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  • Writer's pictureJim Gavigan

Are you REALLY ready for a remote workforce? Part 3 - Tools

I have written the last two blogs more for the general population, but this one will be much more targeted at my friends in manufacturing and heavy industries.

This one may or may not be obvious to you. You may fully believe that your people have all the tools that they need to do their job effectively, but that is out of arrogance or not knowing what is available rather than knowledge. It also might be out of a lack of belief in the technology. It could also be a lack of maturity in the technology required. However, this pandemic should be a wakeup call to every single manufacturer that the toolsets your people use on a daily basis are likely way outdated.

Most manufacturers have relatively few true subject matter experts left. The ones that they do have are aging and the ones that are coming up are years away from being where the near retirees are. I have written about and spoken about this extensively over the last 5 years and we all know where this stands. However, if you have a team of SME’s that travel globally who are experts on particular processes or machinery, then this blog is for you. If you have that ONE guy (or gal), who REALLY knows the process - let’s call him “Sammy” for now. What happens if Sammy catches COVID-19 and lives in an area without the medical expertise to keep him from either getting very sick or passing on? I hate to be so morbid, but I truly fear that this can and will happen either with COVID-19 or with something along its line. How will you survive? Sammy is no longer there to bail you out, so what do you do?

Here are some things I think you need now and will need in the coming future.

Better quality data

I have seen too many times in the last 5 years where not all of the data was of high quality (which I have written and done videos about) and Sammy bailed you out because he had been in the plant for 30 years. Either the data didn’t exist or it just didn’t reflect what the process was doing. Why? Well, nobody really paid attention because Sammy was always there to bail you out. Good ole Sammy.

If this is you, get in a room with your SME’s and come up with a plan on fixing your data quality. Now. If you need help, call us and we can help. Call Paul Sheremeto at Pattern Discovery. Call your trusted data systems integrator, who should understand how to help. If they don’t, fire them and call us. I never pitch to people in blogs to call us, as I don’t want to sell, but this is just that important. If your integrator doesn’t get it, you are working with the wrong integrator.

As a matter of fact, we have come up with a standard price for a data fidelity study on your PI System and it won’t break the bank. It is under $5,000 per server and we can tell you a LOT about the quality of data in your PI System.

More data

I can’t tell you how many times in the last 5 years where I looked at a P&ID and then at what was in the customer’s data system of record, and there were many missing data streams. I can’t count how many times I have looked at a P&ID and asked “where is the temperature (pressure, vibration, etc.) sensor?” and it was never designed in. The sensor, cabling/piping, and I/O was too cost prohibitive. We are living in an IIoT world now. Sensors are cheaper, we can do wireless, there are edge gateways to store and forward the data. There are systems out there that can ingest and retrieve massive amounts of data. There is simply no excuse to not have the data anymore.

I ran into a situation yesterday where a rotating piece of equipment has had a failure mode of bent shafts for 3 years now. There are no sensors to monitor power draw (current) – actually, they just added those recently, temperature, or vibration on any of these pieces of equipment and they are spending 6 figures repairing them every year. I found what I think might be a process anomaly yesterday, but we can’t validate it against any of these measurements which should be rising after the process anomaly. So, we are guessing.

What is the problem here? Well, initially, it was probably too expensive to install the sensor equipment and get the data pushed to the PI System, their data system of choice. Now, I think it is bandwidth – of people, not networks. Their mechanical excellence team is too overloaded, as are the controls people, as are the process people. So, the firefighting will continue with strained resources and this won’t get solved anytime soon.

Look, we have to find cheap and fast ways to get the data we need for SME’s and advanced analytics tools to do their jobs. Too many people are chasing advanced analytics tools without nearly enough good, quality data. Look, if you are troubleshooting your process with a minimal amount of data, it is the equivalent using a bicycle pump to pump a mining truck’s tire. You might get there eventually, but it is too time consuming and too costly.

You need help here? Again, call us. Call your integrator you are working with now, I don’t care. But someone should be able to come up with a cost effective and reasonable plan to get ALL of the data you need. No more excuses.

Data in Context

There are so many ways to get data into an asset model and get it contextualized. I won’t belabor it here, but again, the time is now. This has to be done. It will pay off, I promise you.

Easy ways to pull/extract data

If your SME’s have to extract lots of data often, repeatedly, and from like assets, then look at ways to extract and clean the data automatically. I see too many SME’s still doing this manually and way too often. Trust me, it CAN be automated and lots of these data extracts should be automated. The biggest issue I see? The SME himself or herself. They don’t want to relinquish “control” of this process. Sorry, but they are holding your company back if this is the case. I see this very, very often. The up and coming SME’s will appreciate the time that you have gifted them.

