September 19, 2022 - Podcast

Episode 306 — Digitizing factories to help companies stay competitive

Since 2019, researchers with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business have helped manufacturing companies in Indiana and around the world save millions of dollars and increase energy efficiency using smart meters. Now, they are expanding that work by helping companies digitize entire factories and warehouses -- a move they say will ultimately make companies more competitive in the global marketplace. Operations and Supply Chain Management Professor Amrou Awaysheh says IU researchers are taking all elements of the factory, gathering data from multiple machines in real-time and digitizing the factory workplace. By using artificial intelligence to drive predictive insights, they're helping managers make informed decisions and identify direct actions that improve performance and output within their facilities. Awaysheh and his team of 14 have worked with over 450 facilities globally over the last few years, with companies investing $24 million to date on projects. In that time, Awaysheh's team has helped those companies save over $91 million, in the form of higher machine up-time, better employee productivity, lower resource consumption and higher quality products going out the door. Companies have spent millions of dollars to install systems to collect and display data for their employees, and Awaysheh’s team helps them put effective managerial systems in place to turn this data into actionable insight and increase the return on their investment in these technologies. In Indiana, for example, they have worked with warehouses to improve the information provided to associates. This new managerial system leveraged the existing technology and helped reduce employee turnover, resulting in over $2 million in savings. While the initial sensors Awaysheh's team implemented were focused on energy consumption, this new work collects various types of additional information -- ranging from employee performance to machine metrics that can determine when machines need preventative maintenance. That new data will be combined into a large repository used to build algorithms and predictive models that drive actions and change, and the researchers are looking at the best ways to display this information to employees within the facilities in real-time. Data gathered through this work will ultimately result in additional research at IU, which Awaysheh says will be grounded in a real industry context. That opportunity is also a benefit to student researchers, who not only gain experience working with companies who may ultimately hire them post-graduation, but also with products and technologies they can use in their future careers.