The framework for process intelligence and improvement
How to bridge the gap between the shop floor and the top floor by integrating process control systems with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other business systems.
Part 4 of the series discussed powerful data analysis tools useful to understand how a process is operating over time and to provide actionable information to operators, maintenance personnel, and process engineers. It’s important to know how process information can be integrated with business operations systems to provide a complete picture of a facility or company. The end result saves time and resources by automating the flow of information.
Planning the process control system
The first step companies usually take when integrating data from their organization is to use information from the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to more accurately, and automatically, plan production; for example, using product quality specifications defined in the ERP system combined with statistical process control (SPC) to determine optimal process setpoints each product type. This results in a well-tested set of operating parameters that can be used to generate a recipe of sorts for each product. This can eliminate quality variances due to operators on one shift using different setpoints than another shift and reduce changeover times when producing different products on the same equipment.
Another common application of ERP system integration is to better understand how customer orders, shipping/receiving of raw materials, and finished products impact production. For example, when a customer order comes in, customer service can log into the system that communicates with the production facility, instead of spending time to track down the production manager, to discuss the upcoming schedule, to find out when the order can be shipped, to enter the requirements, and get an estimated completion date based on real-time information in seconds.
Data flow from the process control system to the ERP system
The flow of information can also go from the process control system to the ERP system. For example, integrating a computerized maintenance management system with scheduling makes it easy to immediately alert customer service when a production run will be impacted by downtime. If there will be delays in shipping, the customer can be made aware of any issues as soon as they arise. This approach can also reduce costs associated with spare parts. As maintenance uses parts, the inventory system can be updated in real-time. Purchasing can be alerted when inventory is running low, and replacements can be ordered before their absence might impact production.
Data from quality control systems can be easily populated in the ERP system modules used to generate shipping documents and Bills of Lading. Instead of tracking down paperwork or logging into a different system to manually copy information over to shipping, this can be done automatically, again saving time and reducing exposure to data entry errors.
Other systems that can push information from the process up the pyramid are things like process change management systems to track process changes and their impact on production, as well as things like calculating real-time production costs per unit based on labor, raw materials, and utility resource usage.
Improving safety measures with IoT
With the oncoming wave of the Internet of Things (IoT), the capability for integrating things like location tracking beacons can also be included in these process control and business system integrations.
One example to improve safety, especially useful in large facilities, is to tie a security system in where staff members swipe a badge to enter a building. This information is stored to understand who is on-site, where they are, and when they are there. Integration location beacons provide better resolution about this information, showing when people are near beacons at a plant. Pushing this data from the business side to the control room, with a screen on the operator interface to the plant showing the location of operators throughout the plant, makes it easier to manage and track people down in case of an emergency. This approach can even be used for things like bringing security cameras up on the operator interface based on where people are currently working. There are potentially limitless possibilities by integrating different systems and new technology to help improve safety.
There are many ways integrating systems across an organization can be used to understand and optimize operations across the board. While the number of possibilities can be overwhelming, understanding what systems provide the most value to an organization and leveraging those systems in conjunction with one another is a good place to start.
Next part: A recap of the series and the next steps to start moving to the next level of the pyramid.
Alex Marcy, P.E., is the co-owner and president of Corso Systems, a system integration firm based in Chicago, Ill.