The manufacturing industry is undergoing technological transformation, but progress has been slow.! It is called as smart manufacturing solution which has the intelligence to solve problems and make quick decisions taking into account customers’ expectations and their subjectivity. It must be — self-adaptable (ability to detect abnormalities and taking decisions to recover from them), self-improving (ability to monitor and assess the performance of a manufacturing process) and self-healing (ability to monitor itself, diagnose root-causes of failure and recover from the failure).
Which systems generally integrate in manufacturing industries?
- Production data and machine condition data acquisition systems / SCADA
- Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES)
- MES Integration & Interface with Production Data like Schedules & Records
- ERP Integration & Interface with Business Data like Materials, Stocks & Inventories, Delivery & Invoicing
- Data Tracking and Part Genealogy Tracking
- Recipe and Batch Management
- Manufacturing intelligence & predictability
- Maintenance Management
- Quality Management
These days, main expectations of manufacturing industries are like – full integration of software and hardware within an industry and across supply chain, quick response to external changes and unexpected digital disruptions from internal and external manufacturing environments, communication, embodiment of human factors into manufacturing system, detect and gracefully recover from system failures and minimize their implications on the working environment.
At a lower level of complexity, “system integration” combines various components and subsystems jointly performing multiple functions into an entire system or platform to meet a specific requirement of a customer. Every project starts with the task of analyzing the needs of customer to determine what systems should integrate to meet the stated objectives of the manufacturing industry. New investments in the free flow of data between different systems will enable manufacturers to achieve new levels of efficiency and gain a competitive advantage in market. In order to achieve the desired outcome in a given project, solution architects and subject matter experts (SME’s, also called MES experts) methodically step through every aspect of a customer’s manufacturing process in order to understand “where they are currently”, and more importantly, “where they should be” and these shall go as part of our initial deliverables.
Manufacturing IT is very complex. By picking-up right technology stack, right COTS & technology stack used inside COTS, we can ensure to integrate various IT-OT systems (likewise Equipments, MES, ERP, CRM etc.) successfully in seamless manner. Developing a “technical design” becomes an important task for solution architect by discussing with SMEs and lead architects to detail overall solution that is both cost-effective and technically capable of meeting the system integration (or project) goals of a customer.
Many IT solution providers oftenly call the project as “Smart Manufacturing Solution”, but it has different meanings depending on who uses it & for what pupose. This is because, it involves combination of topics like MES, IoT, cloud computing, Edge Computing and Big Data Analytics. Given that every company will use some mix of the MES, IoT, cloud computing, Edge Computing and Big Data Analytics in its own smart manufacturing formula, it’s worth considering how the integral role of the system integrator relationship with manufacturers will be affected in the process.
These days, many manufacturing industries are adopting SaaS based solutions which are hosted by IT vendors inside cloud platforms. Such move of industries to SaaS model will impact manufacturing software solutions like MES, laboratory information management systems, and quality applications more than traditional automation technologies such as programmable logic controllers and supervisory control and data acquisition systems. As a result, system integrators will have to be ready to change their business model, at least in part, by offering subscription services or by focusing on other aspects of the business that may be less impacted by this transformation. Though this trend is most clear in the consumer market with products such as Office365 and Adobe Creative Suite, it is being adopted albeit more slowly—in manufacturing industries too.
System integrators may no longer be required as they once were, since the complexity of these initiatives is being reduced due to easier to deploy “as-a-service (SaaS)” technologies. And though it’s true that the complexity of adopting a single technology is shrinking, it is also true that integrating a set of significantly different technologies is required to develop a complete solution. In this sense, the role of system integrator retains its importance, precisely because of the ability to provide a broad set of skills—from IT and hardware knowledge to industrial communication and network security expertise. Plus, most companies today operate much leaner than in the past and no longer have the same level of interest in developing skills that aren’t core to their business.
Integration platforms that include middleware to provide a common language or standard connectors between systems can provide a better alternative to hard-coded system integrations. Example: OPC-UA for machine data acquisition, SOAP services for SAP integration, DB-Links for Oracle EBS integration etc.. These are optimized to deal with specific vendors’ technology stacks (especially those that have vendor-certified connectors and capabilities), and they are also optimized to integrate between vendor stacks.
System integration platforms can provide a strong ROI. Keeping a focus on long term benefits and putting a flexible infrastructure in place can result in the best ROI over time. Systems integration empowers manufacturers’ digital transformation journey, thereby enabling them to optimize business processes & provide a better customer experience. Also, as a result of integrating systems, business processes will be improved and can bring significant financial benefits. Integrating Shopfloor solutions with supplier IT systems will optimize inventories & also their space utilization due to better demand forecasting.
