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Production Tracking in the Digital Era

Learn how leading manufacturers are implementing Industry 4.0 technologies to improve their production tracking capabilities in this comprehensive guide.

Production tracking is a strategy used to measure, analyze, and improve visibility throughout the manufacturing process. From the sourcing of raw materials to the shipping of final products, production tracking allows businesses to monitor the performance of each production step and improve their processes using aggregate data.

Because production tracking brings the highs (wins) and lows (losses) of manufacturing to the surface, shop floors often adopt this strategy as one of lean manufacturing practices. When executed well, it can give companies a huge competitive advantage.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through:

  • Why production tracking matters
  • What an ideal production system looks like
  • How to design a production tracking system that maximizes your data mileage

Chapter One: Production Tracking Systems Today

Typically, production tracking systems are documented and displayed on Excel sheets, visual whiteboards, or paper documents. Data is manually recorded at each cell or a station and reported back to a centralized location for visibility. They often look like this:

And if you’ve ever used one, you’ll know exactly how essential these tracking systems are to keeping your shop floor in order. It’s like a report card of how efficiently your plant is running and what needs improvement.

So you might ask, why are we writing a guide on how to improve a process that already works well?

What Today’s Production Tracking Systems are Missing

Production data is at the backbone of manufacturing. Data from shop floors tell a story of how well the plant is performing and what needs to be done to get to the finish line.

Unfortunately, how traditional production tracking systems measure, store, and display data is slowly getting outpaced by increasingly dynamic shop floors. The concept of a production tracking system may still be effective, but how that production tracking is executed may not be so. Dynamic shop floors need dynamic production tracking systems, and today’s systems fall short of that.

Therefore, we must get to the root of why production tracking matters and re-evaluate how data is collected.

Chapter Two: Why Production Tracking Matters

Let’s go back to the very basics. Why do you track your production? And why should manufacturers care?

First, let’s think about what kinds of information are collected during production tracking. Here are some commonly recorded metrics on the shop floor:

  • Scheduled/Target Units for a part/shift
  • Actual Units produced for a part/shift
  • The difference between scheduled units and actual units
  • Number of downtimes and the duration of downtimes
  • Number of scraps for a part/shift

These metrics can be measured against each other by day, week, months, and years to understand what parts were under/over-produced, what shifts were inefficient, and where and when downtimes occurred. These comparisons help companies allocate and reallocate resources and time, so they can maximize output and minimize downtime.

So in essence, production tracking exists to help manufacturers understand:

  1. How on track they are to meeting the demands of their customers
  2. How they can improve their processes during future production
  3. And what needs attention now

Data collected from production tracking should act as a guide for manufacturers to dynamically adjust their processes when anomalies occur and help operators build long-term solutions that prevent those anomalies from recurring.

Therefore, good production data should be actionable in real-time and reveal the root causes of each production inefficiency.

Chapter Three: Characteristics of a Good Production Tracking System

Now that we have outlined why production tracking matters, let’s do a deep dive on what qualities make a production data valuable.

Since production tracking serves both as a manufacturing checkpoint and a system for measuring inefficiencies, what determines a good tracking system is how accurately the data can inform the decision-making processes.

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of a production tracking system that generates quality data.

Illustration of a hand writing down information on a sheet of paper

The Data Collection Is Easy

Data collection should not eat into your production hours, nor require constant discipline. The system should be as easy enough for everyone to follow, and it should be integrated into the production process itself, not laid on top of it. It should never be an administrative burden on your team.

Therefore, good data collection systems will require minimal overheads — collecting data, writing it down, compiling data, and putting it up on a dashboard. This process should not take your workers away from focusing on actual production goals.

Illustration of worker putting together puzzle pieces

Production Data is Available in Real-Time

When problems occur on the shop floor, they happen in real-time. It is crucial that shop floor workers know what’s happening in their plant at the time of production, not hours or days later.

With real-time data, workers can minimize the gap between when errors occur and when issues are addressed. The ultimate goal of a lean shop floor is to close this gap so that time and resources can be allocated for better use.

