How System Integration Solves Multiple Manufacturing Challenges

Dec. 4, 2023
From supply chain complexities to inconsistent quality and workforce turnover, the strategic integration of plant floor and enterprise systems can boost a manufacturer’s operational efficiency and enhance a plant’s resilience and competitiveness.

Plant owners and operators are always trying to do more with less, but finding solutions to the problems currently impacting manufacturing environments isn’t so simple. The reason is that manufacturers grapple with several persistent issues affecting plant efficiency and product quality. 

Foremost among these issues are:

  • Supply chain: Navigating the complexities of supply chain management, especially considering variable demand and supply conditions, poses a continuous challenge for owners and operators. Efficient inventory management, ordering ahead, and accurate scheduling are critical for ensuring smooth operations and avoiding costly disruptions or delays.
  • Quality and consistency: The high turnover rate among plant operators often leads to inconsistent product quality. New operators bring varying levels of experience and expertise, affecting the uniformity and reliability of the products. Increased automation can mitigate this issue and help simplify operator interfaces. 
  • Worker shortage: The scarcity of skilled labor is more than a staffing issue; it impacts every aspect of manufacturing operations, intensifying the need for streamlined and automated processes. 

The integration solution

Plant floor integration addresses these challenges comprehensively. Connecting the plant floor to your business systems means your data is working for you and revealing critical information about how you can improve your processes.

Consider these aspects of plant floor integration to maximize the data potential at your plant:

  • Interface to ERP: Integration with your enterprise resource planning (ERP) software provides you with a holistic view of business operations, empowering decision makers with real-time data for managing resources, production schedules and customer demands. By closely aligning plant floor operations with overarching business objectives, manufacturers can achieve a balance between supply and demand.
  • Automatic recipe loading: Automating how your recipes interact with equipment goes beyond efficiency. By accurately and consistently loading production recipes into the manufacturing system, manufacturers can not only maintain product quality but also significantly reduce the opportunity for human error. This consistency is crucial in industries where quality is non-negotiable and safety is a concern.
  • Paperless tracking: Embracing digital record-keeping can transform how you track critical production metrics. This shift not only streamlines workflow but also enhances the accuracy and accessibility of records, paving the way for better compliance, quality control,and process optimization.
  • Automated systems: The goal here is to simplify complex operations. By automating routine tasks, you reduce the cognitive and physical burden on operators, allowing them to focus on more critical aspects of plant operations. This efficiency is particularly vital in a landscape where skilled operators are scarce and turnover is high.
  • Better alarming/notifications: An intelligently designed alarm and notification system is the first line of defense against operational disruptions. These systems should intuitively flag issues requiring human intervention, allowing operators to address problems proactively and maintain continuous production flow.

How to integrate

The benefits of integrating your plant floor and business systems are clear, but how do you go about it? Following these four steps can help you on your way:

  1. Find the experts: Identifying individuals or companies with specialized knowledge in automation and system integration is crucial. These experts can provide valuable insights into the integration process, ensuring that the chosen solutions align with your plant’s specific needs.
  2. Know what you have: A comprehensive review of current systems, processes and technologies is essential. This review will give you an understanding of your existing setup’s strengths and limitations, laying the groundwork for effective integration.
  3. Have a tangible goal: Setting clear, achievable objectives is vital for a successful integration. Focusing on specific, measurable goals helps maintain project momentum and will give you a clear benchmark for success.
  4. Be ready to adjust: The integration process often uncovers hidden issues or areas for improvement. A flexible approach or mindset allows for adjustments and refinements, ensuring that the integration plan remains aligned with the evolving needs of the plant.

Start planning today

The need for system integration will only grow as technologies evolve, the workforce crisis sets in fully, and business models adapt. Finding an experienced systems integrator is a great first step if you aren’t sure how to tackle integration on your own. They can help you see what level of integration and automation would make sense at your facility according to your operational needs. They can also show you how integrating the systems at your plant can provide you with invaluable insights and best practices.  Strategic integration not only bolsters operational efficiency but also enhances your plant’s overall resilience and competitiveness. By embracing these thoughtful approaches, owners and operators can confidently address the evolving demands of the modern manufacturing landscape, ensuring long-term sustainability and growth.

Heather Johnson is automation manager at Interstates, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Interstates, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.