Embrace manufacturing convergence to optimise plant agility
Manufacturing convergence is one of today's hot topics, but is it just a theoretical discussion or can it be a practicality reality? We talk to Rockwell Automation Business Leader Mike Loughran about the benefits of integration.
It seemed like a great idea at the time. The people in marketing came up with a great promotional idea for the month that would really drive up sales. And it turned out to be a fantastic idea, because the orders came pouring in. The orders trickled down to the plant via the usual paper processing system - a bit slow, but that's the way it had always been done. Unfortunately, between being checked and being implemented a large chunk of the order wasn't seen for a couple of days. When the paperwork finally got to the line, the plant was already well into its normally monthly cycle. Putting the new orders through the line was really going to stretch capacity. The only way to do it would be to delay other products, perhaps put on an extra shift.
So it probably wasn't too much of a surprise at the end of the month when you found that numerous orders were late, everyone was stressed, and the profits you'd forecast from the promotion had spectacularly failed to materialise.
Suppose instead that marketing, logistics, management, manufacturing and the wider supply chain are all much more closely linked. The business systems are fully aware of stock levels, raw materials supply capability, the capacity of the production lines - not just in this plant but in all of your plants - and the precise status of all existing orders. All facets and assets of all plants are automatically communicating their status and capability. Now if you want to run a similar monthly promotion, you know before you start that you will definitely be able to act on orders responsively, at the most appropriate plants, and track those orders right through production to despatch. You have the agility to respond to market demand and can readily capitalise on opportunities and maximise profitability.
This is the story of manufacturing convergence - the merging of traditionally separate functions and systems to create new capabilities. It's about information, control and communications, and it's about people, processes and technology all working as one. The question is, though, is it simply a theoretical paradigm, or can it be made a working reality?
The driver for manufacturing convergence is integration: machine-to-machine, line-to-line, to and from the higher-level systems, and plant-to-plant. It's also about communications to external suppliers and customers - tying supply of raw materials and other logistics functions to the plant, and establishing links with customers so as to be able to respond immediately and flexibly to market demands. You can look at the performance of all plants in real time, regardless of where in the world they might be, benchmark them, and utilise them to best strategic effect.
Connecting to the plant floor
To an extent, most businesses have already started along a path of convergence. Those who have been through ERP or SAP implementations will have been rewarded with greater agility at the higher level system level, establishing seamless communications through the supply chain. But that shouldn't be the end of the path; the next logical step is to connect the higher-level systems to the plant floor - indeed, to every plant floor in every manufacturing facility - and so be able to follow orders right through the manufacturing system.
This level of integration demands a new focus on communications capability. With the adoption of Ethernet as the network standard of choice at all levels of the enterprise, it is a simple matter to link manufacturing into the wider enterprise and begin to reap the benefits of true convergence.
If the feasibility of manufacturing convergence seams somewhat daunting, the good news is that implementing it doesn't need to be an all-or-nothing decision. Ethernet has long been the communications standard of the higher-level enterprise, and it has now become the de facto standard at machine and plant level too. You might not need the broadest implementation of manufacturing convergence right now, but if you have Ethernet as your communications backbone then you can integrate systems as required. Without Ethernet as your plant floor standard, you already have a communications impasse.
Rockwell Automation has made its commitment to open Ethernet through network standards such as EtherNet/IP and through its partnership with Cisco, so bridging the technical and cultural gaps between plant-floor and higher-level business systems. Through collaboration on products, services and educational resources, Rockwell Automation and Cisco are helping manufacturers to simplify their network architecture and tightly integrate technical and business systems.
As a ubiquitous networking standard Ethernet is inherently future-proofed. You might well be looking to run equipment on a 10-15 year lifecycle; by ensuring your equipment is Ethernet enabled, you know that you'll be able to connect it into your enterprise systems when you're ready. You've future-proofed your assets instead of leaving yourself facing the potential cost of having to invest in new equipment a few years down the line.
