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Typical Software Integration Scenarios

I wish my software would…

Just as the priorities and potential benefits vary from industry to industry and business to business, so do the specific integration scenarios that delivery those benefits. Manufacturers deal in parts and place emphasis on accurate inventory tracking and equipment maintenance, while service companies have little interest in inventory or equipment but may focus on speed of dispatching jobs instead.

The underlying objective of all the below scenarios is to optimize existing business processes and/or enable new processes through automated interoperability. Again, the following are examples of real world integration scenarios, but are by no means exhaustive:

Click on the headers below for detailed information.

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Communicate plan / schedule to operations

The best plan in the world is useless unless it is followed, yet the output of advanced planning and scheduling activities is often not clear to shop floor personnel. Either they continue follow an out-of date version of the plan, or (and this actually happens) they have their own idea about how the plant/mill should be operated.

By transferring the plan/schedule into a system and format with which the production personnel feel comfortable and will refer to, and by ensuring that updates are quickly made available, businesses can help to guarantee that the plan is followed.

In some cases, of course, cultural and even organizational changes may also be required to ensure the effectiveness of such a technical solution.

Link actual production with planned production

Enables accurate tracking of inventory consumed, production values, scrap and/or rework. Allows planners to examine basis of their planning models and recognize that, sometimes, the model needs to be adjusted.

Synchronize inventories

Where either raw material, intermediate or finished goods inventory can be physically measured and tracked, that physical measurement is liable to be far more accurate than the “booked inventory” in the business system. Logistics and distribution companies can also improve customer satisfaction by providing their clients' timely and accurate information on managed inventories.

On a regular basis, inventory snapshots (or material movements) can be posted to the business system from shop floor systems – or from a warehouse management system to an on-line shopping cart, helping to improve the efficiency of production planning, purchasing and/or distribution.

Raise work order requests

Where the health/condition of shop floor machinery/equipment can be monitored through on-board instrumentation (or implied by other data), there is an opportunity to go beyond the “use based” maintenance strategy described above. Rather, if impending breakdown can be implied, then an alert can be sent to the CMMS system, automatically triggering an unplanned work order.

In a related scenario, production personnel are often in a position to recognize that equipment maintenance is required, but have not access/training in use of the CMMS system. By providing them with a simple on-line tool (ideally integrated with their existing shop floor system) to report such incidents, again unplanned work orders can be generated and the potential breakdown/failure avoided.

Maintenance planning based on equipment use

In machine/equipment intensive environments, maintenance is often carried out on a calendar basis. So, for example, the impeller on a pump is replaced every 30 days. This preventative maintenance approach helps to prevent breakdowns (and loss of production), but also guarantees that a maintenance technician will use up 1 impeller a month, and work on that pump for (say) two hours even if the pump was only used for 10 hours during the month.

Where shop floor systems allow the usage (and condition) of machinery to be monitored, the maintenance strategy can be changed. Instead of replacing the impeller every 30 days, the maintenance plan can call for the impeller to be after 700 hours of operation. Now only worn out impellers will be replaced.

However, in a facility which has (say) 1500 such pumps, the process of manually entering the usage data into the Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) would be prohibitive. Thus integration of shop floor devices with the CMMS enables a business process that would otherwise be impractical.

Communicate maintenance plan to operations

No matter what the maintenance strategy, equipment maintenance often means downtime (or reduced capacity). Operations (production) personnel tend to focus on their jobs and the systems that support them, yet they need to know about impending interruptions. By transferring relevant portions of the maintenance plan from the CMMS to the operational systems, production personnel have visibility to planned maintenance activities.

Manage master formulas/recipes

In batch chemical plants, the production recipe dictates how products are made. In certain markets (e.g. retail) there is a strong imperative to frequently update/alter the product formulation. Research departments dream up new recipes and these recipes need to be communicated to the production site(s). However, the research department does not know (or care) how the individual activities in the recipe are automated, nor on which equipment. So the production site(s) need to be able to receive a new recipe and map it onto existing production cells and control strategies.

With some plants manufacturing hundreds of different products, and formula changes occurring daily, automation of this recipe transfer step can be essential.