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Nearly every manufacturing facility that I have ever visited has superheroes. These individuals are the ones that on a daily basis, squeeze one more production order into an already overbooked production schedule. These are the ones who somehow find another vendor for the material that is needed. The very same ones who know how to keep a customer happy while they are telling them no. These heroes make everyone nervous by their absence during their well-earned vacations. They are the ones that we’re talking about when we talk about a skills-gap crisis caused by retirement.

The Excel Superpower of Manufacturing Heroes

These superheroes are the stuff of local legend. I’m not the kind who would tear the mask off the Lone Ranger, however, I do think that it’s time that we talk openly about one of the key secrets that allow them to exceed the capabilities of mere mortal men. I’m referencing the shared superpower that so many of them have come to rely on to perform these daily feats of heroism. This superpower is what I call eXcel-ray vision. Although not officially defined by DC or Marvel comics, eXcel-ray vision is the use of Excel to see things that can’t be seen with the naked eye or through standard aspects of historically deployed plant systems.

The export of data sets and browses to Excel are a daily exercise at most production plants. The data is then manipulated, massaged, coaxed and coddled into a format that makes sense to our superhero. From this new data orientation emerges a custom-fit view of the plant that allows a planner or scheduler to leap tall stacks of operational problems.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Excel and have indeed personally succumbed to its siren song of personalizing the understanding, however, the overdependence on Excel can bring along barriers to true collaboration. By definition as soon as the data is exported, the clock on its validity starts ticking. Who hasn’t seen these custom spreadsheet printouts with red scribbles in every margin to reflect progress and changes to the schedule? The power of the insight grows stale and creates inherent barriers between current status and what the supporting systems reflect. Current and relative knowledge can get locked in these isolated spreadsheets. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the data is stored in cells? The data and vision in these spreadsheets needs to be freed to foster a single collaborative enterprise.

Manufacturing Software Beyond the Excel Spreadsheet

The next generation production-planning and execution systems are based on technology that fosters better user customization and provides the tools to allow for continuous sharing. An effective enterprise needs to be steered by online activity centers and a shared collaborative vision that will allow the entire superhero team to excel beyond the mere power of spreadsheets. See how a superhero at Saft recently eliminated the need for manually tracking data with spreadsheets by utilizing their new Quality Management System (QMS).