Curbing MESsy Shop Floor State of Affairs - Part III

Part II of this blog series expanded on some of TEC's earlier articles about companies' need for better links between the plant floor and the enterprise offices. It also pointed out the difficulties in achieving this noble idea, and gave examples of some vendors with success in providing integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution system (MES) solutions.

Another chronic problem is how to foster plant workers’ acceptance of integrated ERP, MES, and plant (operations) intelligence technologies.

The People Factor

As for the user interface (UI), it is extremely critical that it match the worker's job.  There is a saying that "the worker works the way the worker wants to work," and in any plant-level system the role-tailored and industry-specific UI is incredibly important to streamline, or "lean out," the tasks that are required.

This is why ERP systems have customarily been so poor at handling manufacturing execution: not necessarily that the functionalities don't exist in some ERP manufacturing offerings, but that it is too difficult for workers to input the necessary information. I fully agree with AMR Research’s 2007 alert entitled “CDC Software Delivers Operations Excellence in Plain English” that states:
“…Knowledge workers on the shop floor can’t waste time—downtime or overtime—filling out forms or navigating complex screens and menus to accomplish their goals…

…Role-based workflows, stored procedures, and no-nonsense user interfaces are designed to guide operations personnel through common scenarios. The UI is also designed to work with touch-screen interfaces, supporting simplified and rapid data-entry scenarios. This is a far cry from the historically cumbersome multi-page, multi-tab interfaces offered by traditional ERP systems.”

Such intuitive and engaging technologies might even help to overcome traditional cultural barriers between the enterprise and the plant, which are well depicted in the recent Optimal Solutions’ article:
“…Many plants, particularly those over a decade old, began as quasi-independent entities. As these plants evolved, a culture of isolationism often took hold.

Inside manufacturing plants, engineering, operations and information technology (IT) established fiefdoms. Over time, plant engineers, plant managers, process control operators and machinists learned to execute their respective functions while respecting each other’s turf. Overly intrusive corporate oversight was often kept at bay by hitting production numbers and keeping costs under control…”

AMR Research’s Manufacturing Peer Forum members say that unlocking the potential of plant operations personnel and letting them take ownership of the continuous improvement process (CIP) has been highly successful in operations.

Enter CDC Factory

This brings us to CDC Software’s CDC Factory, which is a packaged manufacturing execution and operations intelligence management system that transforms manufacturing performance by enabling operations people to take immediate action. The suite is aimed at, either in tandem with the sibling Ross ERP suite [evaluate this product] or any other ERP product for that matter, catering to the needs of midsize manufacturers in the food and beverage (F&B), pharmaceutical, and consumer packaged goods (CPG) industries.

Although CDC Factory is ERP-agnostic, future developments are meant to leverage the capabilities from Ross ERP and vice versa. Accordingly, the end of 2008 saw the Ross Factory module extending and expanding value for Ross ERP customers.

Along similar lines, in early 2009 CDC Factory should feature Trace Express, the Ross ERP system’s ability to trace orders and materials forward from suppliers and backward from customers with audit trails. In late 2008, the Ross BPM (Business Performance Management) 6.3 product was launched with a new UI, Microsoft SharePoint portal, and document management integration, which will be extended to CDC Factory at a later stage.

The CDC Factory users' empowerment and involvement is encouraged via a factory floor UI for capturing all real-time inputs, outputs, information, alerts, decision-making process and actions. Different plant roles (e.g., executives, managers, supervisors and operators) will have somewhat differently tailored screens serving the respective knowledge-worker. But in all cases, the UI features the Microsoft Office familiarity combined with consumer-style screens like automatic teller machine (ATM) or restaurant/retail shop point of sale (POS) terminals.

For example, a supervisor will see the following: many pertinent key performance indicators (KPIs) and other analytical information such as plant dashboards; the end of the shift summary; the end of the production run summary; top downtime reasons; quality adherence; tactical analysis, and so on.

