explains.


“Ubisense works with global manufacturers every day, so we knew visibility was an area of concern but the results of this survey gave us much greater insight into the blind spots that impact all areas of the manufacturing process and the level of efficiency that can be achieved,” says Adrian Jennings, CTO of Ubisense Americas. “The manufacturing world is talking about Industry 4.0 but this survey confirmed that most manufacturers are far from embracing cyber-physical systems which define the next Industrial Revolution.”


I suppose the takeaway from the results depends on whether the reader has a “glass is half full” or a “glass is half empty” perspective. For example, 30 percent of the respondents indicated their companies do have access to instant, real-time status of every product. More importantly, 40 percent of the survey’s participants say their company leverages their visibility data to try to identify problems before they occur. In these situations, frontline managers can be much more proactive by identifying pending stoppage and making adjustments in advance to maintain flow.


That being said, according to the results, 40 percent of the respondents say their company has no visibility into the real-time status of the manufacturing process. Furthermore, 56 percent of the manufacturers are using the limited visibility data they have to identify problems as they occur, meaning that over half of respondents only know about crises after they happen.


There are a few points about the survey that stand out for me. For instance, without having visibility to the plant floor, companies are limited in their ability to accept orders and schedule operations confidently because they don’t understand current production volumes, available manufacturing times for additional output, and overall production capacity—including people, processes and machines. That, in turn, may have an impact on material requirements because those companies may have excess inventory on-hand to meet unexpected demand.


Secondly, while there’s obvious significance to being aware of events, the real value is in being able to respond quickly and—more importantly—appropriately. So after receiving an alert that an event is likely, it’s necessary to be able to accurately model the event. The simulation must be backed by analytics that allow personnel to accurately model the event and possible resolutions in real time. While simulating the event and the resolutions, users also must be able to collaborate with other people and other teams to ensure that the resolutions take all factors into consideration and will most appropriately meet corporate objectives. Without plant floor visibility, none of that is possible either.


What are your thoughts on the survey results? Does your company—and suppliers—have a lack of manufacturing visibility? If so, what is the impact on the supply chain?