Manufacturers must be fully connected and integrated

Fred White, ThomasNet
Tags: business management

Technological advances permit maximum connectedness in manufacturing. If the plant you work at hasn’t integrated all areas, the ability to report for compliance or track for recalls may not be fully realized.

Techworld recently assured us that a company’s business system should be able to act on information gathered in real time. The introduction of switched networks and gigabit speeds to cut latency and congestion on key network sections had kept system integration minimal. However, with today’s technology, there is no excuse for not connecting manufacturing with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other back-office systems.

Techworld calls for actionable monitoring rather than monitoring without control. “The highest fidelity of data is the production system – for example, for predictive maintenance or capacity planning. ERP deals with factories as black boxes; it doesn’t know about line speeds, paint volumes or whatever. So SAP doesn’t know how far a production has run,” says Kevin Roach, vice president of manufacturing at Rockwell, in the article.

Beyond the technical challenge of leveraging connectedness to outcompete “the other guy,” there may be an internal culture divide to conquer. Traditionally, in companies in which information technology (IT) and production engineering were distinct “towers” in an organization, learning to work as a team could be an experience that takes some time. Techworld reports, “… What works is when you have cross-functional teams. The No. 2 thing is executive support. You’ve got to drive standards, too, and harmonize processes across the organization.” IT has to fully comprehend that downtime is not an option, according to the article.

Given the strong interest in rapid prototyping to please fickle customers, this technology may drive IT and production engineering into harmony whether the members of both camps want to willingly cooperate or not. Production engineering may have to accelerate adjusting production in many ways. And IT may have to supply data to top managers on how these changes are affecting customer satisfaction, productivity, profitability, shipping, delivery, quality and more. In terms of lifestyle, this could mean if you’re working, you’re going to be compelled to learn more quickly and you’re going work faster than you ever imagined possible.

Roach quotes figures from AMR Research showing that manufacturing was the second-largest proportion of IT spend after ERP in 2006. He predicts it will become No. 1 this year. However, unless those two big areas are connected, “companies will never realize the full benefit of either.”

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