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The Ties That Bind

To the victor go the spoils. In the global competition for manufacturing survival, those words have never been truer.

Winning in a global marketplace requires inspired decision making, excellent execution and the ability to adapt to changing conditions. The successful manufacturer controls its destiny with profitable strategies for managing labor and material costs, trimming inventory and streamlining supply chain logistics.

But there remains an untapped area for improvement—linking real-time plant data to the enterprise systems that control what’s being made. And once linked, displaying that information so plant personnel can make informed business decisions.

The special report in this issue, “Collaborative Manufacturing Software,” looks at how manufacturers can win by integrating their plant-floor systems with their Enterprise Resource Planning systems. Notes Sudipta Bhattacharya, vice president for manufacturing applications for SAP, the leading provider of ERP solutions, “A disruption in the manufacturing process impacts customer fulfillment, the supply chain, even health and safety issues. And information for those systems resides mainly in the ERP system.”

When an event occurs on the plant floor, it must be conveyed to the planning systems, so adjustments can be made in scheduling, inventory, material purchases and labor requisitions. Too often, this information transfer is done manually, on a shift or daily basis.

Bhattacharya continues, “The greater the latency between a shop-floor event and when the business layer sees that event, the more inefficient the process. Businesses cannot execute with these inefficiencies.”

SAP and other software developers are working with their customers and partners to develop solutions that will reduce manufacturing latency and improve business processes. See the articles that begin on pp. 44 and 50 for more.

Integrating the automation and business layers will pay dividends, but there are pitfalls manufacturers should avoid. Says Jeff Nestel-Patt, director of marketing communications for Brooks Software, “Manufacturers need to be realistic and reasonable about the type of data that needs to be exchanged. The essential transfer is order starts coming from ERP and order completions going to ERP. Everything else is optional, depending on the specific requirements and realities of the plant.”

Notes Marc Leroux, product marketing manager for Collaborative Production Management, ABB Inc., “The biggest pitfall is underestimating the number of autonomous systems, the ‘islands of automation’ that exist at the plant level.” Peter Martin, vice president and general manager, performance management, at Invensys, believes manufacturers also have to manage the organizational issues that come with integration. “The traditional separation of the IT (information technology) and automation systems has presented a huge cultural problem. Instead of ‘islands of automation,’ we now have ‘islands of organization.’ ”

How to solve this problem? Systems that employ a common data platform, with personalized, role-specific data views, will go a long way toward bridging these islands. Says Leroux, “The obvious benefit is to provide a seamless view of information. Until very recently, we have been working with the ‘business view of manufacturing’ and the ‘manufacturing view of manufacturing,’ and the two have not always agreed. The ability to understand the options that are available, particularly when it comes to fulfilling production orders, provides much greater flexibility and translates into immediate, tangible savings.”

Adds Martin, “While the resulting solutions will be different from business to business, the new functionality they share is a more strategically aligned operation, with the ability to drive value to the bottom line. The true potential to be realized through technology is only just beginning to be tapped, but technology is just an enabler. If businesses stay focused on the requirements of the business, the technology will follow.” That’s sound advice for global survival.

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