Brandon Witte, President & CEO
Imagine a manufacturing facility where everything goes as planned. Machines are always operating within controlled limits, there is no unplanned downtime, no raw material is ever wasted, yields are exactly how they should be, and energy costs are continually optimized. Then layer on top a sea of data acquired from manufacturing equipment, enabling data analysts to identify and prioritize improvement opportunities. Sounds like manufacturing utopia? With Virginia-based Sightline Systems, it is no longer a far-fetched vision. Sightline helps companies radically transform their manufacturing ecosystem and thrive in the era of Industry 4.0.
Enabled by the advent of disruptive technologies, Industry 4.0—representing the fourth industrial revolution—brings together a combination of cyber-physical systems, automation, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which amalgamate to create today’s smart factories. And while manufacturing incumbents are in agreement that Industry 4.0 brings beneficial advancements and embraces its modernity, there is one crucial aspect—the cornerstone of this technological breakthrough—that most companies tend to overlook: the vast avalanche of data. Modern OEM hardware comes equipped with a multitude of sensors, generating an abundance of data. The more devices and sensors communicate with each other, the greater is the volume and variety of data generated. However, on its own, the data does not do the trick; the magic happens when the sensor data is brought together and turned into informed business decisions that improve the performance, quality, and efficiency of manufacturing facilities. “At Sightline, we are committed to creating this magic every day,” says the company’s CEO Brandon Witte.
He explains, more often than not, manufacturing companies rely on manual processes: downloading data sets periodically to Microsoft Excel, and creating basic bar graphs and pie charts in their attempt to make sense of all the data. “Without the right systems and processes to collect, retain, and analyze the critical insights buried within the trove of data in real time, manufacturers, both large and small, would not be able to unlock the complete value of their machine data and the efficiency gains of Industry 4.0,” informs Witte. This is where Sightline steps in to help modern manufacturers fulfill their vision of Industry 4.0. Sightline leverages big data visualization, machine learning, and predictive analytics to help smart manufacturers improve operations, remain competitive, and achieve ROI gains while also catering to the quality and compliance requirements.
Data Is the New Oil
Historically, data had been an under-utilized asset. Most manufacturing companies neither had the requisite skill sets nor wanted to increase their technology investments to maximize business value from machine data. Even today, according to McKinsey Global Institute, the skills gap for data science professionals is enormous; only 22 percent of companies hire and onboard data analysts with adequate skills. “Sightline is on a mission to bridge this disconnect,” remarks Witte. The company incorporates easy-to-use, real-time big data visualization capabilities into its manufacturing analytics platform that is designed for non-technical users to understand historical trends and data patterns.
Sightline leverages big data visualization, machine learning, and predictive analytics to help smart manufacturers improve operations, remain competitive, and achieve ROI gains
“Our goal is to provide a practical alternative for manufacturers searching for an all-in-one manufacturing data analytics solution,” mentions Witte.
Sightline efficiently fulfills these requirements through its Enterprise Data Manager (EDM). This powerful manufacturing analytics solution allows plant managers, operations engineers, and technicians to store, retrieve, and analyze terabytes of time-stamped machine data in real time to streamline operations and improve profitability. “The data is stored in a highly-compressed, yet readily-accessible format for real-time analysis, and includes thousands of data points from the manufacturing firm’s SCADA, MES, and ERP systems,” says Witte.
Additionally, Sightline allows manufacturers to get more value out of massive amounts of machine data from IIoT devices and smart sensors. By continuously analyzing vast quantities of smart sensor data—such as temperature, weight, and pressure—in real time, Sightline EDM allows manufacturers to identify subtle fluctuations in plant processes and machinery that cause ongoing quality issues, production losses, or even equipment failure. The aim is to detect performance degradation before critical assets break down. To achieve this, Sightline EDM offers a variety of custom alert thresholds for each device, sensor, or machine, so that variations in machine signals (such as temperature, pressure, voltage, vibration, or flow rate) trigger warning notifications for production managers via e-mail, text message, or system alert. It also includes pre-built data integrations that allow manufacturers to ingest a wide variety of data from any connected device. Furthermore, EDM’s centralized, web-based dashboard provides manufacturers with advanced reports, customizable notifications, and real-time visualization of IIoT machine data, including alerts, tolerances, variances, electrical usage, speeds, feeds, and vibrations. Substantiating the robustness of this EDM solution, Witte notes that a global appliance manufacturer was able to predict equipment failure for one of its production lines by monitoring temperature fluctuations, vibration patterns, and air turbulence in the fan blades of an industrial furnace that is used to create vacuum insulation panels. “Our EDM allows engineers and operators to easily conduct root cause analysis and swiftly find the ‘needle in a haystack,’ thereby amending performance issues quicker,” remarks Witte.
