Real-Time Shop Floor Integration, Simplified

  • Wednesday, 10 May 2017 00:00

Are you still using pen and paper to collect data from the shop floor? Your utilisation rate may be suffering. By Ed Potoczak, director of industry relations, IQMS

As a manufacturer, you know where your money is made – on the shop floor. And because workflow through your shop happens dynamically in real time, you need to move quickly as well.

However, the Aberdeen Group noted in its report “Bridging the ERP and Shop Floor Divide” that there is often a mismatch between the shop floor and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software that limits manufacturing performance.

Noting It All Down

In many manufacturing plants today, you can still see data being collected from the shop floor with pen and paper and then manually entered into spreadsheets and charts.

Usually this data is uploaded in batches or rekeyed manually to multiple dissimilar databases. Given that this manual process requires careful attention from multiple technicians and analysts, there is a risk that the data is already outdated or contains gaps and outright mistakes.

However, competing in the global market requires the ability to capture information from the shop floor in real time to prevent problems, drive quality, and enable the flexibility your customers require. You must consistently do more with less.

Left unchecked, issues like downtime, poor machine performance, rejects and overruns can quickly affect shipments and lead to unexpected costs that erode your profits. Moreover, without an enterprise system that is in synch with real-time shop floor data, these issues and problems can remain hidden and blunt any progress gained through lean process improvements.

Eliminating the Disconnect

Eliminating the disconnect between ERP and the shop floor is not easy—with too many applications to support and aging or custom systems to consider. Most legacy systems are hard to integrate, and those integrations need to be modified as vendors release updates and upgrades. Additionally, with the need to roll data between systems in batches, many sharing schemes make it difficult to get the right information to the people who need it in time for them to make critical business decisions.

The answer is to implement an information system that automatically collects, analyses and delivers insights in real time, providing the visibility and control you need to be competitive in today’s demand-driven economy.

Yet, with so much information about digital transformation, Industry 4.0, and smart manufacturing being written about, adopting new technology can seem daunting.

The good news is that early adopters among manufacturing companies have demonstrated how real innovation and resulting efficiencies are possible with thoughtful application of information and operating technologies.

Myth Versus Reality

ERP solutions such as this for metal fabrication usually requires
greater ongoing support from IT staff.

Manufacturers can approach shop floor integration through various means, and some methods are more complicated and expensive than others.

There is a common myth that ERP cannot be integrated well with shop floor systems in complex manufacturing settings. As a result, manufacturing execution systems (MES) and, more recently, manufacturing intelligence (IT dashboard applications have come to the forefront as layers designed to connect the shop floor to the ERP.

Yet in reality, because these “bolt-on” solutions are not native to the ERP system, they require higher levels of design and customisation before they can successfully be integrated. These solutions also usually require greater ongoing support from IT) staff. And, even with the extra cost and effort, they may not provide accurate or automated results.

Joining ERP & The Shop Floor

An effective approach is to have a single database that knits
ERP and shop floor capabilities into one comprehensive system.

Demand-driven manufacturing can really benefit from automation to respond rapidly to changes in areas, such as inventory, production status, customer requests, and compliance mandates. Legacy batch communications common in older information systems that rely on different databases do not occur frequently enough to provide actionable, in-the-moment insights to enable managers to make adjustments confidently.

While many manufacturers rely on multiple databases to store information, a more effective approach is to have single database that knits ERP and shop floor capabilities into one comprehensive system. This single database approach enables real-time communication that delivers a lean information flow across your entire supply chain—delivering better results with less effort and cost than batch-oriented solutions.

Further supporting real-time interactions are two powerful shop floor tools, production monitoring and process monitoring. They provide actionable metrics, alerts and reports for use anytime, anywhere, by anyone within your organisation to drive up quality, boost performance and improve your bottom line. Let’s learn more about these two solutions.

Automated Production and Process Monitoring

Production monitoring systems can send alerts to relevant
personnel when an equipment issue is detected.

Imagine the flip of a switch for every part produced or scrapped. By counting these flips as they occur on individual machines, production monitoring can determine how long it takes to make a part and how many parts are produced in each job run.

Because this basic production monitoring works in tandem with the ERP core logic, there should always be instantaneous communication of shop floor transactions with various aspects of the ERP system related to material consumption, inventory changes, and performance metrics such as overall equipment effectiveness reporting.

Production monitoring systems can include the option to use color-coded light sticks or an audible enunciator to convey machine performance to those who work on the shop floor. Alerts also can be sent to key technicians’ and managers’ emails and smartphones when an equipment issue is detected.

In contrast to basic production monitoring, automated process monitoring captures data through any sensing device or programmable logic controller.

Punching The Numbers

An unlimited number of critical process data parameters can be automatically collected and stored in a data historian as parts are being produced. Data capture occurs via queries of machine parameters pulled or pushed by the machine’s controller into the database at timed intervals or cycles.

