E-manufacturing: A Catchy Name for What You Should be Doing Anyway

If you're confused about what e-manufacturing is and how to do it, stay tuned—there's some explaining needed. It seems most software vendors offer e-manufacturing, and many describe capabilities about the same way. Software and hardware that fall into this class have begun to live up to abilities promised several years ago: interconnectibility, interoperability, scalability, to make...




  • Software and information integration

  • E-manufacturing

  • Networks and communications

  • Open architecture

Werner Ladder takes manufacturing efficiency to new heights
Warehouse automation ensures proper automation deliveries

If you're confused about what e-manufacturing is and how to do it, stay tuned-there's some explaining needed. It seems most software vendors offer e-manufacturing, and many describe capabilities about the same way. Software and hardware that fall into this class have begun to live up to abilities promised several years ago: interconnectibility, interoperability, scalability, to make your life easier, more productive, flexible and faster .

What is e-manufacturing?

E-manufacturing extends beyond selling products on the web. It is the total integration of the enterprise, from plant floor all the way through to the customer, using electronic, often web-based technologies.

Sensors, limit switches, and other control components on the plant floor send information to diagnostic systems and control-based monitoring systems. These in turn send information to systems that manage maintenance, modeling, scheduling, tracking, and batching operations. Users, including suppliers, OEMs, supply-chain partners, and others in the field, are able to gain access to whichever system they need and send commands back to the system, if necessary (see diagram).

Another way to describe e-manufacturing is the full integration of critical manufacturing parameters with other areas of the enterprise and supply chain. The result is more focus on solving business problems than on installing slick software or hardware (see also, cover story).

This kind of integration, suggests Bill Swanton, research operations vp, AMR Research (Boston, Mass.), augments speed, flexibility, and service, moving toward collaboration with customers, even enabling customized product creation. 'Doing this is fairly costly... you can't automate everything; just what's required for clear business advantage,' Mr. Swanton says.

E-manufacturing interconnects all plant-floor functions with enterprise and
supply-chain partners and applications. Any connected parties can access critical
information in real-time.

Start by taking up slack

Where to start depends on where you are, but Mr. Swanton says some places to start include taking up the slack in the supply chain, measuring real-time demand, fine-tuning production, and dealing with variability. Results of e-manufacturing include tighter adherence to specifications, less waste, better delivery to schedule, regulatory compliance, and optimized changeover and lead times.

Mr. Swanton, presenting at a Nov. 8, 2000, Microsoft conference, 'Getting Ready for E-Business in Manufacturing,' says some enterprises realize they can't create an optimal level of integration right away. Ideally, customers would see a seamless business process, even if information is patched and stitched on the inside. No customer has to see that it is 'ugly under the covers,' he says. (See e-manufacturing suggestions and discrete manufacturing examples, in sidebars in this article, and more online.)

Mike Morel, industry marketing manager, Hewlett-Packard (Palo Alto, Calif.) places businesses in three stages of development, citing Gartner Group (Stamford, Conn.) information, at the above Minneapolis conference. The stages are:

  1. Internal information integration: about 80% of companies are at this stage, which the foundation, the organized back-end required for future customer connections.

  2. Supply chain versus supply chain: 20% are at this point now; about 65% will be by 2004. Trading partner collaboration requires optimization of supply-chain profits. The 'simple' idea of making power supplies external to HP printers made product design more adaptable to global sales, Mr. Morel explains.

  3. Customer-centric collaboration: less than 1% are there now; just 15% will be by 2004. These 'value collaboration networks' require rapid creation and disbanding of supply-chain partnerships as needed to optimize a specific customer order, which will benefit all partners. This requires that pervasive information is available to all, invisible to the consumer, and shared for mutual benefit of the transaction's present set of optimal partners. Partners for one transaction could be competitors for the next.

Full integration

In an example of full integration, sensors detect an automobile breakdown prior to the event, sending appropriate information to the owner, manufacturer, dealer, nearest car-rental business, towing and maintenance resources, and, perhaps, other customers. A rental-the next logical upgrade model for that customer-would arrive with the tow truck, almost immediately after breakdown. The owner's vehicle would be repaired, then exchanged at the most-convenient time and location for the customer.

Optimizing the transaction within the supply chain of the moment allows companies to do what they do well and buy everything else. Essentially, you 'add value to what you're good at and outsource your incompetencies,' Mr. Morel says.

