Dashboards and Data Viz | Manufacturing

At iDashboards, we believe the most valuable data source is you: the customer. That’s why we took a few moments to see how dashboards are changing the landscape of modern manufacturing from an expert in the field, one of our customers.

Recently, we got the 411 from Norman Rankis of McWane Ductile, a waterworks product manufacturer committed to bringing safe and clean water into homes across North America.

iDashboards: What did your reporting process look like before iDashboards? How has that changed?

Norman: Our reporting was not much different from most companies and public agencies. There are multiple systems providing the same data. This is usually the result of time and the mission at that point in time. The latent manifest consequence is multiple systems that have subsets of each other. The result is the waste and the frustration of dealing with different data values for the same item or field that you are trying to measure.

A good example is a weight scale. If you have three scales in a manufacturing environment measuring the same product, there is a good probability that you will wind up with three different weights because of calibration and environmental factors. The first fix is to get all scales reading the same weight or select the one scale that will be the most accurate.

In developing our dashboard(s), we selected a Product Owner, a team of knowledge-based experts within our operation, and a Scrum Master or facilitator to determine where our data would come from. Our outcome would be one source of information that we would use to help guide our business decisions.

iDashboards: What mistakes did you make during your transition from reports to dashboards?

Norman: It is easy to underestimate change. Introducing any new concept requires change. Change management can be a difficult and slow process. Dashboards are now an everyday part of life at our plant, but believe it or not, some people still use printed reports. A good analogy is that some people would rather read a hard copy of the newspaper and don’t mind newspaper ink on their hands – opposed to reading an on-line newspaper.

iDashboards: Why do you think dashboards have become important in the Manufacturing industry?

Norman: In my opinion, Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, developed Kanban to improve manufacturing efficiency. Kanban is literally a signboard (or billboard) in Japanese. Kanban(s) are dashboards in my mind. I had learned that at Toyota, Work in Process (or WIP) for each department is measured. They know the right amount of WIP that each department can handle. As soon as the actual WIP goes over, the result is a bottleneck that will affect other systems. So a signboard or dashboard is used with green or red-light status for each department within the plant. It’s very simple but very effective.

iDashboards: What are the 3 most important metrics that you track?

Norman: It is important to understand that each Product Owner has his/her own dashboard. So the answer to this question is based on whom you are asking. I am sure that if you asked our Casting department, it would be scrap and pieces made. If you ask Sales, it would be tons shipped.

iDashboards: How do you use dashboards on your plant floor? Are they up on monitors? What about on mobile?

Norman: We use iPhone, iPad and large computer monitors for displaying our dashboards. Since the introduction of our internal dashboards, we have grown significantly in the use of smart phones and iPads. We use Citrix to launch our dashboard software. If you don’t have Citrix, iDashboards has a software module that would work for your mobile applications.

We have computer monitors in our plant and operations area displaying machine performance for the plant workers to see. On most desktops, we also have a link for our dashboard to help with any business discussions that may occur.

Read next: Dashboard Downfalls and How to Overcome Them

iDashboards: What advice would you give to other Manufacturing companies looking to improve their reporting?

Norman: It is important to have buy in from the top. Show immediate benefits – even if it’s low hanging fruit – and have the right team in place to develop and roll out the dashboard(s).

Getting buy in is not an easy task. It is key that the Product Owner clearly sells his/her vision. It is very important to have upfront and early communication as to how the dashboard will benefit daily life. I once asked the question to an executive “When you’re driving your car, do you ever get a call from your boss in another state asking a business question that requires performance numbers?” The answer was an obvious “Yes.” How about being able to pull over to the side of the road to use your dashboard on the iPhone to answer that question? Needless to say, the idea of using a dashboard was the right answer.

This example shows that in the selling of an idea for change, you need to personalize the task. When people feel that they can be successful, they are motivated to achieve.

Also, follow-up is extremely important. It’s important that once you deploy a dashboard, folks know how to read it and what it means. Even making sure that people have the right shortcut or icon for the dashboard is extremely important. You need to stay connected with all staff using the dashboards. Most importantly, in the framework of agile/lean, you need to be prepared to change your design of the dashboard as time goes on. As people learn, new aspects or improvements occur – particularly to dashboards.

We Like Success Stories – And You Can Make Your Own

When it comes to modern manufacturing, the most important tool your employees have is information. At iDashboards, you can empower your company with not only the right information, but access to vital data at any time. For more customer spotlights and information about data visualization and your company, follow us on social media!

Norman Rankis manufacturing

Norman Rankis is the Information Technology Manager and resident dashboard guru at McWane Ductile, North America’s leading ductile iron pipe manufacturer. He’s a certified IT Security and Scrum Master who prides himself on moving organizations forward with technology.

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Alicia Beaubien Senior Content Manager @iDashboards

As a part of the iDashboards team since 2011, Alicia focuses on all things content and social media. Outside of the marketing realm, Alicia considers herself an athlete at heart – despite her height and typical clumsiness.


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