1/9/2007 | 8 MINUTE READ

Integrating The Manufacturing Enterprise

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Enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors have been very, very busy with acquisitions, new modules, and integrations. Here’s a snapshot of some new developments.


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Integrating production control and ERP

Two powerhouses have teamed up to link the shop floor to ERP. GE Fanuc Automation, Inc. (Charlottesville, VA; www.gefanuc.com/en/Industries/Automotive/index.html) has teamed up with SAP (Newtown Square, PA; www.sap.com) to jointly market GE Fanuc’s Production Management and SAP’s ERP systems. These two companies have integrated their respective systems to ensure the seamless bidirectional flow of production information, such as production schedules, quality performance, inventory consumption, and maintenance status. Goodbye sneakernet, paper pushing, and other manual workarounds. Goodbye time consuming coding efforts to integrate an event-driven control system with a transaction-oriented resource planning system.

A number of technologies operate behind the scenes here. For starters, a while back, SAP acquired Lighthammer Software Development Corp., which gave SAP a portal-based interface to access, view, and otherwise analyze the data sources (production equipment and controllers) on the plant floor, while reducing the complexity of building custom connections. (This is now SAP’s XMII product). GE Fanuc released Proficy Enterprise Connector in April ‘06, one of the modules in its Proficy Plant Applications suite, a manufacturing execution system (MES). The Proficy connector provides bidirectional integration between Proficy applications and ERP systems. The glue between these two is Business to Manufacturing Markup Language (B2MML), an eXtensible Markup Language (XML)-based approach for exchanging information-rich messages (as opposed to just data) between business applications.

Proficy Enterprise Connector comes with a number of B2MML-based templates to jumpstart the integration process. The GE Fanuc/SAP joint venture has configured those templates for the two companies’ systems. What’s interesting about this, explains John Leppiaho, GE Fanuc’s product manager for production management software, is that “using database transactions to exchange plant production and enterprise resource information makes it a lot easier for people to define the interactions between ERP and MES. This obviously is going to lower the total cost of ownership for organizations. But the tools that are being used and the capabilities of using things, like XML, to exchange this data, give users the opportunity to exchange additional information.”

For instance, explains John Dyck, director of production management software for GE Fanuc, ERP generates a production schedule or a broadcast that tells how much to produce by when. ERP’s assumptions are usually off, plant floor realities being what they are, but that’s where MES fits in. MES is monitoring all resources, utilizations, consumptions, and so on, as well as the completion of end-items. When work orders (WO) are completed, MES signals ERP to initiate real-time inventory replenishment or backflushing. That same machine utilization data collected by MES can be the trigger for SAP to issue maintenance WOs based on the more effective maintenance strategy of usage and time, instead of assumptions and predictions. “Without a holistic production management system in the plant to collect the data, contextualize it, and drive the appropriate systems, processes, and people, you’re running on three cylinders. You’re not going to be as effective as you could be,” says Dyck.


Focusing on planning and execution

“Over 50% of ERP implementations never get down to the planning and execution level,” claims Charlie Eggerding, vice president of the automotive group at QAD Inc. (Grand Rapids, MI; www.qad.com). And yet, he continues, today’s planning and execution is quite different than ERP algorithms of yesteryear, particularly those bought during Y2K upgrades. One major difference is the planning cycle. ERP generally manages in 24-hour buckets, but today’s automotive industry constantly changes its demand and communicates that demand through the supply chain in terms of hours and minutes. That demand then gets communicated down to production, which operates in terms of minutes and seconds. Spreadsheet planning just doesn’t cut it in such production environments.

From work with Johnson Controls, QAD introduced a just-in-time sequencing (JIT/S) module in June ‘06. This module manages sequenced production. (It does not, however, control inventory levels. That’s the job of manufacturing resource planning, MRP.) The module can plug into QAD’s MFG/PRO or any other ERP system. ERP tells JIT/S such data as items, bills of material (BOM), customers, and internal and external forecasts and production schedules. JIT/S balances these data with real-time customer requirements, on-hand balances, and production plans, and then returns sequenced production and shipment schedules, and backflush information.

Another QAD module, again developed with Johnson Controls and scheduled to be available in early 2007, is the Manufacturing Executing Workbench (MEW). MEW “works with the clock, not the calendar,” says Eggerding. “In effect, and this is a bad term to use, we’re doing ‘on-demand’ MRP.” Bad or not, that’s a fairly accurate description of the module. MEW is a continuously running, event-driven, real-time, on-line planning engine with full pegging. Any change (inventory, BOM, orders, shipments, etc.) immediately triggers planning to determine the effect of that change. The module schedules to forecast, production plan, or JIT schedule. Planning is done in hours and minutes rather than days (that is, bucketless planning using less-than-daily increments).

