Workflow From the Workshop

The aim of a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is to map manufacturing processes online, provide relevant information directly at workstations, process all data obtained from logistics for use in production planning and pass it on to upstream and downstream applications. This results in sleeker planning processes, reduced throughput times and makes posting errors all but impossible.

Supply chains and manufacturing – faster and leaner

Due to the fact that companies have to respond to ever greater cost and competitive pressures, it is important to ensure that supply chains are as lean as possible and that there are fewer reserves in place than was previously the case. However, this makes supply chains more prone to production problems and unexpected changes in customer demand. On the other hand, companies are able to track all production steps in real time. Real time transparency in production has become a critical factor in success. This is confirmed by three fundamental trends:
Firstly, competitiveness is increasingly determined by manufacturing factors. Customers expect ever faster delivery of products. With make-to-order production, companies strive to design manufacturing processes that can be rapidly adapted in response to orders received.
What is more, warehouse stocks are becoming an expensive luxury and “lean” stocks are now in demand. As a result, manufacturers are forced to make their supply chains so efficient that they satisfy the current production requirements and deliver a high level of service. Manufacturers have no choice but to coordinate their production with demand and move to a pull-based system.
The third and final factor is the rise in contract manufacture. This means that operations with detailed, real time-based manufacturing information are becoming increasingly important. An ever larger number of companies regard the outsourcing of individual manufacturing steps or even entire manufacturing processes as essential to their survival. Retaining an overview and control involves completely new challenges in terms of visibility and transparency.

Obstacles to integration

The challenge therefore lies in converting real time production data into business process-related information. To enable efficient operation, answers are needed to the following questions:

  • <sum> How can plants be operated efficiently and what costs are incurred? The true level of plant utilization and the Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE) must be determined.
  • <sum> It must be possible to track semi-finished stocks as “work-in-progress” (WIP). What status and value does WIP have – including on a cross-plant basis?
  • <sum> The reasons and causes of downtime must be determined. What are the additional costs as a result of downtime and the resultant emergency measures and additional special shifts?
  • <sum> What additional revenue can be generated by adhering to specific quality requirements?
  • <sum> What influence does maintenance have? How high is the availability of all machines and what are the associated costs?

Unfortunately, up until now there have been two significant practical obstacles to the efficient distribution of information. The variety of layers in the flow of information requires standards which are not yet fully developed. There is also no technology platform which can bring all these layers together in a framework and thereby enable integrated manufacturing operations.

Workflow supports processes

mySAP Business Suite
mySAP Business Suite

This is where mySAP ERP and the technology platform SAP NetWeaver come into their own. They provide companies with solutions for improving access to manufacturing information and for monitoring production. These processes are supported by workflow technology. This technology makes it possible to communicate “events” – scheduled or unscheduled incidents in production – to the relevant decision-maker.
The term ‘Adaptive Manufacturing’ was coined in this context. This describes the ability of a company to keep the supply chain informed at all times and respond dynamically to incidents. Ideally, production is configured to continually adapt to the very latest needs, and experience gained is put to good use in improving, for example, the material flow and plant utilization. Production therefore becomes an “understanding” and “learning” unit.
The SAP Manufacturing Management solution combines the functionalities offered by Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). Based on real time production information, the SAP solution provides information in a role-based user interface – typically via a portal. The user is then able to perform a range of functions. For example, he can check whether sufficient stock is available or determine whether customer orders are still outstanding. Manufacturing status can be analyzed at a glance, and capacity utilization and availability of additional capacity can be checked.

And what happens if a machine breaks down?

SAP NetWeaver and Manufacturing
SAP NetWeaver and Manufacturing

What happens, for example, if a machine breaks down during a production cycle? When a period of inactivity on the automation level is identified, an alarm message is sent to the MES. This is done using sensors which monitor the operating process. The MES in turn informs the foreman or supervisor and requests that the fault is resolved immediately. The majority of workflows end at this point. They are not linked to business management applications. The failure of a piece of equipment can therefore only be regarded as an isolated event. However, a real-time business must be able to map effects in both directions of the complete supply chain both in terms of production and Enterprise Resource Planning.

This problem can only be properly resolved if such events are integrated into the SAP solutions. In this scenario, mySAP ERP enables, for example, the creation and transmission of a maintenance job. This is not just used as a cost collector for subsequently performing an accurate assessment of the financial costs of downtime, but is also used to optimize the machine availability in a graphical planning table. The maintenance job is classified as a priority. At the same time, the machine is blocked for the likely downtime. The maintenance job can be sent automatically to a mobile terminal of the maintenance planner. At the same time, a check is performed as to whether the spare parts required are available or whether the process for procuring them must be initiated.
Moreover, the integrated solution determines the number of delayed or lost jobs. An appropriate message is sent to the relevant salesperson who then passes the information on to the customer. Where possible or, indeed, where necessary, the MES solution identifies alternative suppliers or substitute products in order to honor pledges made to the customer despite the breakdown of a machine. Moreover, mySAP ERP supplies information about the effect that the fault has on the stock of unfinished parts. Suppliers are informed in good time that they should hold back on delivery. This prevents unnecessarily high levels of stock.

Roles and partners

SAP Enterprise Portal 6.0 Plant Manager Desktop
SAP Enterprise Portal 6.0 Plant Manager Desktop

SAP NetWeaver enables manufacturing companies to have real time control of their workflows. For example, the technology platform provides role-based user interfaces, e.g. for plant managers, and makes it possible to integrate a variety of applications for control of production or labor time recording. This means that production analyses can be created and KPIs calculated which in turn are used as the basis for internal and intra-plant cooperation. Furthermore, companies no longer incur the costs of expensive, customized interfaces and adapters. SAP NetWeaver uses generally recognized communication and interface standards such as the MES standard S95. This reduces the Total Cost of Ownership.

SAP uses its existing partner network to integrate MES. Using the “Powered by SAP NetWeaver” certification, the partners can demonstrate that their applications can run on SAP’s technological infrastructure, the Web Application Server 6.40. The partners usually also offer what are known as iViews. These components can be very easily integrated into the roles and offer additional MES functionalities. One typical example would be to collect and compress machine status data on the MES level before it is passed on to the SAP Business Information Warehouse, where evaluation and processing take place. The machine status is totally transparent thanks to a system of traffic light-style alerts displayed in a business management portal.

Thomas Ullmer
Thomas Ullmer