We have seen many use-cases for systems integration in manufacturing industries. To name few; integrating inventory and customer demand information increases operational efficiency and enables organizations to become more flexible. Demand changes that are recorded in an ERP system can be fed into manufacturing scheduler to ensure that quantities of products manufactured are more closely aligned with demand for leaner and more efficient manufacturing. Here, system integration can improve inventory management, thereby enabling materials to be ordered before they fall below a certain level, avoiding rush orders, and the degradation of customer service and additional costs incurred by requesting expedited deliveries. In addition, real-time information exchange between the business layer and the production layer can provide management with greater visibility for improved decision making.
Most shop-floor machinery is now powered by embedded sensors and controllers which are main enablers for IoT and Cloud Computing solutions development these days. Such projects often require implementation of internet of things (IoT) that streamlines and optimizes manufacturing processes by collecting information from a network of sensors, controllers, smartphones, tablets and other devices, and then sharing this data between CRM, ERP, and back-end financial and manufacturing systems. These projects won’t succeed without proper system integration. However, there are endless possibilities and before achieving the free flow of data between systems, manufacturers have to overcome several obstacles.
In such bigger projects, project managers will hold responsibility of hiring right skilled resources who can work on the project dedicatedly. Type of resources in team will vary from software developers to system integration experts who know the system very well. Many times solution architect discusses with system owners (like ERP administrators, MES experts etc.) and attempts to propose system integration solutions by choosing right technology stack. Project manager creates a detailed execution plan that outlines all of the needed technical resources and milestones for entire project. Therefore, having the right technical expertise available in a team is “very critical” to the success of a project. Sometimes customers will have in-house developed ERP/MES systems where integration with our solution becomes easy just by discussing with customer’s IT team. Most importantly, these days, every customer is looking for project to go live within short span of time, particularly in China region. This becomes a big challenge for any IT service provider to fast-track solution development, particularly in an agile way, that meets project goals by ensuring quality of deliverables.
Challenges in system integration projects
When the solution includes only a few components, for example integrating an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with a manufacturing execution system (MES), a hand-coded integration can often be the most sensible approach, because it is possible using in-house staff, where initial project costs are low. However, when integrating data between several systems, such as data centers at regional centers and at headquarters, or collecting data from smart devices or mobile devices deployed in the field, every connection with each application has to be developed separately. The result can be a spider-web of connections that takes longer to adapt to each new requirement, slowing down development times and increasing operating and maintenance costs.
This way, system integration in manufacturing solutions has many complexities. Systems are often created through the integration of subsystems that have been acquired from many different vendors and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Generally, there will be several different systems that need to be integrated, including MES, supply chain systems, product lifecycle management, ERP and CRM. Then there is a need to not only integrate with internal applications, but also with the core systems of key suppliers and customers over internet.
Other crucial capabilities include elasticity, resilience, fault-tolerance, as well as monitoring and performance management capabilities. Monitoring requirement might include not only IT-OT systems performance monitoring, but also their logs and workflow progress monitoring and IT infrastructure monitoring where those IT-OT systems are deployed. Monitoring is vital for guaranteed message delivery, otherwise it will certainly help IT teams to trace the errors & troubleshoot the problems very quickly. This will also help IT teams to take preventive measures on IT system disasters thereby yielding reduced MTTR for IT infrastructure elements. If a IT-OT system fails during data transmission, the integration tool can recognize the error and resend the data. Transmissions that can’t be sent can be automatically cached, and many systems include extra resources that can handle sudden peaks in demand.
As a manufacturing IT solution provider, to play an active role, a system integrator will still have to develop the skills required for the industries they serve in order to be a credible and reliable partner. They need to support the traditional business model, however at the same time, they need to be ready to support customers who ask for new skills. The time available for system integrators to make this arrangement is very short. The market is changing fast and predictions are that an exponential acceleration is coming, which is likely to put any system integrator who is not prepared for it will be in serious difficulty.!!!
Benefits of successful system integration
Benefits of a real-time integrated enterprise platform for smart manufacturing include…
- Accelerate time to market for innovative products
- Ensures reliable integration between enterprise applications and operating systems at the shop floor
- Future-proof the IT investment with flexibility to easily switch best-in-class functional modules
- Gain insight you can act on with metrics acquired directly from transacting the business process model
- Increase speed and accuracy throughout the extended value chain
- Reduce total cost of ownership with simplified management across the platform by leveraging plug and play integration
20 thoughts on “System integration complexities and challenges in manufacturing industry solutions”
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