Managing Manufacturing Ops with Software-as-a-Service

Cloud- and subscription-based real-time systems are available for manufacturing operations management.

Leading2Lean, LLC ( focuses on identifying the abnormalities occurring on the plant floor: “Those gaps in the desired output versus the actuals,” says Keith Barr, the company’s president and CEO. The leap from abnormality management to manufacturing operations management (MOM), infused with lean execution tools, is now realized as CloudDISPATCH, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) manufacturing system that, explains Barr, provides “real-time dispatch, analytics and reporting, and integrated systems, eliminating dark spots throughout the organization.”

CloudDISPATCH does this “without sacrificing the power of existing solutions,” he continues. That is, no “rip and replace.” Instead, CloudDISPATCH overlays and ties existing disparate information systems together while providing a unified, correlated, real-time view of plant operations.

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Engines make it work

CloudDISPATCH consists of five modules, what Leading2Lean calls “engines.” Normally, companies start their CloudDISPATCH deployment with the Maintenance Engine. This module is a complete computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), including on-line maintenance history about every production line, piece of equipment, and maintenance technician; real-time operational availability/overall equipment effectiveness (OA/OEE) measurements capture; work order and spare parts modules; real-time document control; event scheduler; and reporting capabilities. Often, Barr points out, customers replace their existing CMMS with this engine.

The Lean Tools Engine provides real-time data about tasks, as well as specific tools to “help align the workforce around lean behaviors.” The Kaizen tool (continuous improvement), says Barr, makes it easy for employees to submit ideas for system improvement and receive feedback from co-workers. “It enables suggestions to be simply analyzed, categorized, prioritized, sorted, and managed, then it assigns each improvement to a person or people to execute on the idea.” The Yokoten tool (horizontal best-practice sharing) “quickly shares all Kaizen improvements across a company’s factory. Once the improvements are shared, they are implemented horizontally across plants and networks.”

The Production Engine is basically a manufacturing execution system (MES). The module includes production dashboards, scrap tracking, dynamic production calendar, operator training (including a closed-loop method to implement improvements to work standards, and the ability to verify and prompt operators to recertify upon login), and a plethora of reporting capabilities (including OEE, OA, scrap, and yield). These reports are accessible online and through Excel/CSV exports, and they can automatically be emailed to users at a frequency they choose. The module also includes escalation algorithms that automatically notify others about equipment failures, abnormalities, and other problems based on predefined parameters.

The Quality Assurance Engine manages in-process and post-production inspections (serial or lot-based), providing real-time defect information so quality teams can track defects, quality failures, and machine errors, as well as propagate improvements. Alerts are configurable based on severity, quantity, and duration, and defect-specific notifications can be defined by serial number or lot number. Reporting includes real-time Pareto charts; customizations (such as time and date range, inspection or product number); cross-inspection reporting (to view data by product or defect); and takt time to inspect individual items; and supplier performance.

The Systems Integration Engine enables CloudDISPATCH to fully integrate with enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise asset management/computerized maintenance management (EAM/CMMS), MES, MOM, and other “packaged” information systems from third-party systems such as IBM, Infor, J.D. Edwards, Made2Manage, Oracle, QAD, and SAP, as well as from programmable controllers and OPC servers supporting TCP/IP—while maintaining multi-layered security. This module is a standalone version of the CloudDISPATCH web-based API. Think of it as standardized middleware for platforms supported by Leading2Lean. These engines are web-based, fully-functioning and configurable APIs; they do not require additional seat licenses. They automatically synch data, pull parts and materials data from ERP, and eliminate the data double entry so common with integrated systems—in a way that’s as easy as making a web request.

Deploying CloudDISPATCH is quick. “We’re up and running in four to six weeks from the time the business decision is made to move forward. We’re able to do that because we’re not trying to define the perfect world,” says Barr. Instead, Leading2Lean comes in, trains the workforce and the local administrators in the plant on how the system works using real-world data, then flips the switch to “go live.” By the second week, users are is starting to tailor the system to local operations.

Last, in keeping with SaaS systems, says Barr, “There are no assets on the balance sheet to absorb if you make the business decision to change solutions. We're a subscription service. You pay only for what you use, and you maintain the flexibility to move to another solution depending on your business needs.” Customers subscribe to a site license based on the size of the customer’s enterprise. All that’s needed is a computing device with a web browser and sufficient internet connectivity to access the CloudDISPATCH URL.