Illustration of worker with thumbs up and many check marks

Production Data is Consistent

Accurate data is built on consistency. Therefore, good data must be recorded at a steady interval under uniform conditions: at a set time using the same instruments and standards. Variability in the quality of data can limit the resolution of your data and lead to inaccurate and ineffective problem-solving.

Illustration of worker skimming through check marks

Production Tracking System is Flexible

An efficient production tracking system will allow manufacturers to easily adjust what data is collected and when. Since production tracking data is used by manufacturers to make changes to their existing processes, the tracking system itself must be flexible and adaptable enough to support that iteration process. Therefore, a good production tracking system will fit the needs of a company as it grows.

The Downfalls of a Physical Daily Management Board

Take for example, the SQDIP — Safety, Quality, Delivery, Inventory, Productivity — board. SQDIP is one of the most classic daily management (visual management) boards used across manufacturers in various industries.
An example of a SQDIP board on a whiteboard

These boards contain production information such as:

  • Number of defects a cell is producing
  • Customer complaints
  • Yield, inspection, scrap
  • How many units were delivered and shipped
  • Stock-outs and current inventory levels
  • Units per associate hour
  • Output expected rate by person

In theory, you should be able to walk by any cell and know if it is winning or losing based on those production information. And the SQDIP board at each cell should cue manufacturers to react if there is a problem.

However, this SQDIP board can experience delays in reporting, as workers and operators need time to physically collect, aggregate, and report data. It becomes an administrative burden. Manual production tracking takes a lot of time and discipline from everyone; not only is it a constant mental exercise, but it is also an additional time-commitment. You want your shop floor workers to focus 99% of their time on the production process itself, not on data collection.

Therefore, the manual nature of a physical management board can introduce variability, limit data resolution, and leave ‘real-time’ off the table.

Chapter Four: Digital Production Tracking — A New Take on the Production Board

The easiest path to collecting consistent, real-time data is through digital production tracking. By recording data at its source, you are instantly granting everyone access to actionable and accurate insights on the shop floor. And the more transparent your data gets, the quicker your shop floor workers can generate action plans based on those data points.

Here are several ways you can gain visibility into the shop floor and collect meaningful data in real-time.

Shop floor Visibility with Digital Production Tracking

Production tracking should be as dynamic as the functions on your shop floor. You should not only track your raw materials, assets, tools, and machines, but also your teams’ work capacity and efficiency.

A digital production tracking system can give you the kind of visibility that physical daily management boards simply cannot.

Monitoring Assets and Machines

With digital production tracking, you can capture and analyze the health of your assets and machines and make targeted, real-time improvements. Having an objective understanding of uptime, downtime, and idling can shed light on a host of other issues that are happening on the shop floor.

Ask yourself and your team: How are uptime and downtime measured on your shop floor? How many minutes a day does each of your machines spend idling? And why?

With machine monitoring, you can exactly record how long each machine spends in each state, and operators can annotate downtime with reason codes, documenting the root cause at its source.
Machine Monitoring App with the ability to document the root cause of issues using the ‘Call for Help’ and ‘Report and Issue’ features

Therefore, if a machine is idle or down, you can attribute the correct cause and make a prompt diagnosis. Unlike daily management boards, the digital system allows shop floors to deliver immediate feedback.

Using the data collected from your machine monitoring system, shop floors can help balance lines, track work-in-progress, and plan production, laying a foundation for calculating essential machine KPIs like quality, availability, utilization, and OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness), among others.
Tulip’s Machine Monitoring Dashboard gives a shop floor overview

And above all, you can put up a plethora of essential machine KPIs on a dashboard for everyone to see.

