Business intelligence for manufacturing:
use cases, features, and top tools

Business intelligence for manufacturing: use cases, features, and top tools

August 31, 2023

11 manufacturing BI use cases


Production analytics

Manufacturers use BI tools to collect and analyze current and historical plant floor data to:

  • Identify production process constraints, inefficiencies, and bottlenecks as well as generate improvement recommendations
  • Get an insight into employee, machine, workstation, and department capacity to allocate resources more efficiently and optimize production schedules
  • Measure overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) across the plant and track machine KPIs to identify patterns and causes of performance loss and OEE decrease


Inventory control

Manufacturers use BI tools to monitor and analyze inventory at the SKU level, keep track of inventory turnover rates, and perform inventory stock levels vs lost sales scenario analysis to:

  • Estimate ideal inventory levels to meet production needs
  • Get alerts about inventory stock-out or overstock in real-time
  • Suggest order quantity recommendations to reduce excess stock and inventory carrying costs as well as maintain customer loyalty


Supply chain management and analytics

Manufacturing BI tools help capture raw data from across the supply chain and combine it with demand forecasts, production schedules, and supplier data to help companies:

  • Improve supply chain planning to ensure timely delivery of shipments, prevent stockouts, and eliminate short shipments
  • Monitor the movement of goods and develop early-warning systems to notify of potential supply chain disruptions
  • Assess suppliers’ and carriers’ performance and negotiate better prices


Financial management and forecasting

Manufacturing companies use BI tools to assess their financial performance with various types of financial analysis, such as revenue per employee ratio, return on net assets, profit and loss, growth rates, to:

  • Develop accurate budgets and identify cost-cutting opportunities
  • Improve their inventory orders and pricing, manufacturing, and marketing policies
  • Forecast cash flow and profitability


Product development

Manufacturers utilize business intelligence software to run market data analysis, track customer satisfaction across various channels, and investigate product recalls to:

  • Identify products/features success and validate product concepts for new product lines or existing product upgrades
  • Assist developers in testing, adjusting, and retesting new products to accelerate their design and launch and reduce R&D costs
  • Develop product roadmaps


Maintenance intelligence 

Companies use BI tools to collect and analyze current and historical data on equipment performance to:

  • Detect patterns leading to machine failure and suggest possible root-causes
  • Develop an early warning system with the ability to trigger actions immediately to avoid unplanned downtime and help reduce maintenance costs
  • Avoid downtime by integrating proactive equipment maintenance activities into the production process


Demand forecasting

Manufacturing BI software helps predict the changing market demand and identify key demand drivers to:

  • Moderate the supply chain accordingly
  • Smoothly increase or decrease production capacity
  • Predict future sales volumes


Price optimization

Manufacturing companies use BI software to estimate overall production and product manufacturing costs as well as to monitor changes in customer demand patterns, competitor pricing, available inventory, and various promotional activities to:

  • Find the optimal price for a product and set up an effective pricing structure for various product categories
  • Develop pricing strategies for various scenarios
  • Optimize pricing strategies to improve margins


Product quality control

Manufacturing companies use BI software to analyze data from the production cycle as well as the defects in raw materials and discarded goods to:

  • Predict the likelihood of issues during the production process and take immediate actions to minimize product recalls
  • Derive optimized process parameters to continuously improve production quality
  • Adhere to industry-specific standards


Customer service and warranty management

Manufacturing business intelligence tools help analyze historical defect and warranty claims data to:

  • Predict customer demand for spare parts and inventory
  • Forecast warranty reserve
  • Work out maintenance plans and warranty schedules
  • Devise customer service strategies to effectively address complaints


Vendor management

BI solutions are used by manufacturers to monitor key vendor performance metrics among peers and across time to:

  • Set up a unified vendor evaluation and selection processes
  • Negotiate with vendors on specific points including pricing, delivery, payment terms, and after-sales services

Manufacturing BI software functionality

Manufacturing BI solutions come with a collection of tools that integrate, manage, and analyze production data coming from various data sources and heterogenous data structures. Here, we outline the key features of BI solutions manufacturing enterprises would benefit from.

Manufacturing BI software functionality
Manufacturing data is scattered across different devices and systems involved in a plant’s production processes. That is why BI software has to enable data integration with various systems (via pre-built connectors, open APIs, SDKs) as well as provide ETL capabilities to cleanse, reformat, and structure data for easier use.

Consolidated data ready for analysis and reporting should be kept in a structured storage - an enterprise data warehouse. The data warehouse is the best option to store aggregated historical data in a highly-structured format. This central data storage can also be complemented with an operational data store that contains current data for ad-hoc reporting and dimensional data marts built specifically for particular user groups.