Analytics tools and how to use them

Look, I can sit here and debate which tools I think are solid and which ones I think are pretenders, but here are some must haves for your SME’s:

1. A GOOD Business Intelligence tool. We like Power BI and Tableau. They allow us to slice and dice the data and literally ask questions of the data. Power BI has become my go to tool for looking at long range and aggregated data. If you have a Microsoft license of any kind, you own much of the technology you need and you can download Power BI desktop for free. It can easily filter and slice data, which is incredibly useful when looking for specific conditions.

2. A good advanced analytics tool. There is lots of debate here, but you need something where after your SME’s have done all of the 1st principle investigations, or you just have a new problem you need to tackle, you have to have a tool that you can “throw a bunch of data at the wall and see what sticks.” As I have explained any times before, you have to ask specific questions using these tools, but they can really eliminate ground and save you time. This is especially true if you can define good and bad periods, or there is a specific process parameter that is way out of whack that can’t be explained. These tools can often bring about relationships in process data that were unknown.

Augmented reality

So, why do SME’s have to hop on a plane and fly halfway across the world to solve a specific problem? Do they have to get out on the floor and look around? Is there something tangible that they just have to go see and experience? If this is the case, then you really need to look at augmented reality. They day is here that an SME can virtually “look over someone’s shoulder” to solve an issue. Between a comprehensive and high quality dataset and a good augmented reality solution, there is no reason that you should have to fly someone across the world to solve a problem, unless you just want the physical human connection, which I still maintain is an important aspect to what we do. I just wonder how many unnecessary trips can be avoided if the right tools were in place. I also wonder how many more problems could get solved in the same calendar year. There HAS to me thousands of labor hours savings available for this type of effort across every manufacturing company across the globe. There just HAS to be.

As a side note, we also need to be better at designing good dashboards where people can tell quickly what is wrong with a process and what should be done to correct it. We need to continue to drive a manage by exception system where proper people are notified when systems aren’t performing well. The SME’s need to spend considerable time working on these types of solutions to spread their knowledge instead of spending time on airplanes and in airports. In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, most SME’s are grounded unless it is ultra-critical. Again, this type of health situation will come again, so is your company prepared?

Project/task tracking tools

I am adding this one as we recently added this tool to our belt. I have long known that we will have to graduate beyond just feeling our way through projects and tasks. It was simple enough when Ben and I could just talk or email and get everything handled. When we added, Eric, he was dedicated to a customer, so it really didn’t impact how we did things. When we added Tia and then got more work, it became apparent that we need to figure out how to split the load and also understand our workload. Are we still ok with the current workload? For how long? Do we need someone else? Do we need more work? Who is overloaded? Who needs more work to do? Is anything falling through the cracks? These were questions we couldn’t easily answer.

I suspect that your company may have the same issue, especially if you have a department that is serving others within your company with some type of specialty service. I am sure that if you are in this type of role or lead this type of department, you have many of these same questions.

So, I tasked Ben and Tia to find a tool that they like and that is intuitive to use. They ended up finding and they have a great solution for us, and I suspect many of you would find it useful. We have several different ways that we do projects for our customers at Industrial Insight: Fixed scope/fixed price, subscription (flat monthly fee for X amount of weeks of work per month), and time and material (our least favorite, but sometime just a necessary evil). Monday gives us the flexibility to manage all of these types of agreements. We can handle things by customer/site, by contact, etc. We can upload and attach files, chat with each other or our customers, and share the work we are doing for our customers with our customers so that they can track progress. We can even track time when necessary. All this with NO spreadsheets! We still have much to figure out and details to iron out, but it looks like this tool will scale and give us flexibility to manage projects and tasks well.

I consider this type of tool absolutely essential if you have a remote workforce. It gives a way to track progress and holds people accountable if used properly. However, the thing that I told my team is that it has to become just a part of our culture that we use the tool and manage our business using it.


This is seriously a time of reflection and change in the manufacturing and heavy industry sector. We MUST change, and now. If this pandemic didn’t wake you up to this fact as a leader, then you need to step out of the way and let someone else lead before you drag your company into oblivion. There is now no longer a choice or an excuse not to change. We simply cannot accept “this is the way we have always done it” because it will drive us out of business sooner rather than later.

I hope that this blog series helps you. I hope that your company makes the necessary changes to survive and thrive in the new reality we will be living in, whatever that will look like.

As I said, find the help you need if your company doesn’t have the resources. If you think it is us, please call. If you already work with great consultants and integrators, then ask more of them. No excuses. The time is now.

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