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In Search of Plant Floor Connectivity

SAP’s Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence technology for shop floor-to-top floor connection is gaining more visibility, as evidenced at this week’s SAP Sapphire customer conference.

During a Sapphire keynote address by SAP Co-Chief Executive Officer L?o Apotheker (left), Harley-Davidson Chief Information Offi
During a Sapphire keynote address by SAP Co-Chief Executive Officer L?o Apotheker (left), Harley-Davidson Chief Information Offi

When SAP AG acquired Lighthammer Software Development Corp., Exton, Pa., in 2005, the German-based enterprise software giant quickly transformed Lighthammer’s manufacturing intelligence software into an SAP application that could provide SAP users with real-time visibility to plant-floor data. That application today is known as SAP Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (MII). And though MII is clearly gaining momentum among SAP manufacturing customers, it’s still but a small star in the SAP universe.

That was evident this week in Orlando, Fla., where SAP hosted its 20th Sapphire customer conference in the United States, in conjunction with the Americas’ SAP Users’ Group (ASUG) annual conference. Much of the focus at Sapphire 2008 was on high-profile topics such as SAP’s recently announced deal with Canadian-based Research In Motion (RIM)—by which SAP’s customer-relationship management (CRM) application will be available for mobile use on RIM’s wireless Blackberry devices. Other Sapphire attention grabbers were SAP’s recent acquisition of Business Objects SA, a French-based provider of business intelligence software, as well as SAP’s overall plans to enable its users to optimize global enterprise and supply chain operations. SAP also announced new initiatives aimed at small to midsize enterprises that will provide preconfigured SAP Business All-in-One solutions on systems from partners Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

“Business Beyond Boundaries” was the theme for the May 4-7 SAP Orlando event, which attracted some 15,000, including SAP personnel, ASUG members, partners, media and analyst attendees.

Growing adoption

But while connecting to factory floor automation may not yet have achieved mainstream attention in the SAP world, comments by manufacturing end-users and other Sapphire attendees revealed growing adoption levels for the MII product, and a recognition of its value.

A primary capability of MII is its ability to use prebuilt, standards-compliant connectors to acquire data from a large variety of shop floor systems, and to link and aggregate that data with information from SAP financial modules. This can be valuable in enabling companies to know not only how many widgets are being manufactured per hour, but in translating that to dollars of profit per hour, for example, said Jorge Mottecy Filho, a manufacturing and operations management specialist for Neoris, a Miami-based information technology (IT) consulting company that has worked on a number of MII projects.

MII users can build in their own business rules, Filho pointed out, and they can develop their own custom dashboards for viewing the data, while also delivering this data to a number of different applications, Web browsers or mobile devices. “If your objective is to produce 20 parts per hour, and you are only producing 10, you could have a business rule that says a message or alert must be sent, so you can intervene and correct that trend.” Neoris, a Sapphire exhibitor, has so far completed about 15 MII projects for customers in the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, and interest in the technology is growing, Filho said.

User examples

Several end-users gave formal presentations at Sapphire on their MII applications. Representatives of Sauder Woodworking Co., an Archbold, Ohio-based furniture manufacturer, for example, described various benefits of the technology, including improved shop floor visibility and productivity through the use of customized MII team leader and operator dashboards. One process that previously required 16 steps to move a pallet of goods on the shop floor has now been reduced to just a couple of steps, thanks to MII, said Pam Vocke, a Sauder business systems implementation manager. “We’ve actually reduced non-value-added activities—waste—by 85 percent,” she said.

Another company that has MII experience is Harley-Davidson, the Milwaukee-based motorcycle manufacturer. During a Sapphire keynote presentation by SAP Co-Chief Executive Officer Léo Apotheker, Harley-Davidson Chief Information Officer Jim Haney appeared on stage riding one of the company’s motorcycles. Haney talked not only about how the use of SAP financial software has enabled faster decision making at Harley, but also how MII has helped improve quality and efficiency on the company’s production lines.

Among other Sapphire events of particular interest to automation professionals was announcement of a newly available book titled “In Pursuit of the Perfect Plant.” Co-authored by SAP, OSIsoft Inc., and KurMeta, the book includes insight and case histories from more than 100 manufacturing experts, including Acsis, Cisco and Tata Consultancy Service. It is said to provide a unique, expansive view of the challenges and opportunities modern plants face in planning, asset management, energy management, visibility and quality management. The book lays out a comprehensive road map to help manufacturers achieve the highest optimal performance from operating plants, SAP said.


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