Many core technologies and trends enable e-manufacturing. Among them, are Microsoft .Net efforts, which takes the Distributed iNternet Architecture and expands it for the supply chain. BizTalk Server 2000 integrates business processes and application, internally or externally, helping connect and enable business communities by simplifying transactions among dissimilar software systems, such as for control, alarms, maintenance, order and transactions, enterprise resource planning, and other areas.

'How much you expose to the outside is up to you,' according to Todd Rooke, chief technology architect at Rainier Technologies (Minneapolis, Minn.), a designer and integrator for web-enabled businesses.

Driving accountability

Part of e-manufacturing is connecting systems and driving accountability.

Microsoft's Digital Dashboard Resource Kit 2.0 aggregates information from throughout the organization and supply chain in one location. 'People will figure out how to improve things, if they know they're being measured by certain criteria,' says Bill Barberg, president, insightformation (Minneapolis, Minn.) (See also, CE, August 2000, p.80.) Mr. Barberg says, '20% of employee time is spent getting information.' Speeding that access saves resources.

Industrial software has become more interconnected by using Microsoft conventions and connectivity. Think & Do Visual Studio (CE, Oct. 2000 Exclusive, p.12) adds the visual advantages of Microsoft Visio.

ABB (Rochester, N.Y.) is among companies focusing on 'plant-centric' architecture to enable e-manufacturing. Enterprise objects, such as devices, materials, and products, contribute to the total business picture. Distributed plant devices inherit functionality from their environments, rather than from host control.

Don Richardson, Microsoft Group Manager, says, 'The simpler people want to make things, the more complex the infrastructure has to be. That implies we have to build more smarts into the operating system' and related tools.

ABB's Industrial IT framework presents plant components, such as robots, machines, valves, and pumps, as configurable enterprise objects. Each object is installed and operated in 'plug and play' fashion, carrying with it electrical, mechanical, and intellectual properties, such as configuration data, self-diagnostics, maintenance drawings, and identity information, that make the object recognizable immediately to plant-wide information networks. The framework is built on Microsoft Windows 2000.

Better service

Schneider Electric (North Andover, Mass.) calls its e-manufacturing efforts 'Transparent Factory.' Michael Wilmshurst, controls engineering manager for Hooper Engineering (Sarasota, Fla.), says using Schneider Electric's Modicon web-enabled Premium PLC in its horizontal form-fill-seal packaging machines (see photo) streamlines data access within a customer's organization.

If access to the machine is allowed-with appropriate security-Hooper Engineering can streamline maintenance and troubleshooting, remotely, often without extra time and expense of sending out a service representative, Mr. Wilmshurst explains. When offered, customers have preferred the web-enabled option, he says.

The machine has been demonstrated at National Manufacturing Week and Pack Expo. 'We're proud to have a web-enabled machine,' Mr. Wilmshurst says. Everyone wants to see what we can do.'

John R. Bagnall, director of information technology, Chase Industries (Montpelier, O.), recommends greater cooperation between engineering and IT staffs to maximize e-manufacturing investments. Roles need to be defined.

For instance, at subsidiary Chase Brass-which manufacturers round, hexagonal, and square brass rods and bars up to 4-in. diameter-Mr. Bagnall acknowledges a difference in factory-floor and IT needs, but says resources were saved and redundancy avoided with close communications. 'It's not a matter of territory; we just want to ensure the plant floor and IT work together to meet business needs,' he says. For instance, IT tracks internal IP [Internet protocol] addresses to avoid any duplication, states Mr. Bagnall.


And in new project development, coordinating and designing dual networking needs of the plant floor and IT can save up to 30% in automation project costs, compared to retrofitting a solution, Mr. Bagnall estimates.

E-manufacturing, designed optimally, using off-the-shelf components, facilitates 'information as a by-product of the process, instead of having someone go and get it; more of an exception-based style,' he says.

The new Chase Brass foundry, commissioned in first-quarter 2000, uses Schneider Electric embedded web servers and connects to the plant's Ethernet backbone, as will another expansion due for completion in 2002. Defining what data to collect, in what form, and applying that to business issues must still be done, Mr. Bagnall says.

Rick Sheid, national director for e-business manufacturing at Compaq (Houston, Tex.), says old strategies for business included quality, low-cost, on-time delivery. Those are the bare minimum requirements. E-business strategies require demand-driven structures.

