Solving Enterprise Problems: The Fully-integrated Solution of IQMS

Fully-integrated Plant-level Solution

Superficially, there appears to be little to distinguish IQMS (, a small, quiet, privately-held company, from other lower-end enterprise application competitors. Its global presence, annual revenue, profile, and even its products may appear to have features akin, if not alike to its competitors. However, along with targeting a niche market of repetitive manufacturing, particularly for the injection plastics molding/extruding and rubber industries, this Paso Robles, California (US) company has other notable features. In particular, what may be true distinguishing is that IQMS offers applications and services typically expected from much larger, tier one vendors—often going beyond. Namely, the product is so complete that it does not involve third-party products (other than some reporting facilities). Its natively-built features go beyond the customer relationship management (CRM) or HR/Payroll capabilities, which are often found in other products, but only as third party solutions that are embedded, standard configurations leaving customers oblivious to modules' origins.

Part three of the IQMS Prospers by Helping Enterprises Work Smarter series

So how many other ERP vendors, including the largest ones, have natively built-in, real-time production monitoring, electronic data interchange (EDI), and complete quality management systems? Well, almost none when it comes to integrating ERP and manufacturing execution systems (MES). MES, as defined by the Manufacturing Enterprise Systems Association (MESA International) is essentially any system that uses current and accurate data, triggers, and reports on plant activities as events occur. From electronic production management systems to shop-floor data capture, an MES manages operations from the point-of-order-release to manufacturing, to point-of-product-delivery to finished goods. The potential of integrating and providing all elements of a complete manufacturing solution, at least from a same source, if not as a single computing platform, has always been tempting, and potentially lucrative. However, it has never been delivered, not even by the once mighty Invensys. The company that once had Baan, Marcam, Avantis, and Wonderware, and their respective ERP and MES products under its roof, never delivered the software together. (see The Name and Ownership Change Roulette Wheel for Marcam Stops at SSA Global—Part Three: Last-Ditch Effort by Invensys). For a detailed discussion of what integration means to manufacturers, see Manufacturer's Nirvana—Real-Time Actionable Information.

Thus, IQMS might be unique, not only within its mid-market realm, but in the entire ERP arena. By providing the powerful IQ RealTime Production Monitoring module, it ensures plant efficiency by identifying poor machine performance before problems occur. The module provides automatic production tracking by wiring hardware directly to production machines. A special user touch screen to simplify data entry can be created for shop floor personnel to provide a virtually real-time data flow to and from the shop floor. Thus it brings production and ERP information together and informs both office and plant personnel about what is exactly happening on the plant floor through color-coded screens. For example, yellow would indicate that a machine is down, while green would mean it is in production.

Captured real-time information can include cycle times, machine efficiency, and scrap percentage. The machine operator can enter timely production; backflush raw materials; print labels; change cavitation as necessary and "on the fly"; assign labor; record rejects with user-defined codes; enter downtime with user-defined codes; and view internal or external documents. With this last example, part production, setup control, material staging, quality control, overall plant performance etc. can be seen. All of these information chunks increase data integrity and reduce transaction costs, given that complete access to ERP functionality automatically updates the production schedule and generates production reports. Without such a module, gathering actual production information is a time consuming, tedious, and highly subjective task. The reconciliation of the actual data on the floor with the planned data in ERP is often delayed for days, if not weeks, resulting in no actionable information.

This is Part Three of a six-part note.

Part One presented the company background.

Part Two began a discussion of the market impact.

Part Four will review IQMS' Single Database Solution and quality management.

Part Five will cover integrated EDI and miscellaneous utilities.

Part Six will present challenges and make user recommendations.

Potential Benefits

There are multiple, potential benefits of intrinsic integration with ERP and the plant floor and gathering near real-time information. For one, such a system may transfer many data entry functions that are traditionally performed in the office directly to the manufacturing floor. As a result, material personnel can, for example, transact the issue of resin to and from machines on-line instead of turning in the material transfer paperwork to the office. Thus further delays are prevented. Additionally, the material can be classified as regrind immediately within the system, giving production planning a real-time inventory on the status of resin.

Production counts can also be automatically updated with the IQ RealTime Monitoring system and be verified by machine operators, giving supervisors constant feedback on how their shifts are performing. Production reports for completed jobs can then be generated and analyzed the day after the run is complete. In the past, this process typically would lag behind production by a few weeks.

All of this should bring the production floor and financial and planning departments closer together because they are working in concert instead of passing outdated paperwork back and forth. This could, in turn, encourage discussions on how to improve operations internally. Both teams will be able to communicate more openly and inform office staff when machines go down or if production is off target for a shift.

The system even offers touch screen time clock capabilities to input labor and automate timecards. Incidentally, the optional IQ Time & Attendance module is a broad time clock system that eliminates the need for a third-party time clock system that is typically implemented by ERP competitors—normally by partnering with the likes of Kronos. It also minimizes time required for labor data input.

The product generates payroll timecards or output file for external payroll systems (since native integration with the IQ Payroll module is available only in the US). It also generates more accurate job costing information by allowing labor tracking to specific tasks. The module provides links to labor reporting for production reporting or job costing in JobShopIQ, IQ Project manager, or IQ Preventive Maintenance modules, as required. IQ Time & Attendance also supports the visual scheduling of shifts and multiple devices for login, such as keyboard, "swipe" readers, and biometric scanners.

These illustrate the first great steps toward the manufacturer's nirvana of making every batch a great batch, or, in the language of plastic processors, to "ensure shot-to-shot" and "run-to-run repeatability". At the very least, terrible runs can be eliminated and the ranking of every run can be lifted, allowing for significant financial gain (for more details, see Process Manufacturers—Great Batch, Every Batch).

