Turning data into action

Q&A with Darren Duke, a business analyst and IT consultant at Zotefoams plc

What advice would you give a manufacturing company today to help them grow?

Ensure you identify the real value-drivers for your customers and the internal measures you use to maintain this value.

Also, run a regular portfolio management exercise and see how changes in the next year could move products around the Boston Matrix, which analyses businesses based on their growth and market share. Consider what opportunities or problems will arise and prepare for them.

To grow their business, in which technologies should manufacturers invest? How will this investment ensure their success?

There is no magic technology, only a magic attitude – embracing and reviewing all technology options. The right investment will power your business ahead of your competitors if you are open and creative.

Investing in good analytic and reporting software can help you spot trends or outliers early, allowing you to respond in an agile way. Used right, this will help you react faster to market and customer needs.

What are the key technology trends that manufacturers must master?

The drive towards fast data analysis, interaction through social networks and a move towards a light, app-based suite of systems.

We are interested in providing real time or near-real time automated analysis using artificial intelligence (AI) to highlight trends that a human may miss and to respond more efficiently. AI should help us be more proactive in quality, product and customer service areas.

We also really like the way the technology is changing to allow us to pick up social media trends and industry conversations, giving market insights such as untapped customer needs.

Younger business system users are used to an app-based ecosystem. We particularly like systems like the ERP Dynamics 365 where we can design our own apps to increase productivity or streamline business processes.

What does digital transformation look like in manufacturing?

Traditionally, the manufacturer has been far-removed from the customer. Transforming to get insights into market direction or financial movements will move the manufacturer closer to the customer and their needs. This will accelerate the movement from risk averse, capital intensive industries to a smarter, faster, analytical and results-driven business with predictive process controls and improvements.

How are you transforming your business?

We are looking at new technology around sensors and predictive product quality as well as the more established predictive maintenance areas.

Using AI we will try to pick up machine problems based on real time monitoring before the business reports any issues with the plant equipment.
The aim is to have large screens in the maintenance workshop so each morning the team can review what’s going on and any likely problems and provide mitigating actions prior to a machine stop. We hope being proactive can keep the machines running, increasing overall equipment effectiveness.

A lot of our product inspection is manual and visual. We particularly like the machine learning capabilities of the Microsoft cloud that could help us find issues further back in the production process, before inspection teams receive the products.

This is on top of better monitoring of plant equipment running conditions, allowing us to deal with any non-conforming product sooner and prevent it being shipped to customers.

How do you see technologies such as ERP, CRM, data analytics, cloud and the internet of things helping manufacturers?

These technologies truly help manufacturers respond faster to changes in the market as well as helping to understand the value of their products from a customer or end user perspective.

They also allow businesses to reduce the time spent gathering data from a range of ad hoc systems and spend more time on the decision.

Darren Duke is a business analyst and IT consultant at Zotefoams plc, a leading global manufacturer of lightweight, high-performance foam products based in London. Zotefoams is shortlisted for the Innovation in Technology Award at the 2017 PLC Awards.