Everyone is talking about Big Data\u2014and yes, databases are immense. A gigabyte used to sound like a lot. Today, we talk about terabytes without blinking. And while Big Data isn\u2019t anything new for manufacturers, leveraging it for competitive leadership is.\nJust ask Inteva Products, a major automotive component maker. Inteva doesn\u2019t just inspect their sunroof motors visually\u2014they actually listen to them run to make sure they\u2019re not too loud. The company stores thousands of audio files of these motor tests each day, gaining insights that enhance their future product development\u2014insights their competitors lack. Leveraging Big Data allows manufacturers, like Inteva, to keep a much closer eye\u2014or ear\u2014on product quality, which is a true competitive advantage.\nBig Data is changing the way manufacturers operate and execute on the shop floor. Let\u2019s look at just three of the ways it\u2019s helping them think bigger than ever before.\n#1: Monitoring Product Quality Proactively\nIn the recent State of Manufacturing Technology Report, 31 percent of respondents reported they are either evaluating their Big Data needs and opportunities, or plan to do so in the coming year. Another 35 percent believe data analysis is the most important skill set for the next generation of employees.\nStop and think about where all of this data can take manufacturing.\nManufacturers already provide incredible amounts of data on their products\u2019 construction and testing, establishing up front that they\u2019re producing high-quality products. Soon, they\u2019ll be able to eliminate statistical process control from their quality control process. Instead, manufacturers will use today\u2019s increasingly affordable sensors to gather real-time data on every item that comes off the assembly line. The bottom line will be greater accuracy with less human involvement.\n#2: Seeing the Future\u2014and Changing It\nOperational analytics are great at telling us what just happened and why. Manufacturers have been doing that kind of analysis for years. But they\u2019re now using the predictive aspects of Big Data to monitor their operations against their quality standards. That often means predicting when a machine or tool is about to break\u2014before it starts churning out defective products.\nPredictive analytics tell us what\u2019s about to happen. Prescriptive analytics show us how to make machines do what we want. These disciplines are the crown jewels of business intelligence. Both require vast amounts of data\u2014and the ability to analyze it effectively. That\u2019s what Big Data delivers for today\u2019s manufacturers.\nIt\u2019s one thing to look at the history of maintenance issues or failures on a specific machine. But today, manufacturers factor in so many other variables. They\u2019re looking at a press and factoring in not only all the metrics around it\u2014such as temperature and tonnage\u2014but also who\u2019s working on the machine, how long of a shift they\u2019ve worked, what tools are in the press, and much more. They then factor all of this data into their predictions of when future failures will occur.\nPredictive analytics isn\u2019t a new discipline. But until recently, its high cost made it practical for only very expensive products or equipment. New tools make predictive analytics a way of life for manufacturers of all sizes. And as the Internet of Things continues to mature, manufacturers are gathering more data automatically.\n#3: Getting Customers into the Data-Collection Game\nThe winners in our new data-driven economy will be the companies that can gather vast amounts of data and turn it into actionable processes within their supply chain. For manufacturers, the data gathering doesn\u2019t stop at the boundaries of the organization\u2014it includes information collected at customer sites.\nSensors come into play here, too. It\u2019s becoming highly cost-effective for manufacturers to embed sensors into the products they deliver to customers\u2014and the data they\u2019re getting back is worth the small investment in hardware. By extending the quality control process beyond purchase and throughout the life of their products, manufacturers can gather information that catapults their products to higher levels of performance, better design, and longer lifespan.\nThis kind of innovation relies on a delivery agent that can put vast amounts of data at the fingertips of every stakeholder. Traditional ERP systems only create roadblocks. But cloud-based business applications and cloud storage let manufacturers replicate best practices and technical advancements quickly throughout their global enterprises.\nWith the cloud, every worker, every forklift, and even every wrench will tap into vast volumes of data to improve the way they work. It\u2019s a platform for dramatic change on a global scale.