My parents have a lot of photos. An entire ottoman full of photos, to be exact.

I discovered just how many they have—and how terribly organized they are—when I was looking for embarrassing photos of my dad for a birthday collage. (Spoiler: he was a teenager in the 70s—embarrassing photos abound in that ottoman.)

All those photos, grouped haphazardly, some with names, dates, locations written on the back, most without.

All that data.

But until someone does something with that data, those photos and names and dates, all we have is a painful process for finding images. The information is there, of course, but are we using it as best we can?

The manufacturing difference

To be sure, IOT has the power to disrupt nearly every area of our lives, from industry to home. And while an automatically restocking smart fridge may seem like something out of The Jetsons (or does it?) manufacturing companies are in a unique position as we get deeper and deeper into the digital revolution.

Because manufacturing has always created and used data—inventories and production times and costing per unit. Add in instrumentation and control systems and you’re now generating usable data at an exponential rate.

Termed “the new currency”, data can be an all-powerful source for beefing up efficiency, profits, and worker satisfaction in any company. “However, for all its value, data alone is inherently powerless,” writes Praba Shan for DigitalistMag.com. “It doesn’t actually do anything unless you know how to use it”.

Mo’ data, mo’ problems… or opportunities?

As with any industrial upheaval, the new infrastructure and employee training required by Industry 4.0 is significant—let’s not downplay the cost or effort of this. And with the world’s devices creating 2.5 exabytes (2.5 quintillion bytes) of data every day, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

But companies who see beyond the immediate problems have concrete opportunities for improvement:

  • Integrating weather forecasting into water/environmental applications
  • Creating predictive maintenance schedules before issues arise
  • Delivering useable process information to an operator’s graphical smartphone app

This isn’t the future. This is process instrumentation and control systems combined with big, glorious data—and it’s happening right now, in manufacturing plants worldwide.

Industry isn’t just getting swept along by the digitalization wave—in many cases, they’re leading it because they’ve been working with data all along, in the form of process instrumentation and analytics. Willem Sundblad writes for Forbes.com: “Industry 4.0 unlocks… data barriers and positions manufacturers as forward-thinking technology leaders.”

Big data = teenage sex?

But no matter what stage of the digital transformation your plant is sitting at, it’s never too late to explore new ways that data can change your operations.

As Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics Dan Ariely put it way back in 2013:

“Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it…”

Or for something a bit more PG, perhaps, we look to Glinda, that wand-waving good witch from The Wizard of Oz: “You’ve always had the power” (or data, as the case may be—with instruments spitting it out by the second).

Your data just needs to be freed from your industrial ottomans and given a brief moment to stretch—before putting it to work in countless applications across your plant.