functions range from the receipt of raw material to the shipping of
finished goods, from production itself to equipment maintenance,
through inventory movements and material quality tests, and from
customer order lines to work dispatching. That’s not to mention the
control of manufacturing operations themselves. These functions fall
under different responsibilities, though they must operate
collaboratively under effective business management directions.
The role of information in a manufacturing company is summarized in the illustration. Consider the three main flows crossing an enterprise system—material, money and information. It is easy to understand the specific importance of this information. Material flow constrains money flow, that is, no payment until delivery. Information flow constraints material flow, that is, there is no delivery until shipment documentation is issued. Information flow constrains money flow, because there is no payment until an invoice is issued.
A manufacturing information system is therefore an enabler to reaching higher levels of financial performance. Conversely, a poorly designed and tuned information system definitely hurts the plant’s ability to serve the company’s goal of sustaining and increasing profits.
Today’s ideal information systems are flexible, invisible information infrastructures that constantly adapt themselves to the actual resources, products, business and decision processes of the enterprise. They are no longer a constraint to developing a differentiating, winning strategy. Attaining the ideal information system implies reaching the highest level of maturity in development and maintenance, minimizing the effort needed to:
- add, cancel, extend or improve existing capabilities in real time
- capture existing constraints impacting the bottom line as user requirements
- implement and support continuously improving manufacturing and business processes, and
- benefit from the technology as it is available, when and where appropriate.
The American National Standards Institute/Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society ANSI/ISA-88 and ISA-95 standards provide a set of models considered as best engineering practices for industrial information systems in charge of manufacturing execution. ISA-88 describes functional and informational aspects of physical and chemical transformation processes and tasks. ISA-95 describes functional and informational aspects of operation management processes and tasks. The role of manufacturing information systems is to support manufacturing operations. It does this in several ways. First, it provides relevant and timely information for decision making at different levels of the company hierarchy. It also automates and secures the sequencing of manufacturing and business processes. Supporting enterprise strategies, not constraining them in any way, is the last task of information systems.
These points must be kept in mind when defining the requirements for such a system, but that doesn’t help much when it comes to laying them down, exploring the areas where the information system can help or must act in a way that is understandable, sustainable for the long run, and aligned with the system’s actual implementation. The goal is to align the whole system definition, from the strategic objectives to the actual implementation of software modules or applications, in a dynamic perspective.
Successful MIS projects positively impact the company’s bottom line if they support its strategy instead of entangling it. This implies a breakthrough approach for setting up the indispensable flexible design:
- Top-down, looped global life-cycle (able to work bottom up)
- Master project providing resources for actual instance projects
- Split between functional and technical core system
- Shared resource model
- Pragmatic development through actual or pilot instance projects
- Extensive capture of the user needs through highly structured framework
- Implicit to Explicit Knowledge conversion and management supporting a continuous improvement process.
The ISA-88 and ISA-95 standards offer a common vision, terminology and framework for addressing the entire manufacturing system support.