Many best practices were built into the product as a natural extension of daily activities to facilitate managers and shop-floor workers to suggest and/or leverage common-sense CIP techniques.  These best practices can be in terms of working practices (e.g., standard operating procedures [SOPs] or good manufacturing practices, role accountability, etc.), key comparative metrics, comparable manufacturing processes, standard definitions, standard data (e.g., coding, failure codes, etc.), and so on.

Also incorporated are the business performance management (BPM), analysis, and workflow capabilities normally associated with total productive maintenance (TPM), total quality management (TQM), Six Sigma, and other lean manufacturing toolsets. All this without necessarily requiring the operators' intimate knowledge of this trendy academic terminology (which might sound like Greek to many plant folks).

For example, comparative factory KPIs would be: the factory's overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) trends, manufactured units per man-hour across plants, cost per unit (by product and/or product type), and on-time delivery. For its part, plant performance KPIs would be: performance by shift/product, plan attainment, downtime percentage, labor variance, and waste percentage. Finally, operation intelligence and analysis could provide KPIs like the categorization of downtime, reasons for yield loss, or reasons for slow running.

Nothing Without a Perfect Plant

SAP’s lofty Perfect Plant framework is not (and will hardly ever be) a standalone “off-the-shelf” solution. Rather, according to the vendor, SAP Perfect Plant is "a portfolio of products ringed by delivery partners, independent software vendors (ISVs), and system integrators.”

From acquisitions of former close ISV partners Lighthammer, Factory Logic, and Visiprise, SAP has strategically and systematically partnered with ISVs for building its vast ecosystem, and eventually acquired key vendors of plant-level solutions that bolster its Perfect Plant portfolio. I concur with Optimal Solutions’ assertion that SAP’s Lighthammer buy, however, stands out as a notable SAP Perfect Plant milestone. This solution quickly evolved into SAP’s Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence composite application (xMII), and is today known as SAP Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (SAP MII) application.

SAP MII serves as a plant-level integration hub for core enterprise transactional systems including SAP ERP [evaluate this product] and the rest of SAP Business Suite applications. Because it is built on the SAP NetWeaver service oriented architecture (SOA)-based business process platform, the product provides intimate and secure integration to the broad array of business processes available in these applications. SAP MII also connects to a diverse array of plant-level applications, ranging from manufacturing execution via supply chain execution (SCE) to industry-specific plant-floor functionality applications.

In short, with SAP MII and NetWeaver, the giant has given manufacturers both a linchpin application and an enterprise architectural model for achieving manufacturing-to-boardroom visibility. In addition to SAP MII and Visiprise (whose acquisition’s rationale merits a separate blog post), additional SAP plant-level applications central to its Perfect Plant framework include SAP xLPO for lean planning and operations and SAP VIP for visual information about plants (among many others). The latter solution evolved in a close alliance with NRX, whose asset information management solution addresses data migration, rapid hand-off of capital equipment operating details from builder to owner, and completing and commissioning of capital products.

In adherence to the aforementioned requirements regarding the necessity to empower and engage the plant worker, Visiprise MES, which has meanwhile been renamed SAP Manufacturing Execution (ME), has a configurable UI that adapts to the worker task.  Built in Java as a Web-based solution that has a zero-byte client-side requirement, the UI layer is completely separate from the business logic and data layer, allowing for the Web 2.0 experience of the Internet as an application.

In addition, the product was built with integration hooks to many existing applications (i.e., ERP, product lifecycle management [PLM], etc.), scalability and performance in mind. This was done in order to drive costs out of the deployment process and eliminate technology upgrade hassles.

Therefore, dear readers, what are your views, comments, opinions, etc. about CDC Software and SAP’s moves towards Perfect Plant and abut the plant-level software market in general? We would also be interested in your experiences with this software category (if you are an existing user) or in your current (possibly ineffective) practices, and your general interest to evaluate these solutions as prospective customers.
comments powered by Disqus