This process monitoring module can capture critical data required for accurate product traceability as well as higher level applications. Through reporting tools, manufacturers can view overall products-made counts and then drill down to the process details, such as item number, work order details, manufacturing number, date and time, lot number, and any other user defined measurement parameters (pressure, speed, motor current, temperature, lubricant flow rates, and so on).

To take analysis one step further, technicians can view collected data in statistical process control charts, complete with incorporated run rules to alert key managers if anything is trending out of specification. This same technology enables automatic printing of labels at the work centres with a barcode and process details to affix to a part or container while the parts are being produced.

Because the data received is immediate and in one central location, it provides true power at every point in the production cycle over factors, such as labour and supplies, overruns, rejects, quality, and on-time delivery.

Timely Insights

An information system that shows collected data in real time
can provide the visibility and control one would need to be
competitive today.

With accurate, real-time data, you gain insights into how well or poorly machines are operating to target standards across an array of plant operations. Historical data is referenced when making the schedule and is used to automatically indicate what jobs will run best on what machines based on data, such as reject and cycle-time records. Any variances to standard that occur on the shop floor are instantly taken into account, allowing you to achieve better-than-average runs or prevent situations, such as having to reset a tool after a job has run.

Manufacturing companies that are using real-time production and process monitoring have seen many benefits. For example, one manufacturer assumed his utilisation rate was at 75 to 80 percent. However, the new comprehensive system revealed that true utilisation was closer to 50 percent. Now with real-time updates every second, the business has dramatically increased shop floor efficiency, and scrap has been reduced by 37 percent.

For the manufacturer, the true benefit is the bottom line: “We now know our true costs, and as a result, we’ve exponentially increased our profits. Any enterprise not exploiting the power of real-time shop floor data is already falling below the curve.”

Lights-Out Production A Reality

With ERP systems, fully automated cells that run 24 hours a
day, seven days a week are possible.

Another manufacturer has applied the concept of smart, connected manufacturing through its use of a comprehensive ERP system with production and process monitoring. The business now runs fully automated facilities where no direct labour is involved in the manufacturing process. In fact, the newest facility literally runs “lights out” and has received a U.S. patent for its process design.

Like many manufacturers, the company originally relied on a potpourri of Excel spreadsheets, Access databases, and legal pads—leaving it without a clear picture of production scheduling, inventory, and true manufacturing costs. Now with its ERP system in place, this innovator has 60 fully automated cells, including over a dozen in a remote facility that can run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The manufacturer’s head of production observes: “That level of automation allows us to set up the process and the job, and then run for prolonged periods of time. We’re able to consolidate the scheduling function into a single role, in which one person is able to schedule 60 machines, 10 to 15 setups per day, as well as all the raw material requirements needed for the day, week, or month for that run.”

From Head To Toe

Scheduling can be consolidated into a single role, where one
person is able to schedule multiple machines ans setups
needed for the day, week or a month.

The process is automated from the minute a sales order is entered, typically by an electronic data interchange (EDI) transaction from a customer’s ERP system directly into the demand system. Once the order is received, the schedule runs updates, a single scheduling function that recalculates demand. The system builds the buckets and work orders for every job and determines when raw material is needed based on run times and required ship dates from the customers. Then, all the functions are scheduled on the floor.

The system knows exactly how many hours a work order will need, and the real-time scheduling module can schedule out several weeks or more, including forecasts from customers for material demands. On a day-to-day activity basis, it is clear what needs to be running, what’s going to be scheduled tomorrow, and what materials need to be available for that schedule to function appropriately.

Even though the complexity ratio in the manufacturer’s products is high—with some 300 active individual part numbers, 120 raw materials, and 60 machines—the comprehensive functionality, monitoring, and planning logic manage this complexity with very limited input from managers. Typically, in a company of its size, these functions would be handled by four to six people. However, in this automated mode of operation, only one person manages it all.

Roadmap for Success

The manufacturers who are benefiting from ERP systems with automated production and process monitoring have taken a staged approach to implementing the solutions to manage their operations. From the early adopters, we have learned a few simple best practices that other manufacturing companies should consider applying.

  • Start with the end in mind. Be specific with your reasons and goals.
  • Pilot one or two manufacturing cells or business processes to gain experience with the tools.
  • Keep goals and deliverables simple to start. Expect to become more sophisticated over time as employees' comfort with the technology grows.
  • Analyse the planned verses actual return on investment (ROI) from the pilot; then create an investment and roll-out plan in phases.
  • Avoid custom solutions. Use standardised tools with parameter controls that let you adjust your results as needed.


Achieving efficiency in the supply chain and in your plant is now possible through the monitoring and automatic exchange of shop floor data in real time for daily processing and reporting. Moreover, by using a comprehensive ERP system with a single database for managing all data—and automated production and process monitoring—it is possible to support real-time shop floor interactions while avoiding the complications and costs of integrating third-party solutions.

As a result, even in complex manufacturing environments and across globally distributed supply chains, you now have the power to support 24/7, real-time shop floor production in today’s demand-driven environments.

APMEN Feature, Apr 2017

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  • Last modified on Wednesday, 19 April 2017 07:07
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