Analytics capabilities of the BI solution are dictated by the specific business needs and objectives of a manufacturing company. Traditionally, BI software supports descriptive and diagnostic analysis. However, as the analytics maturity among companies is increasing, modern BI solutions can provide ML-driven predictive analytics and recommendations, real-time production data analysis down to the IoT-generated data level, augmented data analytics for non-tech users, and much more.

There are multiple choices for delivering BI content to end-users. These can include standard reports published on a schedule, a highly interactive interface of a self-service BI tool that empowers end users to query data, build reports, and share dashboards, or web portals and corporate applications with embedded BI content.

To ensure the high quality and accessibility of business information as well as its proper usage and storage, a BI solution should offer robust data governance and security capabilities. Key functionality that enables data security and the BI solution’s regulatory compliance are end-to-end data encryption, dynamic data masking, granular access control, multifactor authentication options, and user activity auditing. 

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Key integrations for manufacturing BI

To import and analyze data and deliver actionable business insights, manufacturing BI software can be integrated with the whole manufacturing operations management ecosystem as well as other corporate applications and data sources. Among the most common integration are:

SCADA system
Product lifecycle management software
Quality management software
Advanced planning and scheduling
Key integrations
management software
Supply chain management
EAM software
CRM software

  • Production planning and scheduling data
  • Inventory data
  • Supply chain data
  • Regulatory data

Manufacturing execution system (MES)

  • Data on raw material management
  • Product quality information
  • Work in progress

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system

  • Data on OEE
  • Average production time
  • Production downtime
  • Production speed

Product lifecycle management software

  • BOM
  • Product data
  • Engineering products
  • Engineering change information

Quality management software

  • Product recalls data
  • Compliance documentation
  • Audit data

Advanced planning and scheduling

  • Shop floor schedules
  • Production plans
  • MRP plans

Specification management software

  • Product specifications
  • Packaging specifications

Supply chain management

  • Supplier
  • Inventory
  • Logistics
  • Warehouse
  • Procurement data

Enterprise asset management (EAM) software

  • Asset utilization patterns
  • Asset effectiveness
  • Asset uptime
  • Asset availability 

Computerized maintenance management system (CMMS)

  • Asset maintenance data
  • Asset registries
  • Equipment certifications
  • Material and inventory data
  • Historical work orders

  • Contact name
  • Contact history
  • Lead scoring
  • Order history
  • Order details

Top BI tools for the manufacturing sector

Key features
  • Pre-built connectors for 150+ data sources, including relational and non-relational databases, data warehouses, big data software, local files, and spreadsheets Native integration with the Microsoft Azure ecosystem  Native support for DAX, Power Query, SQL, R, and Python Self-service data preparation, analysis, reporting and visualization NLP capabilities Real-time data streaming 
  • Pre-built customizable visuals Data storytelling capabilities  Team commenting and content subscriptions Row-level security, bring-your-own key support, and data encryption Mobile-ready  Embedded BI Available as a SaaS option running in the Azure cloud or as an on-premises option in Power BI Report Server
Power BI Desktop free Power BI Pro $9.99 per user/month  Power BI Premium $20 per user/month or $4,995 per capacity/month with an annual subscription and an unlimited number of users Power BI Embedded from $1.0081/hour   Free trial for 2 months
      Product differentiation
      Augmented analytics capabilities, including intelligent narratives and anomaly detection capabilities
          Limited functionality of the on-premises version

              Key features
              • Native integrations to 80 data sources, including local files, spreadsheets, relational and non-relational databases, data warehouses, big data, and on-cloud data sources Self-service data preparation No-code analytical data querying Visual data exploration Real-time collaboration and sharing
              • User-friendly UI with drag-and-drop functionalities and NLP  Custom dashboard creation Data access restriction with row-level security and user filters Mobile-ready  Embedded analytics Cloud and on-premises deployment
              Tableau Creator $70/user/month Tableau Explorer $35/user/month (fully hosted by Tableau) Tableau Explorer $42/user/month (on-premises or public cloud) Tableau Viewer $12/user/month (fully hosted by Tableau) Tableau Viewer $15/user/month (on-premises or public cloud) Free 14-day trial
                  Product differentiation
                  • Intuitive analytics experience
                  • A user-friendly design
                  High premium pricing A steep learning curve

                      Key features
                      • Native connection to hundreds of data sources, including file-based, on-premises, cloud-based and web sources Self-service data preparation, analytics, and reporting AI-generated analyses and insights Automated visual recommendations Data storytelling and reporting Group sharing and collaboration 
                      • Drag-and-drop report and dashboard creation Support for multiple user types  NLP support and smart search Row- and column-level security Automated machine learning capabilities  Embedded analytics Mobile-ready
                      Qlik Sense Business $30/user/month Qlik Sense Enterprise SaaS
 custom pricing is available upon direct request Free 30-day trial
                          Product differentiation
                          Deployment flexibility, including cloud, multi-cloud, and on-premises installation
                              Pricing complexity

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                                  Top 5 benefits of manufacturing BI

                                  Business intelligence enables complete transparency of the company’s operations and performance, advancing data-driven decision-making. As a result, BI implementation brings multiple benefits across all functional areas of the manufacturing company. 

