Production Intelligence--Improving Production by Filling a Traditional Gap

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In most plants, a systems gap exists between the corporate systems (ERP, SCM, CRMS, etc.) and the plant systems (MES, LIMS, maintenance, etc.) As with any integration gap, the value of both sets of systems cannot be fully leveraged without integration. We are seeing a relatively new set of applications aimed at both integrating the plant and corporate systems plus providing an integrated view not available from either set of systems. Production intelligence is improving plant operations.

What IS Production Intelligence?

Systems in the typical plant are not well integrated; they are a series of islands. The plant often has portions of corporate systems performing production management functions, like inventory, scheduling, costing, etc. Plants often have a series of plant level systems performing production execution functions, like quality, maintenance, machine monitoring and control, etc. At both the levels, integration among those systems may not be fully accomplished. Plants often have multiple systems that are poorly linked or not linked at all.

Production intelligence solutions integrates these various systems, correlates the information, and provides a variety of services including aggregation, analysis, reporting, and visualization. Therefore, flow data from the controls system can be translated into inventory transactions and quality data can be used to evaluate maintenance needs. Work order information from the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system can feed the manufacturing execution system (MES ) system. Multiple sources of data can yield key performance indicators like operational equipment efficiency (OEE), return on assets (ROA), energy utilization, production performance and quality trends.

Production intelligence solutions enable corporate, plant, and production managers to improve production efficiency, performance, and profitability by transforming and presenting real time information in business context throughout the enterprise.


Production intelligence vendors suggest the following benefits:

  • Increased production efficiencies
  • Increased asset utilization
  • Improved product quality and consistency
  • Reduced waste and compliance with emissions targets
  • Enterprise wide access to plant data and business systems

By connecting, transforming, and presenting information in real time, throughout the enterprise, production intelligence solutions reveal opportunities that allow the business to increase performance, efficiency, and profitability.

Decision-making can be improved through production intelligence's key performance indicators (KPIs) delivered to a digital dashboard. The digital dashboard is an individualized, often real time, view of key metrics. Production intelligence can transform plant-centric KPIs into measures that reflect and support business strategies. Consistent metrics allows plant personnel to align with corporate decision-making, and ensures consistent measurement, optimization, and the drive towards the same goals from the boardroom to the plant floor.

Production intelligence enables many stakeholders to improve their contribution. Corporate managers can better understand plant operations and its impact on cost, inventories, and customer satisfaction. Management can also compare information between different production lines or plants identifying opportunities and diagnosing problems. Comparing plant operations among plants can both standardize operations and spread best practices across the enterprise.

Plant managers can get a total picture of their plants including the relation between the plant and corporate. Plant KPIs that reflect corporate objectives will allow the plant manager to align their plant with the bigger picture. Integrating business information with plant KPIs allows plant managers to maximize asset utilization and measure yields, downtime, quality or material waste, and determine a course of action to improve performance.

Maintenance engineers can view production and quality results as part of maintenance diagnosis and planning. Maintenance engineers can increase asset effectiveness, track equipment statistics, such as run hours and number of overloads, optimize service intervals, and reduce bottlenecks and unscheduled stoppages.

Process engineers can use maintenance, quality, and performance information to identify areas that require improvement such as quality procedures and standards, diagnosing bottle necks, increasing response time, streamlining scheduling, and analysing equipment failures.

Quality assurance personnel can understand the production environment to more fully correlate quality with production. Quality assurance personnel can compare plant production against specifications and environmental regulations, analyse quality implications, and automate record keeping and reports.

The ultimate objective is improved customer satisfaction and financial performance. Production intelligence contributes to customer satisfaction through improved customer service, product quality, and speed of delivery due to operational performance improvements, and improved product quality and consistency.


Production intelligence is becoming a critical element. A sampling of vendors includes CiTect and Aegis who have built solutions specifically for the production intelligence role. Datasweep, EMT, and Lighthammer were founded on the concept. Others have created operational data stores (Camstar, nMetric, Visiprise) and dashboards for operational metrics (Apriso, Aspen Technology). Data historian-based products correlate processes and product results over time (Aspen Technology, GE Fanuc, OSIsoft's PI).


Enterprises understand the value of integration. One area that has been ignored is the plant. Plant systems and corporate systems must be complementary and leverage each other to provide their maximum value. Production intelligence provides both integration and valuable information not available in either type of system.

About the Author

Olin Thompson is a principal of Process ERP Partners. He has over twenty-five years experience as an executive in the software industry. Thompson has been called "the Father of Process ERP." He is a frequent author and an award-winning speaker on topics of gaining value from ERP, SCP, e-commerce, and the impact of technology on industry.

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