The ability to scale up your integration gradually means you can look first at the areas of manufacturing that are most important to your business or that you can get the greatest value from, and bring in other areas of the business as you go along. Suppose that an overriding driver is your commitment to reduce your carbon footprint; that might be through minimising packaging or reducing scrap or lowering energy use. With the higher level systems communicating with the plant floor over Ethernet, you can open up connections at relevant points on your machinery and production lines and gather data, then use that data in real time to optimise your processes.
With that done, you can move onto the next KPI. Perhaps that is benchmarking the performance of different plants, monitoring capacity, simplifying maintenance or maximising availability. Over time, you will build a platform of manufacturing convergence one KPI at a time.
You can begin to realise other benefits, too. What about enabling customers to track products as they are made, by giving them a window into the plant over the network? If the prospect of customers having access to the network fills you with dread - especially after the recent number of high profile security scares linked to SCADA systems - then it needn't, provided you have given proper consideration to network security. And it's worth giving proper consideration to, because the benefits for product sales in building greater interaction with customers are enormous. Again, manufacturing convergence is at its heart.
For those who embrace manufacturing convergence the rewards are enormous. Companies have it within their grasp to achieve higher levels of business performance, turn resources into assets and discover unique opportunities for competitiveness.
Other News from Rockwell Automation
Latest news about Editorial features
- The first of your July issues of Industrial Technology EXTRA
- Your new issue of Industrial Technology EXTRA - 29 June
- Analog Devices wins Transatlantic Growth Award
- Industrial Technology EXTRA - 22 June
- Visit our virtual exhibition stand
- Your Industrial Technology EXTRA for 15 June
- Industrial Technology EXTRA for 8 June is now out
- June's first Industrial Technology EXTRA is now out
- Industrial Technology EXTRA! for 26 May
- Industrial Technology EXTRA for 11 May
- May's first issue of Industrial Technology EXTRA now available
- Read the latest issue of Industrial Technology EXTRA!
- 3rd issue of Industrial Technology EXTRA! out today
- Industrial Technology EXTRA! - issue 2
- Industrial Technology EXTRA! - launch issue
- Professor calls for engineers to help solve NHS and healthcare issues amid pandemic
- A tale of squires, stew and electric vehicles
- Bleak house, but great expectations
- The debate on democracy – to the moon and back
- Smart factories will boost global economy
- Employee welfare is top priority for Flame Hardeners
- Deferred gratification or meaningless promises?
- Proof again that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be?
- The vinyl revival in an increasingly digital world
- Star Trek and the virtuous circle of product innovation
- Expanding our thinking on the sharing economy
- A musical take on the benefits of integration
- Websites could and should be so much more
- Chasing the market when you’re in the middle ground
- Renishaw supports Colston Hall state of the art education suite
- Your brand, your promise
- Brexit, the barman and the boiled egg
- International consumers prepared to pay up to 22% more for British goods
- Impact of Carillion dwarfs the Brexit and Trump effects
- Is good design just a question of perspective?
- ABB wins $130 million power order in the UK
- Across Europe, the only constant is change
- Defining the challenges for a low carbon future
- Infrastructure challenge for an all-battery future
- Cheeseburger lessons for UK manufacturing
- With demonisation, the devil is in the detail
- Cinderella, pancetta, and the great Brexit debate
- Data is the 21st century industrial battleground
- Arsene Wenger and the future of the EU
- UK SMEs confident about growth prospects
- Star Wars lessons for product development
- Well, I never saw that one coming
- Energy expert IDEC joins COPA-DATA Partner Community
- Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
- To the infinitesimally small, and all the way back
- Is the rise of storage units costing us dear?
- Just how green is a new green product?
- Total value of UK goods exports to reach £445bn in 2026
- Is there another sad passing still to come?
