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PRODUCTIVITY IMPROVEMENT Turning towards greater plant transparency

Jul 18, 2019

A majority of manufacturers are looking for detailed visibility and transparency in their plant for a higher level of production, which needs to be achieved in an advanced mode. This is necessary for manufacturers to make cognizant, data-driven decisions. The article throws light on what needs to be done to achieve plant transparency, how operational data can allow plant managers to be aware of the complete effectiveness of their manufacturing systems, and how MES and MIS are aiding decision-makers throughout the enterprise. - Milind Kulkarni, Head of Business Development, at Industrial Automation, Siemens

On the pursuit to achieve the highpoint of quality control, manufacturers are gathering enormous amounts of information to understand and see accurately what is happening on the plant floor. This also calls for high amount of visibility and transparency to make the most of the production and processes being carried out.

Turn visibility into value with plant transparency

For many years, manufacturers have been perusing and seeking transparency for production information, processes and resources. Obtaining production plant transparency requires time, patience and due effort. Putting all this together, Manufacturing Resource Planning Systems are developed.

Manufacturing Resource Planning Systems consider the manufacturing shop floor like a black box. The tracking of work orders and required materials were the input for the black box and the finished products were the output of the black box. There was no emphasis or focus on the actual manufacturing stages while transforming work order and the material.

Many enterprises invested in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems with the thought that it would eventually improve visibility in manufacturing. However, the key topics remained out of focus while taking steps. They failed to add the ability to their manufacturing systems to unlock the operational data (manufacturing data mainly comprising of stage-wise production data, product data and production process data). The operational data can empower plant managers and executives to be informed about the overall efficacy of their manufacturing systems, enabling them to make timely decisions.

The new generation Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and Manufacturing Intelligence Systems (MIS) are now enabling the collection, presentation, and analysis of critical and real-time data being generated in various manufacturing stages of the plant. This helps the decision makers throughout the enterprise. Even the supply chain can respond to the findings in time, and control the throughput, quality and optimisation of manufacturing bottlenecks, if any. If streamlining and rationalisation of the manufacturing process with optimal energy & resource utilisation is the main objective, then having complete transparency of the entire manufacturing process is vital.

The existing state of the manufacturing industry

Manufacturers today can be classified into three categories:

Laggards: These manufacturers typically have semi-automatic or manual manufacturing processes and are struggling to achieve sustainability.

Manufacturers with industry average stature: These manufacturers have at least a partially automated set-up with some degree of integration. They typically work in a reactive fashion. They act upon or respond to the aggregated findings after things happen and later bring corrections.

Best-in-class manufacturers: These manufacturers have largely automated and integrated plants, including supply chain functions and warehouse management with real-time data capturing abilities. The data transparency can be in stages or a complete form, including the plant floor and the availability of dashboards with Business Intelligence (BI). This enables them to proactively make quick decisions to mitigate challenges and work more efficiently to deliver the best throughput with excellent quality parameters, avoiding bottlenecks. They are always ready to accept and cater to changing demands of the market.

Main requirements for plant transparency

All manufacturers need to be agile to cater to the constantly changing demands of the market for which a ‘flexible’ manufacturing set-up with complete transparency is the key. Plant transparency boosts one’s competitive edge and enables sustainable growth. The key objectives that will help implement the action plan for a flexible plant with transparency are as follows:

  • Define the degree of plant automation with standardisation required

  • Enable integrated plant set-up and not islands of automation

  • Bring in the ability of automation nodes within the plant to deliver real-time data

  • Procure adequate and proper software tools that provide the required BI and dashboards

One needs to imbibe the above points as an essential management philosophy. In the present age, the investments needed to start this journey are surely not exorbitant compared to the earlier times. A step-by-step approach for achieving the ultimate goal of a fully transparent plant is simple and effective.

While deciding on the automation scheme, standardisation approach and the adoption of the right software tools in a gradational manner that can be considered to ensure that the planned journey towards Industry 4.0 is hassle-free. Choosing the ‘right’ partner for this journey is pivotal, else it is a ‘penny wise pound foolish’ approach. One must look objectively and identify the league of manufacturers one belongs to, then deliberate, ideate and navigate through the journey to achieve the desired goal of digitalisation.

Achieving plant transparency

To achieve plant transparency, manufacturers need to discuss and understand various requirements in detail. A ‘fully transparent plant’ can be achieved in a progressive manner.

First, one needs to know where they stand on the pathway to achieve full plant transparency and decide on the next essential steps and milestones that need to be realised to achieve the ultimate objective. Once a clear objective is set and the objective analysis is completed, one needs to establish a core team of relevant members from different stages of SCM, sales, manufacturing, technology, project team or consultants, plant maintenance, delivery logistics (whatever is applicable based on the prevailing manufacturing set-up).

Second, one should list down the critical information/data essential for analysis and generating appropriate BI. The generated BI needs to be offered on a dashboard and prompt people to start the actions to mitigate changes with respect to a schedule change, product change, downtimes and asset management or any process which may be relevant to the specific manufacturing set-up. One should identify the possibilities of capturing this data from relevant nodes and needs to think about what automation is required to be deployed to achieve the desired data capture.

Choosing the right platform

Since many manufacturing processes are sequential and somehow interlinked with respect to their inputs and outputs, having various stages integrated through right ‘networks’ is also very important. This will enable easy information flow from one stage to the other.

Choosing the right platform for automation is also very critical as the PLC used therein needs to make the real-time data available to the upper layer in the easiest way. If the set-up has existing automation and no possibility of data pick-up from existing PLC, one needs to choose the right IoT gateway to enable the intended data pick-up rather than scrapping the existing PLC and replacing it with new technology devices. The essential point to remember is that for all the new equipment/machinery one is planning for, one should critically decide what PLC to choose to ensure the possibility of easy and direct data capture.

A scheme that people tend to use is that they collate the data in a Line SCADA or Plant SCADA and then connect to the upper layer where the software tools are incorporated to deduce the BI out of the captured data and provide the result/messages on a dashboard. This philosophy is neither right nor wrong. It purely depends upon the data type and the category that manufacturers want to pick and the extent of the data being critically real-time in the scheme of the data analysis process.

Leveraging ERP data

A thoughtful implementation of integrated MES can bring a great deal of success in achieving desired operational excellence. The goal is to leverage ERP data to drive plant production, pegging customer orders to work-in-process, providing visibility into operations, reporting on production and testing data relative to KPIs and providing the real-time information to decision makers so that they can respond rapidly to unexpected production issues and opportunities. To realise all this, having an integrated MES becomes essential.

  • Begin with modelling of the production environment using the appropriate MES tool kit

  • Consider business rules, capabilities and standard library components to create the basic structures for major processes

  • Legacy systems and real-time control are also to be integrated into the solution. This can help manufacturing decision makers receive quite a large amount of data out of their information which typically would be zero prior to MES.

  • Time-critical data, decision support tools, and most importantly, the ability to enact change, are made available via dashboards to decision makers throughout manufacturing

To conclude, choosing the right degree of automation at each stage of manufacturing, choosing the right automation platform and intermediates, having complete standardisation in terms of automation scheme and complete integration of various manufacturing stages are the essentials required to prepare the manufacturing plant for completely transparent operations.

Courtesy: Siemens

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  • Having various stages integrated through right ‘networks’ is very important

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