Fast eat the slow

With the speed of e-marketplaces and interconnectivity of partners, 'You don't have to be smart to win in the market. The fast eat the slow,' Mr. Sheid says. Movement is from optimization at the factory level to the enterprise to the supply chain. E-business connections drive latency out using infrastructure technologies, including computing platforms, network technologies, and the Internet, he explains. It enables and facilitates rapid changes, flexibility, allows focus on the core, and partnering, which can be very difficult for some companies to open up enough to do. IT has been an enabler and an impediment to new business processes.

The keys, Mr. Sheid suggests, include creating an end-to-end supply chain, more rapid new product design and introduction, responsiveness to customers' needs, and collaborative processes, upstream and downstream. Better links internally are needed at many sites; there's still a lot of latency in most systems, he says.

To start, manufacturing must ensure seamless integration of functions before implementation across the company or supply chain. It's not a fully sequential process; some fast benefits may be realized through fast-hit applications, he recommends.

For its part, Compaq offers an enterprise integration methodology, using an information broker (see diagram). Compaq's iOrchestrator for Microsoft BizTalk Server 2000 is the 'broker' product set.

Clearly, manufacturing must connect seamlessly, electronically, first within and then beyond the organization.

Werner Ladder takes manufacturing efficiency to new heights

To reduce plant floor paperwork and facilitate information transactions between the shop floor and management systems, Werner Ladder (Greenville, Pa.), a maker of fiberglass and aluminum ladders, installed transaction manager software at its headquarters. Werner worked with Rockwell Automation (Milwaukee, Wis.) to integrate plant-floor production facilities (photo) with the business systems that run Werner's corporate enterprise.

In 1998, Randy Timblin, senior manufacturing engineer at Werner, met with Werner's information systems/technology staff, internal auditors, production staff, accounting staff and others on the business side.

'We talked about the things they needed from the system to efficiently and effectively run the business,' said Mr. Timblin. 'In the meeting, I showed them that most of the information they needed already resided in a PLC or some portion of the control system on the plant floor. We discussed how they could take that information and transfer it into the existing databases where people were currently hand-keying information.'

With Rockwell Automation's Manufacturing BusinessWare initiative, Rockwell Software could combine a tailored mix of value-added services, software integration tools, and manufacturing software applications to provide a solution for tightly integrating plant-floor production facilities with the business systems that run the corporate enterprise.

With its new system, Werner:

Reduced paper inventory by 90% in the fiberglass pultrusion department;

Improved inventory accuracy by 2-3%;

Reduced error in recording fiberglass scrap;

Realized significant cost savings with improved tracking;

Gained the ability to use the software in its other facilities, providing management direct access to real-time production information; and

Secured direct access to plant floor information for the company inventive program.

See more images and application details in the online version of this article at . Rockwell Software is at ; Rockwell Automation at .

Warehouse automation ensures proper automation deliveries

To improve order accuracy, ease personnel requirements, and handle an increasing volume of manual warehouse work, Automationdirect.com (Cumming, Ga.) called in Pathguide Technologies (Mukilteo, Wa.), a company specializing in real-time industrial and commercial bar code applications for warehouse management systems.

Pathguide helped Automationdirect.com design a warehouse management system that uses bar codes to verify orders up front. The system also accommodates batch order processing, so several orders can be processed at one time.

Pathguide Technologies was responsible for the programming of the bar code scanners, while the rest of the application was designed, built and programmed internally by Automationdirect.com employees.

Inventory is received and checked into the warehouse electronically, placed on bar coded pallets for storage, confirmed electronically by accounting, and released to the warehouse.

Orders go to the warehouse via ceiling-mounted RF transceivers that feed information into hand-held bar code scanners.

The system chooses shipping boxes based on the size of each order, applies a bar code, and delivers boxes to the proper location for order picking. Photoelectric sensors ensure safe box handling on elevators and conveyors. Filled orders are packed, weighed, and prepared for shipping.

For online orders, the last scan of the bar code at the labeling station triggers a confirming e-mail to the customer. Orders are sorted by shipping class and a conveyor takes the order into the back of a delivery truck.

The automated process allows the warehouse to operate at 99.98% shipping accuracy with a team of eight people. Had the manual system stayed in place, the team predicts they would have needed 18 people to perform the work. The new system also paid for itself in one year's time, including all hardware, software and support.

See more images and application details in the online version of this article at . Automationdirect.com is at ; Pathguide Technologies at .

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