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Why You Should Integrate Your Corporate Systems & Factory Operations Systems

Discover the importance of integrating ERP, factory planning, and operations systems to overcome data silos in manufacturing.
Written by
Published on
June 5, 2024

Data silos are a big problem for manufacturers.

In an age in which it pays to be lean – data silos work against it, preventing data-driven ways of working and reacting.

If your ERP is like an island, disconnected from your other systems, machines, and technology – then you’ve got problems.

How can you get a unified view of what’s happening across your plant when different elements aren’t talking to each other? Partial information isn’t enough.

The only way to get joined-up data flows that lead to informed decision making is to integrate your manufacturing systems. In practical terms, this means linking up your ERP, factory planning systems, and operations systems.

In the past, this would have been a burdensome task. Fortunately, these days, smart factory technology connects these layers without disrupting your day-to-day production.

In this brief guide, we’ll take a closer look at the three layers of manufacturing solutions, set out an integrated vision for your factory, and suggest ways to overcome common challenges along the journey.

The 3 Manufacturing System Layers Explained

1. ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) Systems

  • What They Do: ERP systems are sometimes referred to as “the central nervous system of an enterprise”. Just like the nervous system controls and monitors body parts, an ERP system manages data and information from different departments within a company — finance, HR, supply chain, and manufacturing.
  • Example System: A typical factory ERP handles elements of financial recording and reporting, human resources data, order processing, and customer relationship management. It gives you an overview of your operations, but usually lacks real-time operational data input and planning schedules.

2. Factory Planning Systems

  • What They Do: Planning systems are used to make the production line run smoothly. They help plan and schedule processes, manage inventory, and ensure resources are used as efficiently as possible. The overall goal of the software is to meet production targets while minimizing waste and costs.
  • Example System: A good example is Microsoft Dynamics 365 for factory planning. It helps with scheduling, allocating resources, and providing production insights. This helps you adjust operations for maximum efficiency. It helps you to stay on top of your production timelines and meet customer demands on time.

3. Operations Systems

  • What They Do: Operations systems focus on actual ‘on-the-ground’ manufacturing processes. They manage day-to-day activities on the shop floor, such as monitoring equipment, tracking production progress, and ensuring quality control.
  • Example System: For operations, most companies use some form of MES (Manufacturing Execution System). A typical MES collects data directly from plant floor machinery, using it to monitor and control the production process in real time. However, it can be difficult to connect data from older machines without using smart factory technology such as IIoT sensors. 

Using Smart Manufacturing Tech To Combine The 3 Layers

A smart manufacturing platform can act as a bridge between the different systems. 

It can allow all your factory planning tools, ERP, and MES systems to speak to each other freely, breaking down silos. 

More than that, it can actually compile all the available data, including real-time shop floor production data to create a “digital twin” of your factory. A digital twin is a replica of your factory, showing all the available data in smart dashboards with clear visualizations.

A good smart manufacturing platform, such as O3ai, also has analytics and alerts built-in. This means you can monitor everything as it happens on the shop floor. 

For instance, if a machine starts operating outside its normal parameters, O3ai will alert you immediately, and you can take corrective action before it affects production quality or causes downtime.

As well as troubleshooting problems, O3ai also helps you to optimize your operations, adjusting production schedules based on real-time demand or streamlining elements of your supply chain to reduce waste and costs, for example.

Finally, O3ai also makes you more lean, by automating elements of lean methodology, such as autonomous maintenance, Gemba walks, 5S audits, and more. It also enhances continuous improvement through real-time feedback loops and data analysis.

Overcoming Common Integration Challenges

Smart manufacturing tech makes it easier than ever to integrate systems. Here’s a look at some common integration challenges and how to overcome them.

Compatibility Issues 

Often, manufacturing systems come from different vendors or tech generations, leading to compatibility problems. Smart manufacturing tech facilitates communication between the systems, ensuring they work well together regardless of origin.

Data Consistency and Quality 

Disparate systems lead to data inconsistencies, affecting analytics and decision-making. Avoid this with robust data governance capabilities to ensure data integrity across systems. Standardize data formats and conduct regular audits for accurate analytics and reporting.

Change Management 

You might get resistance from staff used to existing workflows. Provide training modules and involve people across the organization early to secure buy-in and ease the transition.

Complexity and Cost 

Integration projects are seen as complex and costly. O3ai offers a consultative approach, helping you plan and run pilots before full rollout. This minimizes disruption and builds a strong case for further implementation based on early successes.

Security Risks 

Cybersecurity is an ever-present threat. O3ai uses top-tier security protocols, with frequent security audits, robust encryption, and authentication measures.

Strategically Transform Your Factory

Breaking down data silos is a priority for factory managers. 

Integrating your ERP, MES, and planning systems through the use of smart factory technology provides a solution.

O3ai gives you a unified view across your operations. It gathers data from corporate and operations systems, analyzes it, and sends out real-time alerts to help optimize your processes, reduce waste, and enhance productivity.

For more insights on smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0, follow us on LinkedIn.

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