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The logical ultimate in the evolution of mass production was automation. In its ideal form, automation implied elimination of all manual labor and introduction of automatic controls, assuring accuracy and improving quality beyond human skills. In the past, various business and production processes formed the ‘automated islands’ within the enterprise. Therefore, the quest towards integrated enterprise continued. And in today’s environment business operations are becoming more entwined with the plant floor. Connecting the enterprise business system to the plant has high value in today’s market where manufacturing enterprises are moving from an era of mass production toward “mass customization.

Therefore, business and plant systems must be tightly coupled to reduce decision cycle times and increase plant productivity. Customer focus is the major driving force for manufacturers to integrate the top floor with the shop floor. Customers are always looking for something new and innovative to buy - the Internet is fueling that interest. This trend requires a constant flow of new products from engineering group to manufacturing, which in turn, requires collaboration between sales, engineering, manufacturing, and suppliers - all happening at e-speeds. The customer is king in the eBusiness era, and you need to become highly responsive to customer needs.” According to him, all enterprise and plant operations must be optimized and continuously improved for eBusiness success. The model is production-centric, and encourages, the manufacturer to plan, control, and optimize the enterprise, plant, and design systems throughout the entire global enterprise. Some of the other motivators are :

  • Many manufacturers have invested in core technologies including PCs, networks, enterprise systems, database systems, control devices, and PLCs. The key to long-term productivity gains lies in the top to shop floor integration of these technologies. Integrating the top floor with the shop floor means taking enterprise resource planning (ERP) to the next stage, allowing companies to take information from one business function, combine it with information from another, and use that knowledge to deliver better products and develop more efficient processes. This requires the flow of information between business planning systems and plant floor production systems so that the efficient flow of information throughout organization takes place in a timely manner ensuring that the right information gets to the right people. Dr Rainer Besold of Siemens believes that PC –based integrated systems and intelligent devices will supplant PLCs by 2010.
  • All of the above, in turn, improves employee productivity by closing the gap between business planning systems and plant floor production systems. Employees are provided production and maintenance plans and schedules on a real time basis. Actual production information is integrated with billing/financial, purchasing and Supply Chain Management systems. The seamless integration of systems allows for the bidirectional flow of information resulting in more productive employees.
  • The ability to achieve ‘virtual’ Supply Chain integration by means of Internet technology will lead to a fundamental shift in the purpose of manufacturing systems. Affordable inter-company collaboration will take inventory out of the store house.
  • As we are asking front-line employees to get more done with less, we must enhance the odds of an employee doing their job correctly by providing them real time guidance. Operational method sheets/screens provide graphical work instructions, quality control procedures, and parts required for each process. Best practices must be documented and shared in efforts to improve overall product quality. The absolute integration would prevent errors before they occur by providing employees guidance and real-time instructions. It also focuses on the integration of information between automated systems to ensure product is built to customer specifications and scrap is minimized.
  • A considerable amount of time each day is spent coordinating ERP systems with shop-floor production systems. Integration would close the gap between business planning systems and plant-floor production systems.
  • Employees would get production and maintenance plans and schedules on a real time basis.

Therefore, business reasons for top and shop floor integration can be summerised as:

  • Fully integrated process planning, providing plant managers with enhanced operational visibility and improved plant performance (reduced rework, shorter lead times, increase capacity, reduced costs)
  • Cycle time - reduce time from product order placement to customer delivery
  • Supply Chain efficiency improvements -reduce operational costs and inventory, improve delivery reliability, response time and customer service
  • Reduce magnitude and complexity of production management reporting - minimise manual entry problems; eliminate the manual calculations often required; and increase the volume of data that can be handled
  • Asset efficiency - operate at capacity, with timely condition-based maintenance which uses actual
  • operating hours, number of starts, and/ or alarms (temperature, pressure, vibration) to trigger maintenance rather than strictly calendar-based maintenance programs
  • Customer service – analyse tradeoffs to satisfy business objectives of reducing operational costs and inventory, improving delivery reliability and response time, and service to the customer
  • Available-to-Promise – provide reliable delivery dates to customer (when order taken) based on finished goods inventory, production plan, raw materials, etc

The traits of a good collaborative enterprise solution are:

  • Cut costs while helping business maintain and even increase customer value
  • Reduce inter-corporate overhead
  • Create models to understand and capture cross-company ROI
  • Ensure rapid, seamless delivery of service and value with real-time data exchange and automated processes
  • Make it easier for business partners to interact with company
  • Leverage purchasing power with vendors
  • Enable independent business units to operate as one integrated company
  • Gain insights into the knowledge-driven economy
  • Identify opportunities for exploiting developments in the Internet n Develop strategies that exploit
  • knowledge assets and ways of working and marketing virtually
  • Work more effectively as a knowledge worker in globally distributed teams
  • Develop enterprise-wide knowledge management program
  •  Build virtual organizations that maximize business opportunities and minimize risk