MEW includes three dashboards (called “workbenches”). The supplier workbench helps plan supplier releases. The production workbench helps answer whether required inventory is in-house to produce a selected item. The shipping workbench helps plan standard-pack shipments of finished goods to customers. “Every workbench supports multi-level pegging from the component item upwards to the customer end item,” explains Eggerding. Pegging displays full customer-demand details for all end items and provides calculation details, such as customer and supplier past due, inventory levels per location, calculated demand and panned quantities, and planning and order parameters.


Giving customers their way—by acquisition

Infor (Alpharetta, GA; www.infor.com) is only just over two years old. “It really is a conglomeration of many software companies,” admits Kevin Piotrowski, Infor’s director of industry and product marketing for automotive. “Our strategy has been: 10% organic growth and the rest from acquisition.”* Piotrowski says that the company doesn’t plan to consolidate the multitudinous products. Its plan is to match ERP systems with customers based on technology, customer size, and production environment—is the customer an IBM I-series shop? A Microsoft .NET shop? A Windows-based shop? Large, mid-sized, or small customer? Discrete, repetitive, mixed-mode? “We don’t focus on the name of the ERP system,” explains Piotrowski. Sure, all ERP suppliers say this, but Infor has a virtual warehouse full of different enterprise systems, including ERP, MES, maintenance, and supply chain. That’s not to say that Infor hasn’t done some cross pollination by transferring best business practices from one ERP system to another. For example, the Visual Quality module from Lilly Software is the basis of the quality module in recent versions of Trans4M ERP.


Designed, written, sourced—by one vendor

Unlike the Infor strategy, and others, of acquiring and reselling enterprise system, IQMS (Paso Robles, CA; www.iqms.com) has focused on growing its own. Randy Flamm, president and founder of IQMS is pretty emphatic about this. “We do all these things in a single database. We’re the single source. We’re not adding on by using third-parties,” he says.

Flamm points out that the main reason why several integration initiatives, such as service oriented architecture and XML, are coming out is because those enterprise software suppliers growing by acquisition are trying “to take some of the pain out of interfacing” their third-party “best-of-breed” products. That pain, for example, can come from a new version of a base system that no longer supports a particular interface or that wrecks the interface entirely. “If you have to write a lot of custom code to make a system fit where it wasn’t designed to fit, you run a risk the next time you try to update. That custom code also needs to be rewritten.”

If there is any drawback to this approach, admits Flamm, it is because IQMS is an Oracle shop. “We don’t run on anything but the Oracle database.”

EnterpriseIQ from IQMS has all the modules of a major modular ERP system, including manufacturing and shop floor planning, product lifecycle management, and for automotive customers, an integrated electronic data interchange server, advanced product quality planning, and a wireless warehouse management system. Also, IQMS has an on-machine monitoring system that feeds production data to a gateway that consolidates the production data (cycle counts and such) and feeds those data to the ERP system. Installation involves connecting a proprietary circuit board to each production machine. The board simply looks for contact closures within the machine’s controller, as opposed to pressures, temperatures, and such. However, from these simple closures come cycle counts, part counts, defective part counts, uptime, downtime, and more.

IQMS has had this system for years. In June ‘06, IQMS made it wireless. The EnterpriseIQ RealTime Wireless Production Monitoring System uses mesh network technology to connect the monitoring equipment together, and then to a gateway to the ERP system. A mesh network consists of a bunch of intelligent radio frequency transceivers—nodes—scattered over an area. The data hops—technically, the nodes relay data—from one part of the mesh to another until the data reach their destination. The network figures out the route from node to node, which can change depending on network traffic, node status, and ambient conditions. The benefits are twofold. First, there are no cumbersome wires and cables to install or to later avoid. Second, accurate production data is immediately accessible from any networked device, regardless of that device’s (or production machine’s) location.

* Infor’s acquisitions include SSA Global, which developed BPCS ERP, and had acquired ERP vendors ASK and Baan, and the PRMS ERP system from Computer Associates; Datastream, developers of Datastream 7i, a maintenance/enterprise asset management system; JBA and its System 21 ERP; Agilisys (formerly BrainNA, formerly CMI, suppliers of the automotive-focused Trans4M ERP system and the Web-based suppliers network, SupplyWeb), which had acquired Lilly Software (Visual Enterprise ERP system), Future Three, and Synapse; and recently, MAPICS (suppliers of MAPICS XA ERP), which had acquired Frontstep (formerly Symix, developers of SyteLine ERP). 

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