Taza chocolate production monitoring dashboard
Taza Chocolate monitors machine uptime and downtime, production, and conditions, in order to gain a holistic view of their OEE

Tracking Production as You Move Through the Workflow

Tracking the production progress where work is done eliminates production tracking overheads. Workers will no longer have to take individual steps to track and monitor production as they did with daily management boards:

Collect data → Write it down on a piece of paper → Compile that data → Walk over to the daily management board (SQDIP Board) → Physically write in on the board

Instead, a digital production tracking system will seamlessly integrate these processes into the production process itself.
An example of production tracking embedded in regular production workflow using Tulip

Workers will simply sign in to their station on the app, follow standard work instructions, record any defects or anomalies, and sign off. If a quality defect is detected, the shop floor worker can report it immediately from within the app using a digital form, and include additional context by adding any images with the doc camera. This way, an accurate representation of the symptoms can be recorded at the point of recognition.
Work Instructions App with defect reporting capabilities built-in

Under a digital system, workers and operators will go through their daily tasks with easy-to-follow paperless instructions so they can stay productive and engaged, all while effortlessly generating accurate data.

By digitally tracking the work progress, you can measure the process and cycle time by product and worker in real-time. Using those numbers, operators can detect and solve bottlenecks during production. To expedite this feedback process, digital apps can be set up to have automatic triggers that notify operators when a bottleneck is detected or reported.
A digital production dashboard displaying cycle time, process time, type of defects, and the count of completed products.

Using the work instructions app, operators can gain a detailed view of the work processes with real-time data and instantly see the impact of data-driven feedback on their operations.

First Pass Yield

Integrated into work instructions tracking, you can measure the first pass yield of your production process and track the true output on your shop floor. Along with recording product defects, workers can capture real-time data on the causes of rework.
Digital production tracking dashboard displaying First Pass Yield

By having the up-to-date first pass yield as a part of the production dashboard, shop floor workers and operators can see their progress towards production goals, and make long-term adjustments to prevent rework and improve their product quality.

Production Visibility and Flexibility

A digital production dashboard, designed to be displayed on a large screen visible to everyone at a production line, offers operators what they really need to know at a glance: hourly production, performance against hourly and daily goals, and the count of defects reported.
The Tulip Production Dashboard displays hourly production data at a glance

Tulip’s Production Dashboard integrates beautifully with the manufacturing apps you use in production, such as the Tulip Terminal or other custom work instructions app. The production dashboard works by pulling in data on process completions and defect reports from your apps. The data updates automatically in real-time, so supervisors are relieved of the need to manually update a production board.

Using a configurable app, operators can also easily modify the production visibility app template to fit the production line’s changing needs. The Tulip App Designer makes building an app as simple as creating a presentation slideshow.

This flexible system gives manufacturers the freedom to make changes to existing processes as iteration happens in real-time.
Drag and drop interface of the shop floor dashboard

Benefits of Digital Production Tracking

The benefits of using a digital production tracking system come in two forms — during production and after.


Actionable, real-time data from production tracking can help manufacturers make necessary adjustments and improvements to the production process as the line is operating. The availability of data analytics helps shop floor workers to quickly make confident decisions, reducing downtime and preventing errors from moving downstream.

The real-time data can also show the shop floor’s progress towards meeting daily production goals, allowing operators to get back on track if production starts to fall behind.

And when defects occur, workers can immediately notify their operators using the defect reporting system built into digital apps, preventing waste from amounting further down the production line.


Production tracking data can also benefit long term production goals. By collecting accurate accounts of why anomalies or defects occurred, operators can make long-term decisions on how to entirely prevent those issues from recurring. Since defect data is sourced at its root cause, operators can spend less time on hypothesizing and more time on solution building.

Digital production tracking makes proactive/predictive maintenance and problem-solving easy.

In addition, the data collected from production tracking can be used towards tracking company-wide OKRs, benefiting not only those that are on the shop floor but also at the management level.

Chapter Five: What Digital Production Tracking Can Mean For Your Shop Floor

Production tracking is an important part of industrial operations. However, when done manually, it can be a huge headache.

With a digital production tracking system, monitoring the progress of work and identifying opportunities for improvement can be a seamless part of your operations.

Improve your production tracking capabilities with Tulip

Learn how you can gain real-time visibility with apps that connect the people, machines, and sensors across your operations.

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