One of the major reasons behind Sightline EDM’s swift and fail-proof outcome is its ability to inspect data holistically. Instead of taking a siloed approach to capturing a particular type of line-by-line or machine-by-machine data, Sightline collects every type of machine data, no matter where it comes from, to quickly help data analysts make informed decisions. This approach to asset performance management allows manufacturers to drive significant operational cost reductions throughout the plant production cycle, without losing valuable production time, materials, and processes.
Setting the Right Pace for Innovation
Sightline’s continuous technology and product innovations are driven by its continual discussions with its IT and manufacturing customers. Based on communication with clients, Sightline evaluates and implements potential improvement and technology upgrades for its products every quarter.
Moreover, each of the new features added to Sightline EDM’s suite of products is aimed at solving unique business problems through better analytics capability or visualization upgrade, helping manufacturing customers optimize the performance of their IT and OT infrastructure. “Above all, our overarching strategies help us prioritize our product roadmap,” mentions Witte.
Boosting Productivity for Global Manufacturers
Sightline’s customers have documented millions of dollars in long-term savings from real-time analysis of manufacturing operations, including paint processes, process bottlenecks, improper pump PSI and VSD settings, multivariable quality control batch tracking, correlation and more. In one instance, Witte reveals that a global automobile manufacturer was able to save $2 million in recurring blemish damages by resolving a defective paint line. The manufacturer noticed that the quality of paint on the doors of vehicles was inadequate during the first few days of the week. “The client was unable to determine the reason behind this,” says Witte. The company turned to Sightline to help them collect, visualize, and analyze smart sensor data throughout the plant to determine the root cause of the problem. Analyzing a week’s worth of data from different systems in the plant environment, including the electrical, environmental, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, Sightline was able to arrive at a conclusion. Sightline noticed that the HVAC systems were turned off over the weekend to conserve energy and reduce costs. This caused a large amount of dust to build up in the paint line area of the factory and when the HVAC systems were restarted on Monday mornings, it caused an increase in blemishes from having a larger quantity of dust in the air when vehicles made their way to the paint line. With the help of the insights shared by Sightline, the manufacturer was able to quickly make amendments and eliminate the problem altogether.
"As a roadmap for the future, Sightline intends to make data even more accessible and valuable to its manufacturing customers"
Toward a Data-Driven Future
Witte strongly believes that Sightline’s simple, yet powerful and comprehensive manufacturing monitoring and analytics solution is the secret behind the company’s phenomenal growth over the years. Today, Sightline boasts a 98 percent renewal rate from customers around the world, including many Fortune 500 and Global 2000 companies in automotive, packaging, electronics, chemical, pharmaceutical, utility, airlines, finance, and telecommunications as well as federal, state, and local governments.
As a roadmap for the future, Sightline intends to make data even more accessible and valuable to its manufacturing customers. “In our Q4 2018 release, EDM version 6.0, we will be bringing additional data enrichment, visualization, and reporting capabilities for smart manufacturers worldwide,” states Witte. Concurrently, the upgrade will also focus on injecting more manufacturing and business context into the real-time data stream, such as operator, batch number, temperature, fan speed, and other ERP data to enhance an organization’s abilities to reduce scrap, increase yields, and improve profitability. With an intention to shore up the already robust data intelligence parameters in Sightline EDM solution, the company’s future course of actions is poised to usher in a momentous transformation in the manufacturing landscape.