Even before COVID-19 and the supply chain crisis hit, two global tech pioneers were surveying the state of manufacturing, aware that there were problems that had to be addressed quickly.

Manufacturing operations were woefully lacking in real-time visibility. During manufacturing execution, process data could not be automatically captured. Tracking worker safety remained an elusive goal. The absence of an end-to-end perspective meant that it was difficult to understand process effectiveness and make quick, crucial decisions, compromising future planning.

Under these circumstances, continuously and effectively running a manufacturing operation was a challenge – as was providing added value to customers. And during COVID-19, the absence of available shop floor operators only made the situation worse.

Desperately needed was a smart and intuitive solution to execute, monitor, and analyze the end-to-end manufacturing process, starting with planning and extending all the way to inventory. Updates on labor planning and worker safety would have to be provided in real time.

This would particularly benefit servitized industries, in which outcome is now directly related to the revenue situation.

Additionally, the solution would need to be intelligent enough to evaluate data, consider a variety of business scenarios, and propose the best future actions.

A Leading-Edge Alliance

Since 1911, technology and innovation trailblazer IBM had been creating responsive, resilient, next-generation solutions to the challenges of the day. One hundred years and a decade later, that movement still continues.

Now, the company merged forces with the market leader in enterprise application software: SAP.

The two established their first Global Alliance Partnership in 1989. But their relationship dated back to the founding of SAP in 1972 – by five former IBM employees.

In recent years, as customer needs shifted to the cloud, SAP and IBM had been working together to accelerate the digital revolution, using such technologies as machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), digital twin – virtual representations of physical objects or processes – and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.

With global lockdowns and associated disruptions impacting the world in the summer of 2020, the two corporations announced the next stage of their alliance, branding it the Evolution Partnership initiative.

The manufacturing effort topped their list.

Informed, Real-Time Decisions

Indeed, the Connected Plant solution created by the two companies would enable real-time manufacturing execution planning and tracking and provide automated reporting of machine and process data.

The innovation could be used to ensure that the proper equipment was being provided and certify both quality inspection and cognitive worker guidance. When defects were detected, a repair order would be automatically generated.

From this point forward, guesswork was no longer required to make informed business decisions. Instead, conclusions were based on managers’ instant accessibility to end-to-end analytics and up-to-date key performance indicators (KPIs).

Seamless and Integrated

With the seamlessly integrated manufacturing tool, new possibilities abounded. The Connected Plant solution allowed managers to:

  • View manufacturing and production orders for every shift
  • Ensure that all needed components were available
  • Execute tasks with a few simple words via chatbot
  • Detect deficiencies during quality inspections
  • Confirm assembly and sub-assembly completion

Today, with the world struggling to compensate for supply chain gaps, the Connected Plant platform is being utilized to provide supplies and drive continuous planning across resource networks.

And both SAP and IBM are prepared to revise the solution as business models evolve and processes are reconfigured in areas like energy, natural resource consumption, and emissions management.

“To compete in a highly disruptive and rapidly evolving world, companies require the ability to rewire their organizations to create efficient, automated business processes – applying advanced technologies to transform static, siloed processes into agile, intelligent workflows,” said Mark Foster, IBM Services senior vice president.

As the Connected Plant solution continued to expand the number of tasks it could perform, IBM was honored as a finalist in the 2021 SAP Innovation Awards, a yearly ceremony commemorating organizations using SAP products to transform business and society.

To learn more about IBM’s smart and intuitive solution, be sure to check out its SAP Innovation Awards pitch deck.

Keith E. Greenberg is an SAP global marketing contributor.