The unified plant: from industry-specific ERP to Manufacturing 2.0

Having a manufacturing system with a near-real time grasp of operations means a lot more to Carl Morris than measuring point efficiencies. For Morris, president of Injection Technology Corp. (ITECH), the goal is to track the true costs of operations, and manage order fulfillment. At its 30,000-square-foot facility in Arden, N.

By Roberto Michel, Senior Contributing Editor September 1, 2007

Having a manufacturing system with a near-real time grasp of operations means a lot more to Carl Morris than measuring point efficiencies. For Morris, president of Injection Technology Corp. (ITECH), the goal is to track the true costs of operations, and manage order fulfillment.

At its 30,000-square-foot facility in Arden, N.C., ITECH makes custom plastic parts and enclosures found in goods such as fish finders and electric meters. With the price of plastic rising, and customers insisting on timely deliveries, true costs must be known.

“If you don’t have a system for accurately tracking your costs, you’re going to go under,” Morris asserts. For more than 11 years, ITECH used an ERP system that was competent at carrying out several enterprise functions, but lacked real-time monitoring of plant operations and quality. But when the ERP system began to lag, ITECH looked at other options, settling on the EnterpriseIQ suite from IQMS . Now ITECH uses nearly every module of the suite—including real-time production monitoring and graphical scheduling to bring together the functions needed to run the plant floor.

Morris says he knows of other manufacturers that have implemented ERP, but still run their plants using whiteboards and spreadsheets. “You end up not knowing what your real costs are,” he says. “The days when you can run a factory out of your shirt pocket are gone.”

Generics of ERP

Manufacturers of all sizes are looking for a more unified approach to operations management applications, notes Colin Masson, a director with Boston-based AMR Research . But vendors haven’t offered a single application suite capable of supporting execution and intelligence functions across all industries or modes of manufacturing.

While Masson concedes that manufacturing execution system (MES) solutions have been successful in a few verticals, the functionality needed for unified manufacturing operations management has not been as easy to “genericize” as processes at the ERP level.

But Masson does see an evolution toward what AMR calls “Manufacturing 2.0” functionality in which a layer of software orchestrates enterprise processes with events generated by existing plant applications. “We’re seeing this idea of having a manufacturing composition environment, just like we’re seeing the ERP suite vendors address the concept of a business composition environment,” he says.

Having a more unified plant applications approach could help manufacturers arrive at the type of visibility and responsiveness they need to meet customer expectations.

What suits you?

Unfortunately, there’s no single applications suite or even approach to plant operations management suitable to the diversity of manufacturing styles, equipment, and levels of automation across all enterprises.

A manufacturing-savvy ERP solution might be suitable for some companies, especially if they don’t require a real-time tie to PLCs and other process automation. Similarly, says Masson, some companies find that an enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) solution with a dashboard view of performance gives them the visibility they seek without a full-blown MES. So while various types of applications vendors are addressing the issue of unified plant management, multiple trends are involved:

A manufacturing composition environment that supports process orchestration, workflow, and alerting;

Vendors in the MES space adding some of this composition environment, moving their solution sets into the realm of operations process management; and

EMI vendors adding workflow capabilities to their dashboards, making their solutions more actionable and capable of light execution.

ITECH gains a unified approach to plant management by using the IQMS suite for everything from inventory management and financials to shop-floor scheduling and production monitoring. One important element, says Morris, is keeping current on bills of material (BOM), which drive other system functions such as scheduling and costing. Morris says users maintain the BOM structures, while operators use wireless scan tools from Symbol to input material data to the system. The operators also input a limited amount of data, such as downtime codes, into the system via PCs.

“The system has everything we need, but like any software application, it’s a matter of ‘Garbage in, Garbage out,’ so you need some discipline in its use,” says Morris. “If you have BOMs built correctly, and your people enter reject and downtime codes correctly, you end up with some good information that helps you manage the business.”

With ITECH’s previous ERP system, there was no real-time, integrated materials measurement, nor were there regular data feeds from the injection molding machines. The IQMS system enables integrated measurement, getting updates every 15 seconds from machinery. The system also supports paperless execution with online work instructions and order information all accessed via PCs on the shop floor. These online operator instructions, when combined with the graphical scheduling tools and production and quality reports, deliver a unified view of operations.

“We know when we have parts ready to ship, or how much longer it’s going to take to complete an order,” says Morris. “IQMS improved our profitability because by knowing our exact inventory levels, we aren’t under- or overbuying material. And by having the correct BOMs, we know exactly how many parts to produce, and we know the expected scrap based on history. Plus, if we need to run a job that could be run on three or four machines, the software will tell us on which machine it runs the best, based on [factors] such as reject and cycle-time trends.”

EMI reborn

Enterprise manufacturing intelligence software has taken off largely because it lends a view of performance independent of underlying MES or supervisory systems, says Masson. The new trend with EMI vendors is to add workflow and alerting.

