Big Data and Manufacturing

big dataIn his new book, Big Data @Work, Thomas Davenport envisions ways in which big data could change the face of manufacturing — just as it has already changed marketing and healthcare.

“Big data,” he explains, “refers to data that is too big to fit on a single server, too unstructured to fit into a row-and-column database, or too continuously flowing to fit into a static data warehouse.” This is a great explanation of a popular buzzword, but it might still be hard to see how it relates to manufacturing. If your outfit tends to work with data like “We made 400,000 units fewer than we should have last week,” big data doesn’t have an obvious application.

Davenport points out, though, that much of the machinery in a typical factory contains data-producing sensors — the very sensors that let an Indramat electric motion control system control the movements of the machinery. He imagines networking all the sensors and using them to allow machinery to report on its needs for service or to connect with other data hubs in a company’s supply chain.

Indramat servomotors sensors typically report position and speed, along with things like temperature and torque. The controller and driver use this information in a feedback loop to control the servomotor and thus the machine it powers.

Since the sensor’s data collection is continuous, there are a lot of data points. Many of the Indramat units we service have been working happily for decades, so they’ve certainly collected more data than will fit on a typical spreadsheet. New kinds of sensors are being developed all the time, so the potential for big data applications is certainly there.

So far, machine happiness isn’t one of the kinds of data being collected by servos’ sensors, so we probably shouldn’t say that the Indramat units are happy. If it seems to you that yours are not, though — for example, they’re not working — you should call us and let us help.

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