“Because project costs can often be buried in ongoing manufacturing operations, overruns and surprises are less likely to negatively impact the project. Although internal staff knows the plant manufacturing and operational practices intimately, they may not be open to or even aware of alternate and better ways to get things done,” concludes Jeffrey.
Others second that opinion. “If your plant personnel lack the required technical expertise, which is often the case for newer technologies, you spend a great deal of time and money training these folks to become experts in the particular technology at hand,” says Cole of Smithfield Foods.
Because internal staff is often focused on its particular plant, myopia can set in with respect to other technologies. “Internal staff has intimate knowledge and understanding of process and operational specifics, but this can be a double-edged sword. They are often too close to the problems to address them objectively. Internal staff may also find it hard to rise above day-to-day coping in the trenches in order to create a clear strategic vision,” says Williams of Total System Design.
Coca-Cola’s Bynum also has concerns with in-house execution. “Internal resources often do not possess the skill set with the system being deployed because the applications are not common like Microsoft Windows or Excel. Bringing those resources up to speed adds cost, extends the project time line and often comes with a lot of missteps. Also, many businesses today do not have staff to dedicate to large scale projects.”
We have looked at the pros and cons of executing plant floor to ERP integration projects with ERP vendors, with automation vendors, with system integrators, and with internal staff. What are recommended best practices?
Opinions on best practices obviously vary depending on point-of-view, with each option tending to recommend their own. But some respondents took a more impartial view.
Industry analyst Frost & Sullivan suggests evaluation of integration partners based on this risk versus cost versus complexity versus time matrix.
Sath Rao, director of industrial automation and process control at industry analyst firm Frost and Sullivan says, “The single largest disconnect in realizing the benefits of plant floor to top floor integration is the inability to translate business-specific vision to operational plant floor strategies. This disconnect can only be bridged if real-time business metrics are tied to plant level operational metrics. This specific insight can be provided by an independent and objective third-party integration consultant or by a management guru who has the confidence of the C-level in the organization.”
Whatever approach selected, teamwork is a must. “Our approach stresses teamwork among vendors, the integration firm, and the customer during the project,” says Michel Ruel PE, president of system integrator Top Control, Levis, Quebec. “Coaching and support after the project are also crucial, and with many customers we accomplish this via remote access. We encourage our customers to bring in project personnel from different departments including process engineering, control systems and management.”
Cole of Smithfield Foods says, “The biggest challenge in successfully integrating plant data to ERP level systems is defining proper ownership and team participation at the process, technical, and business levels. The ideal makeup of this team includes an ERP integrator, the automation vendor and key internal resources. Getting and keeping a project running smoothly depends on this team as full-time project members in both the short and long term.”
For more information on this subject go to ControlGlobal.com/0803_integration.html
Maverick Technologies is an independent systems integrator with experience at both the plant and business levels. Recently, a large fertilizer manufacturer in Texas put Maverick to the test on an enterprise integration project. The manufacturer’s threefold objective was to develop a method of lot traceability, to better manage plant utilization and to automate data entry for quality assurance and reliable reporting.
Maverick designed an integration solution based on the ISA-95-compliant B2MML transaction schema. To meet the project requirements, Maverick used and expanded upon existing software, including FourthShift Edition for SAP Business One at the ERP system level, Wonderware products at the MES level and Rockwell Automation products at the controller level.
As a result of the systems integration, the plant can now provide forward and backward genealogy of materials as well as metrics regarding plant utilization and potential capacity. Many data processes are now automated, including material consumption transactions and historization of change management. The plant has also reduced the cost of acquiring downtime data and eliminated the inaccuracies and inefficiencies of manual data entry.
Real-time production monitoring and access to production data allow web-based reporting and measure the plant’s overall success through key performance indicators. The enterprise integration project only took nine months to complete and the manufacturer has continued to experience a return on its investment.