The Perfect Plant – Real-Time Integration

Feature Article | January 22, 2009 by Ulrich Lenz, Senior Consultant, Stratus Technologies

In many companies, there are two IT worlds. The focus of attention is invariably on the business IT world, with its enterprise resource planning (ERP), office, and communication systems. On top of that, there are the familiar debates about fundamentals like client-server environments, graphical user interfaces (GUIs), e-commerce, and service-oriented architecture (SOA).

The other IT world tends to keep working away in the background. It comprises the systems for controlling and monitoring the production plants and machines known as manufacturing execution systems (MES). These systems form an IT landscape with largely independent technologies and infrastructures.

Manual data reconciliation takes time

The systems communicate with one another, of course. After all, sooner or later the production data has to find its way into the business IT world. However, such connections are made primarily using manual solutions; a genuine integration of these two worlds hardly exists at all. In fact, less than one percent of all manufacturers automatically integrate their ERP and manufacturing systems.

As a result, manufacturing data like:

  • Order and material status
  • Costs and product quality

is not provided in a timely manner for business decisions. Currently, many manufacturing plants still work with copies of central enterprise data. This leads to problems with quality and with regulatory compliance. What’s more, the financial and business impact of production malfunctions cannot be reliably analyzed and controlled at the corporate level – particularly when production is distributed across different sites.

In addition, companies are not in a position to react quickly to changes in supply or demand because quality or service problems are identified at too late a stage.

All in all, delays and adjustment losses are inevitable when a manufacturing process that communicates only indirectly with the entire company is controlled and aligned with corporate goals.

Integrating both IT worlds

In the next few years, all this is set to change. Continuous competitive pressures are placing new demands on manufacturers. Companies that work as component suppliers in particular have a relatively weak competitive position and must, therefore, adapt to pressure.

End-to-end information flow is a decisive advantage that allows them to react faster and to manage their production processes more effectively. Today, the systems involved on both sides are powerful enough to provide and process the required information in real time.

What is now needed above all is a holistic and seamless view of manufacturing processes – from the individual machine to commercial order processing. The ERP applications and the systems for production planning and control (PPC) can then merge to become one entity.

SAP’s perfect plant concept

SAP’s perfect plant concept focuses exactly on this key area. The concept’s goal is to optimize manufacturing processes across all production plants and sites with an eye on improving production results for the entire company.

In the perfect plant, decision makers can continuously monitor all core production processes. They can optimize the use of installations and order fulfillment. And they can react more rapidly to problems and their negative impact on the bottom line.

SAP MII – The Perfect Plant in Action

With SAP Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (SAP MII), a specific application now exists for the perfect plant concept. SAP MII enables a seamless integration of production processes with all business processes. Using open standards, the production systems are integrated with business applications, including SAP ERP, manufacturing execution, and sales force automation.

The real-time analysis in SAP MII gathers and calculates data, providing users with all decision-relevant information through events, alerts, and key performance indicators. Employees in manufacturing can access all the important information from a role-based dashboard so that they, too, can make fast and sound decisions.

However convincing the concept of production and commercial IT integration may be, such an infrastructure also has its Achilles heel. The longer the process chain becomes, the greater the effect of any disruptions. Find out more on how to avoid them in the second article – “The Perfect Plant Needs High Availability”.

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