The Future of Manufacturing – Moving to a Digital World

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Andrew Hughes

Andrew Hughes joined the LNS Research team in May of 2015 and is a Principal Analyst with his primary focus being research and analysis in the Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) practice. Andrew has 30 years of experience in manufacturing IT, software research, sales and management across a broad spectrum of manufacturing industries.

Manufacturing operations have matured at a rapid rate over the last few years as many companies decide to implement plant level systems that integrate the manufacturing assets and control in a standard way. Indeed, large manufacturers have put a lot of emphasis on standardizing these systems across multiple plants.

Smart Connected Operations

The architecture has remained rooted in the historical S95 model for manufacturing operations where the level 3 solutions, Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) (or MES), have remained stoically in the factory with no view to the outside world except a programmed interface to ERP or other business systems.

The MOM system is the current go to solution for gathering data from the plant. It often includes a data historian and has connections to the main controllers that provide manufacturing data and receive commands from the MOM system; the control hierarchy is in place and static. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) changes all that in many ways, two of which we will discuss in this post:

  • Data can be accessed by IIoT apps directly from smart devices
  • MOM functions do not need to reside on premise.

Digital Transformation in Manufacturing Webinar

To learn more about the benefits of digital transformation, view our webinar

Smart Connected Devices

The traditional S95 control hierarchy is used purely for control but modern plant equipment often generates other data that goes unused. These “Smart Connected Devices” use Internet/IP connectivity and standard protocols (e.g. OPC UA) making them easy to connect to IIoT apps running in the cloud or elsewhere in enterprise systems. The ability to connect directly reduces the cost of collecting information such as maintenance or enterprise quality, not required for control. Rather than altering wiring, PLPCs, MOM and business system interfaces, an IIoT app can simply access an edge device for the appropriate information; If a valve has internal information about its state, previous maintenance and performance, this information will be useful to predictive maintenance systems. It can also be aggregated with similar equipment across plants and even beyond the enterprise (by a vendor for example) to help improve performance.

The advantages of direct access to edge devices will increase as IIOT apps mature and their numbers grow. This does not imply that all hierarchical control will disappear and that MOM will lose its influence; MOM will become ever more important as a major source of and pathway for manufacturing data. It will also become more distributed.

MOM moves to the cloud

Most of today’s MOM systems run on premise and have a central database to manage inter-function communication. This will change as IIoT gains traction and MOM functions need to be integrated into the IIoT platform. Companies starting out in MOM today need to understand their overall operational architecture before making commitments.

Some MOM functions reside much more naturally at the enterprise level than in the plant. For example, most historian data can be kept in the cloud where longer term applications for optimization and predictive analytics can make use of huge amounts of information. Short term historian information will be collected and temporarily stored close to its source and then aggregated and passed up to longer term, lower cost storage.

Functions such as quality have traditionally been split between plant and enterprise solutions. The split is often arbitrary and made on the basis of what choices have been made for quality software. We would expect that centrally managed enterprise quality solutions will give more access by quality to short term production information and equipment performance, leading to more achievable quality improvements.

Opportunities are many

As manufacturers move to the IIoT, how they use existing or new MOM systems is a critical architectural decision that needs to be addressed early on. There are, of course, many decisions regarding technologies, processes and every level of person in the organization. Finding key initial projects connecting the plant to the IIoT platform will provide useful insights for future continuation of your digital transformation. These projects should be ones that are going to deliver a known benefit – choose pain points whose improvement will deliver clear results and encourage a continuation of the digital transformation journey.

To learn more about digital transformation and its benefits, read the article Drive Operational Excellence with Digital Transformation, view the webinar “Digital Transformation in Manufacturing” and explore Schneider Electric’s Manufacturing Operations Management page.

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