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Business intelligence

"Dealing with data creatively using exploratory data analysis"

Screen APROL Business intelligence

B&R has upgraded the APROL automation platform by adding a powerful system component for business intelligence (BI). Martin Reichinger, business manager at B&R, explains how big data can be collected, analyzed and organized to optimize production processes.

What does business intelligence really mean?

Since the early 1990s, BI has played an important role in business management applications. Business intelligence generally refers to the procedures and processes for the systematic collection, analysis and presentation of data in electronic form. This aggregate data can be used to efficiently monitor and optimize processes, while the reports and analysis data provide valuable information for making decisions. Existing ERP solutions have some reporting and analysis functions, but they are usually not sufficient to meet requirements. The front end is often only useful for specialist users with IT training. There is therefore a great deal of interest in this market for powerful and easy-to-use BI solutions at the ERP level.

Why is there also a need for business intelligence at the production level?

The amount of data used in production systems has skyrocketed in recent years. Without automated analysis and evaluation, this data cannot be used to make informed decisions. We often hear the term "big data" in this context. On large systems, collected data can quickly reach gigabyte or even terabyte levels. Such large amounts of data can only be managed when processed systematically.

What steps are necessary to evaluate and organize large amounts of data?

Business intelligence consists mainly of three processing steps: data collection, analysis and presentation. The first step involves the collection of the data. This raw data can come from an ERP system, database or file, for example. Before it can be analyzed, raw data must first be filtered, cleaned up and collated. The next phase is analytical processing. Simple analysis is possible with online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes. Complex statistical analysis is carried out using data mining methods. The results can then be presented in the form of graphs and tables.

What exactly is meant by data mining?

This refers to detecting patterns in large volumes of data. For example, it allows machine vibrations to be compared during different time periods or even future developments to be predicted. Comparisons between different machines are also possible, of course, making it easier to optimize production processes and prevent total failures by detecting potential disturbances earlier.

How does the APROL business intelligence solution differ from BI solutions included with other automation platforms?

We didn't just develop an interface to some external solution; instead, we have fully integrated BI functions into B&R's APROL process control system. Operation and maintenance are therefore much easier than is the case with other similar products. Reporting functions are available for all APROL users, and additional components for data acquisition and complex analysis can be installed if necessary. These components are also fully integrated in APROL via the BI platform.

Which target groups benefit from the evaluated data?

Use of the reporting functions is not limited to a single target group. Traditional analysis based on reports with fixed content has been replaced by exploratory data analysis, where only the sources of data are defined, not how it is presented. Reports and evaluations can be compiled individually and modified at any time with the ease of drag-and-drop. A manager may want boiled down, summarized performance data, while a process engineer can call up detailed information about an individual process. The data being displayed can be changed, filtered and sorted by normal users. It used to take IT experts to generate these reports, and they often needed days or weeks to do so. If requirements changed, the specialists had to be called back in. With the BI solution in APROL, this is possible for any user with just a few clicks of the mouse. The reports can even be configured for display on mobile end devices. And server-side authentication means that all data is protected – even in unsecured networks.

Reichinger Martin #2
Martin Reichinger, Business Manager of Process Automation, B&R
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