Shop Floor to Top Floor Workflow

April 30, 2019
ServiceNow’s workflow management platform aims to connect front office and plant floor workflows around one system that can connect with any MES or ERP system.

One of the principal characteristics of most workflow management software packages is their design for specific applications. By this I mean that it’s not uncommon to see software for human resources workflow, project teams workflow, business process management workflow, software development workflow, maintenance management workflow, etc.

At Hannover Messe 2019, I met with a company called ServiceNow that is approaching the workflow software space from a platform point of view. Rather than focusing on providing specific types of workflow software programs, ServiceNow has created a workflow platform, called Now, on which different types of workflow applications can be built. Because these applications share the same platform, they can be easily integrated and centrally accessed.

Of specific interest to Automation World readers is ServiceNow’s extension into the manufacturing and processing space through its work with App4Mation. The workflow application created by App4Mation using the Now platform can pull data from sensors and machines, route it to the right people, and direct them how to react to it. In addition to the device-driven data, workers can interact with the system by scanning a code placed on a machine or device to capture data from that device and get feedback from the ServiceNow system on how to fix or maintain it based on historical data.

The app created by App4Mation uses machine learning algorithms to make a determination on how to direct the worker based on previous inputs.

Leveraging input from in-house experts on those systems, the workflow app can even be used in root cause analysis applications specific to each piece of equipment. By formatting the analysis around five key questions, the workflow software can guide any worker through the process. Additional inputs derived from continuous use of the application are gathered and analyzed for future use.

This root cause analysis example highlights how the system can used to effectively capture knowledge from retiring Baby Boomers, said Eric Ehlers, director of manufacturing and telecom solutions at ServiceNow. “All data goes into structured database where its clickable and interactive,” he said.

An example of the workflow software’s application in industry can be seen in its use by a major European beer producer. Ehlers explained that the beer company used to stop production to conduct visual inspections on the filters used in processing its beer. These periodic visual inspections were done to determine the need for maintenance on the filters. “Now, based on when they do maintenance, the ServiceNow system, using the App4Mation app, can calculate how long filters will last before needing to be cleaned. This means that users can plan maintenance without having to stop production and perform visual inspections first.”

Such capabilities are not uncommon in the industrial maintenance sphere. What differentiates ServiceNow’s approach is its shop floor to top floor approach using the same workflow management platform.

Built on a cloud platform and using an open application programming interface (API), ServiveNow can integrate with any enterprise resource program (ERP) or manufacturing execution system (MES)—enabling companies to link workflows across their business with the ultimate goal of removing manual input, said Detlef Krause, vice president and general manager for ServiceNow in Germany.

We want to digitize and improve the workflow by enabling companies to use a single application through which to do all their daily work, regardless of what department they are in, Ehlers added.

According to Krause, ServiceNow, which was founded in 2004, now serves 43 percent of Forbes Global 200 businesses with a 97 percent renewal rate. He also noted that the company continues to grow rapidly—at roughly a 40 percent per quarter growth rate of the past several quarters.

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