Harnessing the Power of Integration Process Monitoring for Manufacturing

Manufacturers are reaping the rewards of monitoring all relevant points of complex integration processes

Manufacturers are reaping the rewards of monitoring all relevant points of complex integration processes, as well as the process flow as an entity.

When it comes to digitalization, the manufacturing industry has not been the quickest to start. The reasons perhaps lie in the long-term amortization of large investments. Or maybe it has just been a lack of imagination and the inability to understand that going digital can have wider implications than within discrete cells of the business - such as the design process or the control of complex machine tools. In any case, the impact of digitalization has only been felt sporadically in mainstream manufacturing.

But that is changing, and changing fast. New developments in automation, coupled with machine learning systems and artificial intelligence, are creating a world where the need for detailed human intervention, skills and experience is diminishing. On the other hand, what this means is a significant growth in the need for services that can monitor and report on all the activities in a manufacturing system, end-to-end.

Mass production to mass customization

Industry 4.0, as the move to automation and AI is being called, is entirely based on the notion that everything in a manufacturing plant is connected to the `whole.’ The result is that one part of the process leads automatically into the next, in a continuous flow. But because it is automated, some key operational differences become possible.

The main one is that the overall process changes from one of mass production – where the production facility is set up to produce one single unit type by the thousands or millions – to one of mass customization. This is where variants on a basic product theme can be run through the production process at will. Mass customization is a great idea, for it means that customers can select options from a wide range of variables. They can then have their individual unit run through the production process at the same time as all the others, rather than having to wait for a different production run of `specials.’

Indeed, with the advent of 3D printing technologies, which can now print metal parts in the same way as plastic, large manufacturing facilities are starting to appear that are almost entirely based on the technology. This gets close to being the `Software-Defined Manufacturing Environment’ where the scope for customization and one-off design can be freely mixed in with larger production runs as demand requires.

Giving customers more choice means there is much more chance they will make a purchase, which can only be good for business. But it can also be rather bad for business if the production process breaks down in some way. And the larger the number of options available, the more points of potential failure are likely to exist.

What is more, those points of potential failure will spread beyond the manufacturing facility itself. There are, for example, the many links of the supply chains that surround any production facility, both into and out of the manufacturing plant itself. Any break in the supply of raw materials and component parts for a product will be a problem for the manufacturer. By the same token, any break in the supply of finished products will be a problem for customers down the line, be they individual end users or businesses looking to include such products as components in a much bigger, more complex system or service.

Monitoring multiple ends

What this means is that any integration process monitoring and management capability is likely to have many more `ends’ to consider than just the two found in any single production line manufacturing operation. And any point between those many `ends’ may prove to be the cause of problems that stop a manufacturing process dead in its tracks.

The obvious solution, therefore, is for manufacturing businesses to understand that as automation – digitalization – takes real hold in their world, they will need the same management tools as those businesses that have been digitalized for many years. They will need tools that can monitor all individual points of a complex integration process, and the process flow in its entirety.

They will need tools that can not only identify when a sensor or other monitoring device shows a fault but where in the process that fault is, what the nature of the fault is, and even point to recommendations on how the fault can be quickly and effectively rectified.

It can also provide a rich and comprehensive audit trail of all the production steps for every individual product off the line, whether it be the millionth example of a standard product or a one-off special variant produced as part of the standard production process.

And it can achieve this not only for the one production line, but also all the supply lines and logistics that keep everything flowing smoothly.

The business process operating system nJAMS gives you the visibility, control and easy reporting to drive greater operational effectiveness and efficiency in manufacturing. Have a look at the webex recording New Technology that Drives Supply Chain Efficiency or contact us for a live demo!

About the Author: Birgit Jordan is Marketing Director at Integration Matters.