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Wendy Stanley

Lean

Eliminate Technology Silos to Ensure Quality in Manufacturing Processes

PLM, MES, QMS, and ERP work best when they work together

Published: Wednesday, July 1, 2020 - 12:03

Today’s manufacturers have plenty of software solution options that are meant to enhance their productivity. You may be familiar with each of these software packages. However, if you are not, it is important to understand what each of these software packages are designed to deliver.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP): ERP systems help you to focus on the business aspects of your manufacturing processes. This includes things like supply and demand, scheduling, actual costs, accounting, and more. In essence, ERP tracks the execution of the business aspects of manufacturing. But while an ERP system offers high-level tracking of many business operations, it may have gaps in specific functionality. These gaps are often filled by additional software like PLM, MES, or QMS.

Production life-cycle management (PLM): The PLM system was developed to help track processes and product innovation. As such, it focuses on design, development, and production planning. In other words, PLM focuses on the innovation of your product line.

Manufacturing execution systems (MES): When an MES is used, it helps to track the entire manufacturing process, from the initial purchase of raw materials to the final product. The majority of MES provide real-time updates that help you control different aspects of your production line. In short, MES helps to track the management and execution of product assembly.

Quality management systems (QMS): QMS help manufacturers monitor and manage the quality of their processes. They also help them to document these processes and ensures that they remain compliant with any regulatory standards or quality tolerances.

The downside of technology solutions

Technology is ever-evolving, and there’s a software solution for almost any purpose. However, when these software packages work independently of each other, it can actually decrease the effectiveness of your business and overall production.

Using a multitude of systems that help run a manufacturing business can create technology silos that actually hinder your processes and slow progress. This may sound counterintuitive because the software you invest in is meant to help expand your business and streamline processes.

However, when these systems are not integrated with each other, they fail to share vital data, and that can negatively impact daily operations, sales, and long-term investment predictions. This creates what is commonly referred to as a “technology silo.”

A technology silo occurs when the databases and management systems operating within a business are unable to communicate and work with each other. When silos occur, they create individualized, compartmental approaches to manufacturing management. To combat this, manufacturers need to minimize, if not eliminate, technology silos and create a unified operation.

Impacts of technology silos

According to a Honeywell survey, 46 percent of manufacturers agree that implementing and using data analytics is no longer optional. Even so, collecting data is only half the problem. All those data need to be put to use. Unfortunately, studies show that a surprisingly small amount of the available data is analyzed. A recent Forrester report shows that between 60 percent and 73 percent of all data within an enterprise go unused for analytics.

Technology silos establish a system of individualized and compartmentalized departments within an organization. When data are not shared or are difficult to extract and translate between systems, they make a company slow to respond to emerging needs and process improvements that can save time and money in the end.

With most technology silos, data are not easily or quickly accessible. Also, the validity of the data is questionable due to human error or time delays. This may be the result of several factors.

First, without automatic identification and data capture (AIDC), data may need to be hand-keyed. This is a time-consuming and error-prone process. This is true especially if the process takes place across multiple systems. Often data are written on paper or entered into spreadsheets. Then, they are transferred into a software system by hand.

Second, once entered into your software, the data reside only in one system. Not only does this mean a comprehensive report takes longer to access, it also means the data you export and compile are already out of date by the time you receive them. Reports must be exported from each separate system. Then, someone must aggregate the data into a format that allows for analysis. This can have serious repercussions when decisions must be made quickly.

Even if data are collected by a barcoding or RFID solution, without system integration, you’re still facing a technology silo. Often the AIDC stands alone. This means that data will need to be batch-imported into your ERP or backend system, further delaying access to your metrics.

Creating a unified process

Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to eliminate silos. Let us look more closely at integrating ERP, PLM, MES, and QMS. When your MES system is integrated into your ERP software, it syncs customer orders with your inventory data to provide the most accurate data relating to demand, material consumption, and performance metrics. By integrating just these two systems alone, manufacturers have the tools to make decisions based on real-time information that allows them to better fine-tune their production management and resources.

Integrating your MES and PLM systems eliminates another data silo. It’s true that a PLM system is designed to capture all product records, from concept to production, including bills of material, process changes, and more. But integrating your MES helps fill in data gaps that can slow your production cycles and create inaccurate reports. MES and PLM integration also provides manufacturers with an easier way to tailor production to meet specific requirements.

Finally, integrating your QMS system brings visibility to your quality processes. You can trust that key metrics are available through real-time data. These data may include quality documents, scheduling, and audit reports.

When you integrate all four systems—ERP, PLM. MES, and QMS—you are provided with a clear picture of every aspect of your manufacturing process. Not only do you have the most accurate data available, you also have the ability to drill down into micro-details should you want a comprehensive understanding of what is going on. In fact, organizations that make it a priority to discover and analyze relevant data could generate an extra $430 billion in productivity, according to IDC research.

Completing the data puzzle

It’s clear that big data carries big benefits for manufacturing operations. Technology such as ERP or QMS systems offer specialized data capture. But, alone, they’re just pieces of the puzzle. To get a full view of your manufacturing operations, systems integration is key to bringing all the pieces together. Only then can you make the most of your data.

Discuss

About The Author

Wendy Stanley’s picture

Wendy Stanley

Wendy Stanley is Marketing Director for Radley Corporation, a leading developer of productivity software. Since 1974, Radley Corporation has helped over 600 customers in 30 countries streamline workflows and automate processes. Radley’s integration services help manufacturers with ERP integration and connectivity to back-end systems.

Comments

Integration

Thanks Wendy, 

A useful article. You are absolutely correct that each package (ERP, PLM, QMS, MES) have a purpose and some of the vendor's solutions are great at doing it. Each system tends to be its own master data holder and rarely share their valuable information. Integration of data should be easier than it is. There are several reasons why it rarely happens. There is rarely a person that understands the details of multiple systems well enough. The developers or integrators tend to be selfish, their first reaction is typically we can do that, and rarely consider what is the best solution. One of many examples of integration gone wrong is a very recent SAP rollout. The SAP integrators best offer was to generate an overnight CSV file holding production run data for the operators. With multiple production changes currently occurring hourly (which is an issue), they were offering an unusable solution. We wanted the latest information in realtime from the new system so that we could continue to automatically verify actual material was valid at the point of selection.  Effectively they are going backwards, and are asking operators to bypass the system and they will end up with bad data. The answer we get is along the lines of let's see how it goes, they are the experts and know best, I am sure they have considered the consequences of that.

The lines between the various systems are often too strong, there is a lot of shared information. MES systems tend to be the best at sharing data, but I may be saying that because they are the systems I have been involved with most.

Integration is hard work but well worth the effort of getting it right. understanding the data, where it is best used, held and sourced is a key.