Efficient mass customization relies on digital technology and on powerful manufacturing execution systems. At the world’s leading trade fair for industrial technology, SAP will showcase a key ring production scenario to illustrate how “batch size 1” is possible.

According to a survey by multinational management and technology consulting firm BearingPoint, a number of factors are driving the growing popularity of manufacturing execution systems (MES) in Germany. Among them are customers’ increasingly individualized demands for product variety, the proven benefits of shared data for production control and management, and the need for a solid foundation on which to integrate IT and production as companies embrace the fourth industrial revolution. MES acts as a bridge between business processes and machine control systems and are therefore central to the transition to digital manufacturing.

Importance of MES Growing, Says BearingPoint

The manufacturing industry is nearly unanimous on one point: 88 percent of the companies polled by BearingPoint expect MES to become increasingly important. Of those surveyed, 75 percent plan to invest in this technology in the coming years.

Key specifications for an MES solution should be maximum integration with ERP software, excellent usability in production, and standardized interfaces to other systems. If these requirements are met, an MES will provide an efficient vehicle for sharing information between ERP and automation technology as companies journey into the future of manufacturing as envisioned by the German government’s Industrie 4.0 strategic initiative.

Key Ring with Built-In Smart Chip

At Hannover Messe 2016, SAP will demonstrat the role of MES in mass customization by manufacturing a key ring with a personalized shell and an optional integrated smart chip. The process sounds simple enough. It begins when a customer sees a customizable key ring he or she would like to order from an SAP Hybris web shop. Having chosen one of the three colors on offer, the customer can then decide whether to have their name or their telephone number engraved on the shell — there’s even a 3-D option. Finally, customers who have trouble remembering where they’ve put their keys can also choose to have a smart chip fitted to their key ring. When their keys go missing again, they can use a smartphone app to pick up signals from the smart chip’s transmitter to locate them again.

Key Ring: Seven Co-Innovation Partners

A team of seven SAP co-innovation partners is responsible for ensuring that robot arms place the individual product parts onto the conveyor system, that laser printers transfer custom texts onto the shell, and that digital cameras complete the quality control of the key rings at the end of the production chain. The seven are automation technology specialist Beckhoff; robotics supplier Stäubli; industrial image processing expert asentics; the metrology division of the Honeywell group; industrial printing specialist CAB; 3-D printing solution supplier Stratasys; and wearables manufacturer Proglove.

Mass customization is a growing trend. “The market is increasingly demanding customized products. And in the consumer products sector, particularly, demand is growing for personalized goods,” says Rüdiger Fritz, product management director for SAP Plant Connectivity.

The above illustration shows that the traditional automation pyramid, with its strict delineation between the machine layer, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), manufacturing execution systems (MES), and enterprise resource planning (ERP), is outdated. The data models for these layers need to be more seamlessly integrated. At the same time, interoperability must align with new processes for a company’s interaction with customers, vendors, and service providers. Imagevia SAP

SAP Manufacturing Execution links business and manufacturing processes

SAP Manufacturing Execution helps ensure that the custom text is engraved onto the shell at the same time as the smart chips are being prepared, and that some 70 robotic movers operate simultaneously to transport the individual product parts through the production cycle. As such, it builds a bridge between business processes and automation technology, providing up-to-the-second process transparency, forming the basis for rapid decision-making based on the latest production data, and also monitoring the work in progress.

In tandem with SAP Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence and SAP Plant Connectivity, SAP Manufacturing Execution handles communication between manufacturing and ERP.

“Business and automation-related data need to be integrated in order to eliminate integration gaps and gain valuable new insight,” says manufacturing expert Fritz. By entering measured data and process values during production and then merging that data with information about customer complaints, you can pinpoint the root of an error much faster. The foundation for this “new understanding between machines and ERP” is the OPC Unified Architecture M2M communication protocol, which allows machine data to be transmitted and also semantically described in a machine-readable way.

Mass Customization: Each Machine Has Its Own “Job”

In SAP’s showcase project at Hannover Messe, robots, laser printers, digital cameras, and conveyor systems all get on with their “jobs” independently, completely unaffected by external factors as a host of different processes run in parallel at high speed around them. Once a sales order for a key ring has been placed, the details of the recipe for that product are fixed and – thanks to the end-to-end OPC Unified Architecture standard – each cog in the wheel of production knows exactly what to do.

What makes this scenario unique is that “the products, despite being customized, can be made in any order,” explains Martina Weidner from SAP’s Center of Excellence Internet of Things/Industrie 4.0. “There are no hard-wired settings anymore.” Even batch sizes of 1,000 will eventually become the exception rather than the rule.

“The aim is to enable more individualized production,” says Weidner.

Vertically Integrated Manufacturing: Comparing KPIs Across Production Lines

As well as customized production and the vertically integrated manufacturing enabled by SAP Manufacturing Execution, one of the biggest benefits of using a manufacturing execution system as an information hub is that you have a constant supply of data about machine and plant efficiency, capacity utilization, and current stock levels.

“Additionally, it is now also possible to compare KPIs across production lines,” says SAP’s Fritz. “You can even check the status of individual orders in the system at any time. That never used to be possible until the current shift had ended,” he adds.

BearingPoint: 20 Percent No Longer See ERP and MES in Isolation

BearingPoint’s study reveals that currently 39 percent businesses still turn to specialist vendors when they wish to invest in MES software. Yet there are clear signs of a shift away from regarding ERP and MES as separate entities. In fact, more than 20 percent of the companies polled opine that their best future prospects lie with software vendors that are adding MES functionality to their ERP offering or whose software they (the companies) already deploy. Fritz agrees with this prediction and sees SAP as the only company that “spans the entire automation pyramid – from ERP, to the MES, to the machines themselves.”

The showcase project at Hannover Messe 2016 clearly demonstrates that SAP solutions already address the key drivers named by BearingPoint – namely product variety, data transparency in production, and the transformation to Industry 4.0.

Top image via Shutterstock