                                  Streamlined supply chain management

                                  Manufacturing companies usually work with multiple vendors, suppliers, carriers, and distributors, so managing the supply chain can be a challenge. With BI software at hand, manufacturers can measure supplier performance and choose the most reliable one, get a deep insight into product delivery and distribution costs to devise an optimization strategy, and analyze supply chain disruptions to prevent production delays.

                                  Minimized inventory stockouts and overstocking

                                  Manufacturing BI software helps combine data on current inventory levels and demand drivers to run multiple what-if scenarios and determine optimal inventory levels and safety stock for each location. Having visibility into raw materials quantity needs, current deliveries, and supplier performance, manufacturing companies can quickly manage issues with defective goods, warehousing, stock turnover, and distribution to avoid stockouts and overstocking.

                                  Increased financial efficiency

                                  BI software provides manufacturers with meaningful insights into sales, profit and loss, the cost of raw materials, production and distribution costs, to help them make smart decisions, such as changing a carrier or negotiating better terms with suppliers. By analyzing information coming across multiple departments with BI tools, manufacturing companies can set realistic performance goals, create plausible profitability and financial models, and develop accurate departmental and company budgets.

                                  Defects reduction

                                  Manufacturers use BI software to analyze production data, return rates, the number and percentage of defective products, and customer satisfaction and identify the precise asset, process step, or product feature associated with quality deviations increase. Once manufacturers identify the defect’s root cause, they can create a roadmap for improving the quality of products, minimizing product recalls, and meeting strict compliance requirements.

                                  Minimized downtime

                                  Manufacturers utilize BI software to analyze root causes of equipment breakdowns and use these insights to build smart models that identify anomalies in equipment performance and patterns leading to failures. That way, manufacturers shift from reactive to proactive equipment maintenance, minimizing repair activities that are rather time-consuming and costly. Such an approach leads to maximized productivity, prolonged asset lifetime, and minimized breakdowns.

                                  Manufacturing BI challenges and their potential solutions

                                  Analytics insights derived with the BI software are not trustworthy and reliable because of the poor data quality.

                                  • For BI to become a valuable resource and provide trustworthy data, manufacturers should set up a robust data quality management program, which includes:
                                  • Data quality management software that automates the processes of data quality assessment, cleansing, standardization, transformation, metadata management, and quality control
                                  • Data quality management committee who are responsible for managing and enforcing data quality initiatives
                                  • Comprehensive data quality management strategies, policies, and procedures

                                  End users continue using familiar tools, neglecting the rich functionality of manufacturing BI software.

                                  • To mitigate BI adoption issues, manufacturers should:
                                  • Give preference to self-service BI software with intuitive user interface and NLP capabilities
                                  • Deliver role-based user training and onboarding to promote data culture and encourage continuous learning  
                                  • Demonstrating tangible benefits of the newly-implemented BI software and how it addresses their pain points
                                  • Identify potential adoption problems and issues by continuously monitoring user activity logs and support requests

                                  Manufacturers connect and share BI content with many external stakeholders as well as access data from mobile devices, which can compromise data security.

                                  • To protect corporate data from data breaches and unauthorized access, manufacturers should apply solid data governance and security practices when introducing a BI solution. Manufacturing BI software offers capabilities for:
                                  • Automatic discovery, labeling, and masking of sensitive data
                                  • End-to-end data encryption
                                  • Restricting access to data according to user roles and multi-factor user authentication
                                  • 24/7 user activity monitoring and regular risk assessment
                                  • Screen capture blocking and clipboard access control for mobile devices

                                  Transform manufacturing processes with smart insights

                                  Manufacturers generate enormous volumes of data, and business intelligence is one of the few tools able to quickly and accurately process it, helping companies make informed business decisions that lead to tangible improvements. Besides helping manufacturers with persistent problems, business intelligence solutions also uncover previously unknown issues, such as product families yielding lower margins or suppliers disrupting production.  If you want to achieve complete analytics and reporting transparency and understand how to improve your bottom line, feel free to reach out to Itransition’s BI consultants for advisory and development support.  

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