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Issue Date: November 2006

Manufacturing in the 21st century

November 2006

Bridging the gap between manufacturing plants and the technology that runs a business is a constant process, but one with its fair share of pitfalls for
the unwary.

While some organisations still run their manufacturing processes according to paper documents that are faxed or couriered to and from the factory floor, competitive companies have to rely on technology to squeeze the best performance from their plants. Is manufacturing in the 21st century as easy as implementing the latest ERP application, or is there more to streamlining the factory floor?
CBR asked Mike Le Plastrier, EOH industry solutions executive director, four questions regarding the integration of business IT and the factory.
Mike Le Plastrier
Mike Le Plastrier
Are companies looking to include manufacturing areas in a single view of the organisation or are these simply ideas from vendors trying to sell their wares?
Mike Le Plastrier:
The simple truth of the matter is that CIOs and the like do not spend money on IT just to make things look good. They do it because if they do not their manufacturing plants would grind to a halt.
If any CIO still has a green screen on the plant floor then they are in grave danger. They should be acutely aware of the risk of maintaining old technology, both hardware and software. If anything were to go wrong, this would incur lengthy downtime as the parts or people to assist with such old technology are scarce. It makes good business sense to move with the times and adopt new technology as there is often more risk involved in staying with ageing technology.
As manufacturing becomes more global, we simply cannot afford to be left behind. It is imperative that we operate as a global player. Just think if SAB, one of the biggest brewers in the world, did not manufacture as a global player? Would never have successfully launched internationally if it did not have the manufacturing technology to support the move.
Manufacturing is not a creative game, users need pushbutton simplicity, are today's software vendors and developers aware of this?
Mike Le Plastrier:
Today's manufacturers have enormous plant floor challenges. Previously the problems used to be fixed easily by a plant floor technician. Today, the plant has been upgraded to produce two to four times more than it did.
Another element that directly impacts the plant floor is the fact that most manufactures are making to order and not to stock. This places significant pressure on the entire team. Where before the technician was able to sort the problem out manually and the plant floor would eventually work again, today is a very different story. Management wants to know why it went down, how quickly it can be fixed and get assurance that it will not happen again. This takes a seemingly simple task and makes it extremely complex for the operator or technician. The challenge lies in keeping the functional aspects simple enough for the technician, but complex enough to provide management with the right level of information. This is a great question that poses a genuine challenge to vendors, developers and the end-user.
Will new technologies be broadly accepted on the factory floor? What value do they offer that makes the conversion process worthwhile?
Mike Le Plastrier:
The changing pace of our manufacturing requirement has forced acceptance of these technologies - whether we like it or not. We have to compete with Germany, China as well as with our South African opposition. If we cannot accurately measure our production, we certainly have no hope of improving it.
One aspect of a new production system implementation that is consistently ignored is change management. When manufacturers consider an ERP solution they do include it, but almost never as part of a production system. I can recall many times when a customer implemented a new production system designed to assist the plant floor and increase capacity, etc, and because there was no adequate briefing or change management done, the operators viewed the new system as a policing mechanism and did not fully embrace it. This kind of people challenge can have a damaging effect on the success of the upgrade or new installation.
What about suites? If you are going to mess with your MES you may as well implement a business application suite that will automatically offer inter- and intra-company BPM and integration capabilities.
Mike Le Plastrier:
Business applications run business systems and plant floor applications run plant floors. These are two entirely different products. Much like the difference between a car and a train, both move you in a specified direction, but in a vastly different way. I would not use MES to run business applications, so why use business applications to run MES.
While business applications are transaction based, manufacturing systems are typically near realtime and may require accuracies of less than a second based of huge volumes of fast moving data. Already these two systems are becoming more interwoven as time goes by. However, the architecture and design requirements are fundamentally different. As much as they must talk to each other, but they are not one and the same.
Interestingly, the role of corporate IT is changing in manufacturing and mining. Much of the manufacturing and mining industries' corporate IT believe their role stops at the business systems and the back-office network. The reality is that probably the greatest IT need lies within the manufacturing or mining plant. Where corporate IT will require 1 km of cable length, the plant floor requires 3 km.
Ten years ago the various production lines in a manufacturing plant ran independently. Today they are networked and must work as an integral plan of the manufacturing supply chain. However, in most mining and manufacturing sites, we note that corporate IT is almost not aware (or does not want to be aware) of this huge infrastructure. As a result, this is typically (very ably) controlled by the plant instrumentation department. This makes the job of managing manufacturing IT far more challenging than ever before.
This evolution has happened despite the lack of formal quality direction from corporate IT. It was often done piece-meal and in some cases has resulted in a quagmire for the IT managers. It is imperative that the integration of manufacturing IT with corporate IT happens sooner rather than later.
Companies select Oracle over SAP
According to a recent Oracle statement, organisations globally are choosing Oracle Applications over SAP, based on Oracle’s standard-based approach and industry-specific applications.
“Our most recent financial results indicate that Oracle is taking market share from SAP,” said Oracle president Charles Phillips. “Oracle Applications grew 80% in Q1, which is 10 times SAP's 8% new licence sales growth rate in their most recently completed quarter. Oracle’s organic applications revenue growth was up 47% year-over-year. We believe our application strategy is working and anyway you measure it, Oracle’s momentum against SAP continues to accelerate.”
Oracle is broadening its industry applications footprint and has outlined a roadmap for its standards-based applications suite.
“We continue to see our industry applications be a competitive differentiator, and believe that our current focus on small-to-medium businesses will drive additional companies to select Oracle over SAP,” continued Phillips.


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