Eddy Azad, president and CEO of Parsec Automation , agrees that EMI needs to be more actionable. To this end, he says, Parsec has added alerting capabilities, as well as a “logic engine,” to its TrakSYS suite, which allows users to add context to disparate sources of plant and enterprise data that overlap during operations. “You have to bring [in] all sources of data, and find ways to streamline the relevance of certain pieces of data from these different sources,” he says.

Avery Dennison ‘s Graphics and Reflective Products division uses TrakSYS as part of its Six Sigma and Lean methods. The company’s Mt. Prospect, Ill.-based plant, which makes reflective materials used for traffic signs and safety stripes, began rolling out the TrakSYS performance management solution in early 2007.

TrakSYS integrates with process data coming from production machinery via the tagged data stream provided by InTouch supervisory control software from Wonderware . TrakSYS takes in this real-time data originating from the machinery and PLCs to monitor events such as downtime, says Nishad Parmar, production leader and a Lean Sigma black belt with Avery Dennison.

“We monitor our performance and our downtime—whether it’s planned or unplanned—and understand where significant events are occurring, how they are occurring, and their frequency,” says Parmar. “This information helps us decide where to focus our attention as part of Six Sigma.”

When trended over time, adds Parmar, reports from TrakSYS reveal likely areas for further improvement.

For instance, with a set-up reduction project, TrakSYS can show trends for which shifts, operators, pieces of equipment, and materials were involved. Based on this analysis, certain people might be pulled into a Kaizen event to analyze adjustments to procedures—e.g., where to locate tools—that might shave time from the set-up procedure. “We can get the right people into a focus group, and then devise and implement an improvement project,” says Parmar.

Assembly required?

Most observers agree that whatever route is taken to unified plant management—MES with strong process orchestration, an EMI package with light execution, or an ERP system with strong plant monitoring—the end solution needs to be easily configurable. Claus Abildgren, a marketing program manager for Wonderware, which is part of Invensys, says the Invensys ArchestrA architecture allows a unified plant data model on top of which the various plant applications sit.

The applications in turn can interact with business process management engines such as Microsoft’s BizTalk to support critical information flows.

“There are two fundamental information flows that need to be managed,” says Abildgren. “There’s the plan-to-action flow, which is the production management flow that involves what and how much to make; and the performance management flow, which involves information on what is actually occurring on the floor.”

According to AMR’s Masson, composition management engines for Manufacturing 2.0 might come from Microsoft or SAP, or from vendors with an execution background such as Eyelit and Apriso .

At the end of the day, he concludes, such an environment must be easy to use. “It’s about making a fundamental transformation to a composition environment that takes advantage of the services in existing systems, but allows users to orchestrate them in a much more dynamic way.”

CDC Software, Invensys target unified plant application needs

Users stand to benefit from vendor acquisitions in the plant management software space if what they’re looking for is a more integrated approach to applications spanning manufacturing execution system (MES) and enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI). Among the latest moves: a major product launch from CDC Software , and the acquisition of MES vendor CIMNET by Invensys .

In late June, CDC Software launched its CDC Factory suite, which combines factory scheduling, MES, and real-time performance management in one suite. Designed for food & beverage, pharmaceutical packaging, and consumer packaged goods manufacturers, CDC Factory is a departure from past solutions because it combines various application functions in a packaged suite that doesn’t force users to assemble applications from scratch, says Mark Sutcliffe, general manager for CDC Factory.

“The market in manufacturing operations management software is typified by design-and-build systems that are heavy on configuration, and sewn together using tool kits,” Sutcliffe says. “We’ve taken the opposite approach, and verticalized around industry sectors to build a holistic, packaged solution.”

Sutcliffe says the suite functionality stems from two acquisitions made by CDC: JRG Software, a vendor of factory scheduling solutions for consumer goods companies; and MVI Technology, an EMI vendor with extensive food sector experience. Sutcliffe, who was with MVI prior to the acquisition, says MVI’s software had a workflow engine that CDC Software has leveraged to prebuild workflows common to manufacturing operations management in targeted verticals.

The suite’s user interface also focuses on weaving operator’s knowledge of real-world events—such as a coworker being late from lunch—into the workflow of the system. The operators also see metrics on real-time performance. “In our system, the operators aren’t just data gatherers, but rather, true users of the solution and vital to its success,” says Sutcliffe.

Meanwhile, Invensys’ May 2007 purchase of MES vendor CIMNET will be folded into the Invensys Wonderware unit. Existing Cimnet offerings will continue to be made available and enhanced for customers under the Wonderware Factelligence and the Wonderware DNC Professional brands. The acquired MES technology offerings also are being integrated with Invensys ArchestrA architecture.

Claus Abildgren, a production and performance manager for Wonderware, says the addition of the Factelligence MES will not impact the continued sale of Wonderware’s Manufacturing Execution Module, an MES formerly known as InTrack. Abildgren says Manufacturing Execution Module still has “very valid” modeling and MES functionality.

As to the integration ongoing with Factelligence, Abildgren says the work has begun, but it’s too early to give specifics. Wonderware will work to ensure the MES leverages ArchestrA to support the needed plant-to-enterprise information flow comprised within the ISA-95 standard—i.e., schedule information down to the floor, and consumption and quality information back up.