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Manufacturing survey shows how real-time monitoring drives productivity improvement

Manufacturing analytics
Plastics processors represented more than half of the manufacturers surveyed, and their priorities differed from the general manufacturing population. For instance, 38% of all manufacturers use real-time monitoring to improve quality control. For plastics manufacturers, that figure jumps to 61%.

Improving shop-floor productivity through data and analytics is making real-time monitoring essential to plastics processors’ growth in 2019 and beyond. This was one of the many insights that emerged from a February 2019 survey by Decision Analyst on behalf of IQMS, a global supplier of enterprise resource planning software and manufacturing execution systems based in Paso Robles, CA. Among the 150 North American manufacturers interviewed for the survey, 55% came from the plastics industry, providing an opportunity to compare responses in this sector with those of participants overall.

The following chart summarizes the highest rated real-time monitoring benefits across 150 North American manufacturers today. It provides a basis of comparison of how plastics manufacturers prioritize these benefits when implementing real-time monitoring to drive their company’s growth and profitability.

Production and scheduling efficiency

Among all manufacturers surveyed, 53% reported that they are adopting real-time monitoring to improve production efficiency as measured by order-cycle times. By contrast, when the plastics manufacturing cohort is analyzed separately, improving production efficiency as measured by order cycle times soars to 62%. Plastics manufacturers also depend more on real-time monitoring to improve scheduling accuracy compared to their general-manufacturing peers, with 58% identifying this as essential versus only 47% of survey participants overall.

Product and process quality

Plastics manufacturers bring a far greater level of scrutiny to inbound supplier, process and product quality than their counterparts. Across all manufacturers, just 38% are adopting real-time monitoring to improve quality control. For the plastics manufacturing cohort, this figure jumps to 61%. Notably, the fastest growing manufacturers are linking quality to growth, and they note that once they can scale quality, they can then proceed with moving a shift to lights-out production. Often, success with an initial lights-out pilot will lead to two or more shifts moving to lights-out operations. 

A case in point is one of the most successful plastics extrusion manufacturing companies in North America, which has a series of plastics extrusion machines connected to Fanuc robotic stackers and sorters, capable of handling more than one million plastic parts per week. Real-time monitoring provides a constant view of the plastics extrusion machinery’s health and indicates preventative maintenance needed to keep the Fanuc robotic stackers and sorters at peak performance.

“Our lights-out manufacturing strategy hinges on the health of our machines and the accuracy of our real-time data monitoring,” explained the company’s CEO. “When we’re running two full shifts lights-out, we can hold our own from a cost and quality perspective with anyone in the world.” 

Shop floor productivity  

The survey revealed that while 76% of manufacturers say improving shop-floor productivity is far and away their most important growth strategy for 2019, there are many definitions of productivity improvement and strategies for achieving it.

For example, 72% of plastics manufacturers are investing in existing machinery upgrades, and 71% are acquiring new smart, connected machines. These rates are significantly higher than those of the general population of manufacturers, where 41% are investing in equipment upgrades and another 41% are purchasing smart, connected machinery. Upgrades are being completed to improve connectivity, integration across machines and productivity. Meanwhile, the new smart, connected machines can directly integrate with real-time monitoring systems while also performing advanced self-diagnostics and self-correction.

Follow-on interviews and site visits were completed with those plastics manufacturers growing 15% a year or more. All of these companies emphasized how real-time monitoring is providing them with the rich, contextual data streams needed to make their investments in both existing machinery and new smart, connected machines successful. As with product and process quality, real-time monitoring integrated with machinery is a cornerstone of these high-growth manufacturers’ lights-out production strategies

Improved analytics

The fastest growing plastics manufacturers are already using a core set of analytics, metrics and key performance indicators to precisely define their shop-floor productivity goals for 2019 by month and quarter. These high-growth companies also have exceptionally strong data-driven cultures, and everyone—from shop-floor technicians and crew leaders to operations managers and senior management—all know their goals and targets by metric. Moreover, they’re using analytics and business intelligence to keep everyone involved and seeing how their contribution matters.

During visits to fast-growing plastics manufacturers, it’s common to see 60-inch plasma flat-panel screens with all the metrics they are tracking updated in real time, showing progress toward their goals as well as  their current level of shop-floor productivity. For these plastics manufacturers and their teams, improving shop-floor productivity is a very personal, committed goal and it shows in how well they excel against their own and customers’ benchmarks.


The survey statistics point to plastics manufacturers as leaders in adopting real-time monitoring to drive their success. But touring the fastest-growth companies in this sector bring the survey’s data to life. It’s now clear there is a revolution underway in the plastics manufacturing industry fueled by smart, connected machines enabled by real-time monitoring to produce higher quality products faster than ever before.

Image courtesy zapp2photo/Adobe Stock.

About the author

Louis Columbus is currently serving as Principal, IQMS/Dassault Systemes. Previous positions include product management at Ingram Cloud; product marketing at iBASEt, Plex Systems; senior analyst at AMR Research (now Gartner); marketing and business development at Cincom Systems, Ingram Micro, a SaaS start-up and at hardware companies. He teaches MBA courses in international business, global competitive strategies, international market research, and capstone courses in strategic planning and market research, and has taught at California State University, Fullerton; University of California, Irvine; Marymount University; and Webster University. His Twitter handle is @LouisColumbus.

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