min read

Manufacturing Execution

Challenges and Insights in Connected Environments

Sammy Ngum

Real-time availability of production data and information is increasingly becoming critical in a modern-day connected manufacturing environment. ERP systems like SAP provide the backbone of tools that IT organizations use to model manufacturing processes. An optimized environment allows these organizations to model in detail, their products and processes providing seamless data flow across their internal supply chain. What remains critical in a manufacturing environment is the interface and still in many cases, the missing link between manufacturing execution and feedback or integration into the originating source of the planning and scheduling backend systems.

Increasingly though, Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) are bridging the gap between the planning/scheduling systems and shopfloor execution systems and tools. What remains a key issue though these systems are that full capabilities have yet to be realized. The bulk of planning data resides in the ERP or back-office system. And the bulk of the execution data remains in a data historian of the execution system. Hence, developing the visibility of the full internal supply chain or manufacturing process remains the preserve of only a few companies. This means decision-makers either access these independently or have to build custom reports based on extracts of data elements from these system islands.

These islands trigger several challenges in a manufacturing environment. Tracking and traceability can be a problem. Real-time data updates lag as even in a connected environment, batch jobs are often scheduled to run at pre-defined times to minimize object locking. While at the shopfloor level, operations might fully understand the status of resources, planners might not. An unplanned resource downtime or failure might only be communicated to a planner a significant time later leading to scheduling changes that should be avoidable – evidence of a lack of visibility.

The Benefits of an Optimized System

Increasingly though, companies now realize the benefit of an optimized back-end system that is the single source of records and the truth. And therefore, the need to ensure that these systems are not only optimal but maintained as close to real-time as possible. They also realize that legacy systems in their landscape exacerbate the problem of integration and maintaining these records. Research indicates that only about 12% of companies can boast a modern IT landscape with up to 86% of companies still bonded to at least a legacy system.

What this insight does not claim to offer is a panacea where all data generated in an MES system is readily available in the backend ERP or business system. By the very nature of these systems, a vast array of data is generated and stored, increasing the level of manufacturing insights that can be garnered from it. When providing the ability to trace manufacturing problems and defects for corrective action; identify areas of the manufacturing process that need refining through process traceability. It, however, ventures into identifying key data elements that might provide clear insights to a planner/scheduler ensuring that any new plans reflect the current status of resources and their active capabilities.

‘Alexa’, ‘Google Home’, etc. are unlikely to be our shopfloor notification or alert systems of the future. But a landscape with capabilities offered by devices like Alexa should give manufacturing companies and insight into what is possible. In the world of IOT (Internet of Things) and IIOT (Industrial Internet of Things), real-time monitoring and alerts will certainly be critical in the modern industrial complex to support real-time integration of shopfloor systems to backend business systems. And to monitor the ‘state’ of expensive assets and control operations (WIP) and provide manufacturing process traceability.

In my next insight, I will venture a little deeper into the world of IOT and IIOT. And examine how sensors and machine control systems can help manufacturing organizations to be smarter, leaner and avoid key obstacles to manufacturing execution and automation in connected environments.


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