21 September 2001
Taking a Giant E-Manufacturing Step
Fueled by hard work and financial commitment, MES can drive down plant floor costs and boost efficiency.
For most manufacturers, dreams of quickly harvesting huge cost savings by converting their plants overnight into highly efficient e-factories has remained, unfortunately, just that—a dream.
The reality, experts agree, is that where the rubber meets the road, on the factory floor, many machines operate with software designed for the sole purpose of operating the machines. Legacy data acquisition and I/O systems are often incompatible with other plant-floor systems, installed at different times and for different purposes.
Companies, however, have begun the slow trek toward that pot of gold promised at the end of the e-manufacturing rainbow by taking steps to improve efficiencies in specific areas. They include, for example, inventory control, integrating architecture wherever possible, improved factory-floor-to-top-floor information management, asset management, and investment in supply-chain e-procurement software.
Some real-life "success stories" do exist, however. One by GE Cisco Industrial Networks Inc. involves an unidentified corrugated paper company. During the latter part of the 1990s, GE Cisco said, the paper manufacturer spent $5 million to connect its plant to the Internet and developed a build-to-order system in which demand drives production scheduling.
Cut Waste, Boosted Sales
The same company consolidated multiple databases into a single database and installed wireless technology within the plant to connect forklifts and other machines. Speaking at the Manufacturing Execution Systems Association's (MESA's) International Conference & Exposition in June, Robert A. McKeel, GE Cisco vice president of marketing, said results from the paper maker's $5 million investment included the following:
- Waste reduced by 35% because of improved scheduling
- Customer service department reduced from six employees to three, handling double the volume
- 70% of orders received online and routed to the plant floor
- Increased sales from $40 million to $70 million in three years, expect to hit $100 million this year
- Reduced delivery times reported by customers, from one week to two days
"Web-hosted e-manufacturing is where [the manufacturing world] is going," said Kevyn Renner, group manager of worldwide manufacturing market development for Sun Microsystems.
"Intranets—and the browser—is the dominant, low-cost vehicle to enable enterprise access to information," agreed Ram Prabhakar, EDS's director of strategy for manufacturing services and MESA International vice chairman.
Manufacturing execution systems (MES) software suppliers and systems integrators were being squeezed in recent years from the top by enterprise resource planning software suppliers and from the bottom by human-machine interface/supervisory control and data acquisition providers. Today, they are seeing renewed opportunities in the plant production space by helping manufacturers integrate numerous disparate systems.
These incompatible systems range from single-task factory machines driven by proprietary software to complex SAP business planning systems customized for one division but unable to share data with SAP systems at the organization's other divisions. Sources told Industrial Computing, for example, that a large chunk of Siemens' more than $920 million investment to transform itself into an e-business will go to link more than 100 SAP systems installed in different operations at different times.
"What's missing is tying the factory floor to the remainder of the chain—enterprise resource systems, the supply chain, and so on," said McKeel. There's "a ton of data from production systems" that decision makers cannot easily access, he said.
"A lot of systems are analog," McKeel observed, while others work on proprietary, specialized software developed for a specific application. One GE Cisco customer's plant, he said, has 35 separate networks.
MES Challenging to Deploy
"MES systems are notoriously difficult to deploy because their implementations require a high level of customization and integration to legacy systems," said Jonathan Siudut, IBM software development manager. "About 50% to 80% of the total business requirements are met not by the base functionality of MES software but by its customization, which lengthens implementation times and dramatically slows ROI," Siudut said.
"As product designs and changes are rolled out to manufacturing," the IBM executive continued, "reliance on manual operations and verbal communications is fraught with a loss of process integrity. Results are slower production cycles, reduced productivity, lower part quality, delayed customer response, and inaccurate cost accounting."
With help from Concentus Technology (www.concentus-com), Siudut, and IBM, the National Industrial Information Infrastructure Protocol (NIIIP) consortium has been working on a four-year advanced technology project called NIIIP-SMART (Solutions for MES-Adaptable Replicable Technology). Details can be found at NIIIP's Web site at smart.npo.org.
The consortium's goal was to produce a pilot demonstrating how workflow could be applied at the shop-floor level to deliver faster return on investment on integrating processes to manage engineering work requests (EWRs), work in progress (WIP), and MES.
Siudut said NIIIP-SMART developed "an easily customized, Java-based process engine that provides a process framework for dramatically speeding development, review, approval, and release of EWRs, orchestrating their execution via MES and MRP applications." It also provided "visibility and control over WIP," he said.
Prior to the pilot, conducted at a consortium member's computer component manufacturing plant, "paper EWRs required continuous, manually intensive tracking and reporting procedures," the IBM executive said. "Using the Java engine, which executes XML-defined workflows, NIIIP-SMART demonstrated automated, real-time tracking and reporting.
"XML is going to move very fast in manufacturing," Siudut predicted.
Consortium goals, he said, include the following:
- Reduce the time and cost of operating MES by using commercial off-the-shelf software, adopting standard architectures, liberating workflow from MES, and increasing the reuse of MES system components.
- Reduce the cost of ownership of MES software by enabling end-user integration and configuration of data models, processes, policy rules, goals, and user interfaces and supporting customized interoperations of multiple systems.
- Enable interoperability of MES solutions with internal and external systems.
When NIIIP's task is completed, "you're going to see a workflow solution that is extremely fast and very small," Siudut said.
MES systems "have made a lot of progress in the last 12 months by becoming more Internet aware, said Renner. Internet MES "is perfectly positioned to become the e-manufacturing hub," he predicted.
Collaboration, from the suppliers' suppliers to the customers' customers, is perhaps the most important ingredient of all lining the road to e-manufacturing success, experts agree.
"All e-business is collaboration, whether it's customer relationship management systems, supply chains, or portals," said Prabhakar.
A prime example of collaborative MES, Prabhakar said, is communications equipment giant Cisco Systems. Cisco manufactures only about 10% of its products, with 90% outsourced. However, emphasized McKeel, "Cisco maintains tight control over quality through a connected enterprise."
"Cisco doesn't touch [most of its] products. They take the order, design it, and ship it from Singapore [an outsourced plant] to the customer," Prabhakar said.
"Access to knowledge from manufacturing processes is increasingly required at different levels throughout the enterprise, and MES helps gain control of your environment," Prabhakar said. IC
Figures and Graphics
Jim Strothman is an associate editor for InTech.