Cost Effective Warehouse Management System

Along similar lines is the wireless IQ Warehouse Management System (WMS) module that supports hand-held scanners, personal digital assistants (PDA), and radio frequency (RF) technology. Consequently it improves plant floor communications and lowers the cost of inventory data collection. This is done in conjunction with aiming for on-line updates in almost real-time (although this kind of functionality tends to be provided by many peer products, such as Made2Manage). The module handles a raft of inventory transactions such as receiving, manual adjustments, physical inventory, production entry or materials backflush, pick tickets, packing slips, etc. It also provides access to the information from IQ RealTime Production Monitoring like setup jobs, entered scrap, reported production, printed labels, or reported downtime codes. For automotive suppliers, another industry of interest for IQMS, the solution features a serialized inventory labeling system that is also Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) compliant.

Although these optional modules require additional shop floor user licensing and additional hardware, they are often a cost-effective production monitoring solution, allowing production information to be accessible from virtually anywhere. Accordingly, machine interface units (MIU) are mounted directly onto each machine control panel to capture and transfer machine cycle information to the machine monitoring unit (MMU). The data from each machine is collected through the RealTime Box and sent back to the Oracle database via an IQ RealTime workstation (a dedicated Microsoft Windows server). The capacity for each MMU is sixty-four machines.

For plastic shops requiring even more complex monitoring for molding, stamping, forming, extrusion, and assembly, there is the IQ Gate application programming interface (API). It is a gateway to Mattec Corporation' equivalent solution, one of the leading process monitoring products in the industry. Information transferred to Mattec includes production schedules or work order information, item data, and BOM data. EnterpriseIQ, however, captures production data from Mattec, such as cycle information, downtime intervals, and scrap information. The API thereby cross-references or maps scrap and downtime codes between EnterpriseIQ and Mattec. Data is automatically transferred via the IQ Alert notification system and at user-defined intervals for data exchange.

The role this API plays gives us a flavor for what is required to interface just two disparate systems and getting them to "talk to one another". This tedious job often falls into the IT department's lap, perhaps with help from vendors. Interfaces typically resemble a batch file upload process, with data mapped between two different systems so each can understand the other. Data mapping almost always requires custom work and an unnecessary "reinvention of the wheel", since the structure of the data is more or less always unique between the vendors' products. The interface, once written and tested, is valid until a vendor changes something in the software as part of a product update. With new versioning, the immense customization effort and annoyance starts all over again.

While some larger complex enterprises may need a best-of-breed solution to flexibly extend their activities into e-collaboration, managing this large application portfolio—much of which involves partnering or extensive integration and customization—is cumbersome to say the least. While the best-of-breed approach can have its merits, (see Best of Breed Versus Fully Integrated Software: The Pros and Cons, Single Source or Best of Breed— The Debate Continues, and Pure-Play CRM Vendors: Choose an Integrated or Best of Breed Solution?), we believe it consistently leads to additional integration costs and complicates service and support arrangements. Interfaces between components like ERP, CRM, WMS, MES, or e-business usually require significant tailoring. This can be a barrier to future changes as modified code needs to be further revised which is notoriously time consuming, costly, and risky. Moreover, these concoctions can also have a different "look-and-feel" across the range. For a more detailed discussion see Integrated Solutions: Look before You Leap.

Furthermore, the enterprise applications market (EAI) market is still nascent and fragmented, burdened with difficulties despite the advent of service-oriented architectures (SOA) and Web services (see Leveraging Technology to Maintain a Competitive Edge during Tough Economic Times—A Panel Discussion Analyzed). These caveats speak to the complex nature of EAI software and the power struggles currently taking place in the market. To illustrate, there are indications of the existence of more than a dozen dialects of extensible markup language (XML). In short, the bad news about interfaces comes from the need for continuous management and upgrade coordination; an increase in IT support staff; multiple software company maintenance contracts; and complications with report writing. Moreover, one should beware of financial (in)stability that may plague software providers. All of the involved providers may have different, even diverging business strategies, further complicating the management of a client's EAI.

On the contrary, a fully integrated extended-ERP product like EnterpriseIQ may completely eliminate all of these issues for small and medium manufacturing enterprises, especially ones with scarce IT skills. Namely, when the data is stored in the same database, there is no need to create and manage ungainly interfaces, because there is only one master application. Data visibility is inherent, since with the proper links, data can be gathered and disseminated in multiple ways, without delay.

Conversely, in most cases, multiple databases on the shop floor, like quality management data; production and warehousing real-time transactions; plant maintenance data; ERP master data, etc. are rarely in sync, making timely decision-making difficult and often inaccurate. This problem holds true any time information is kept in more than one location, since without a highly advanced method of synchronization, the chances of having accurate data stored in more than one location are small indeed.

If data is only synchronized on a batch mode basis daily, or even by shift, managers will still have difficulty making timely, accurate decisions. As a result all functions such as production planning, shipping, inventory control and purchasing, are impacted. Customer service is also handicapped as they attempt to serve customer requests for order status. In the worst cases, some data is never synchronized to the master ERP system and a serious communication void ensues. In the worst case scenario so-called "Islands of Automation" where various groups under the same roof, only concern themselves with their records and responsibilities, and never collaborate. In other words, the total environment is never addressed in a unified way.

This concludes Part Three of a six-part note.

Part One presented the company background.

Part Two began a discussion of the market impact.

Part Four will review IQMS' Single Database Solution and quality management.

Part Five will cover integrated EDI and miscellaneous utilities.

Part Six will present challenges and make user recommendations.

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