- Understanding the true impact of Brexit
- The importance of good communications
- Manufacturers call for a support programme to help alleviate lack of skilled labour
- Growth can only be maintained if we address skills shortage
- RS helps to fast track the engineers of the future
- Southern Manufacturing returns to Farnborough
- Southern Manufacturing returns to Farnborough
- Unmade in China: hidden truth about China’s economic miracle
- From the local bus to the global adventure...
- The gap between R&D and production
- Star GB reveals details of Autumn Open House
- Bridging the 'valley of death' between research and bringing products to market
- Emissions trading scheme could cost UK steel sector over £300 million a year
- New annual report out today lifts the lid on UK manufacturing
- The lobster, the cat and the wardrobe
- Britain 'must invest in design skills' to drive forward in Industry 4.0, manufacturing experts warn
- Game of Thrones and a lesson for engineers
- Mechanical engineers back UK staying in the EU
- Big investment boost for the UK's automotive industry
- Manufacturing growth is going steady, says the CBI
- The plastic dream factory
- New website helps UK small businesses navigate funding maze
- Automotive industrial partnership on the starting grid
- Sales and investment rise as SMEs defy slowdown
- Remanufacturing industry offers £5.6 billion opportunity for UK plc
- Britain on the cusp of fourth industrial revolution
- Manufacturing growth picks up speed
- Zen and the art of jimmying out the backup battery
- 3D printing service for bespoke fasteners
- Renishaw's EVO Project - additive manufacturing for industrial use
- RS Components augments rapid-prototyping product portfolio with new Ultimaker 2 3D printer
- Tapeswitch uses 3D printing for bespoke parts production
- TR Fastenings invests in 3D printing
- Web tool creates 3D gripper jaws at push of a button
- The perils of riding the change curve
- Big in Japan
- Crowd funding the UK's space industry...
- Dad's Army, and the art of recycling...
- Personal protection
- Emerging exports in emerging Europe
- New Lean Workshop Group seminars announced for October
- Renishaw engineer shortlisted for Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards
- Connecting with our cousins across the Commonwealth
- UK industry wasting millions as cost of poor maintenance mounts up
- UK now a competitive centre for manufacturing
- Go from zero to exporting hero
- You've made your bed, now you have to lay in it...
- Small businesses helpless in the face of cybercrime
- Manufacturers gear up for 'Made in the UK'
- UK businesses losing up to a third of customers due to poor service
- £2m up for grabs for the UK's most innovative engineering and manufacturing SMEs
- UK economy stabilises in Q2 following surge in first quarter
- Firm growth in manufacturing
- New campaign to boost female engineer numbers
- £30 million fund to address engineering skills shortage
- Growth returns to the market for geared products
- Forget sun, sea and sand. Think trade, commerce and exports
- Fast moving consumer goods in a fast moving global market
- Unlocking savings in MRO
- Small business? Become a big business exporter
- Where there's manufacturing, there's a way
- UKTI funding for companies looking to export
- Cosworth reveals programme to create Centre of Excellence for niche manufacturing
- Growth in UK manufacturing leads to employment increase, says KPMG
- Counterfeit materials lead to Aston Martin recall
- Rally success for E-Wheel Drive concept car
- UK engineers concerned about government's ability to secure the future of their industry
- Smart manufacturing will drive demand for M2M communication
- UK manufacturing sets off on a high in 2014, says KPMG
- Increased orders for manufacturing industry offers opportunity for investment
- Government must cut the red tape affecting small businesses
- New CBI indicator reveals fastest pace of growth since 2007
- Government must do more to back British innovation
- Carbon Trust calls for businesses to adapt or die
- Bronze skies and Industry 4.0
- Space 1999 and the lack of UK innovation...
- UK manufacturing growth surges
- Eurozone pulling out of recession
- Manufacturing boost as companies invest
- Export opportunities in the Turkish market
- SME confidence at a 12 month high
- Manufacturing returning to the UK
- Manufacuring production and new orders expand in December
- Confidence boost for UK manufacturing