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Digitalization Makes You Future-Proof and Pays Off. 6 Tools for the Digital Factory

The digital transformation offers many opportunities and potentials. More efficient production, avoidance of waste, greater flexibility, to name just a few. However, digitalization is not a sure-fire success and unfortunately cannot simply be implemented on the side. Successful digitalization projects require strategy, expertise and resources. In addition to investments in hardware and software, specific process experience is also required. It is therefore not surprising that, according to a bitkom study from 2022, two thirds (66%, 2021: 65%) of companies see themselves as laggards when it comes to digitalization. Currently, the biggest sales are still being generated in the analog world, in the manufacturing industry. But even there, data is already the new gold, as it provides the basis for process optimization. An MES (Manufacturing Execution System) is a suitable tool for collecting data directly from production.

All MES projects are about optimizing production. This requires reliable data from production and related areas. MES have established themselves for this purpose – powerful data collectors and pioneers for Industry 4.0. Data is analyzed in order to create transparency and initiate optimizations on this basis. This increases productivity. An MES is the tool for collecting and visualizing data. With the right MES partner, production and all the processes involved can be sustainably improved. But what can this look like in an example factory?

MES as a data hub between ERP and shopfloor (horizontally and vertically integrated) (Graphic: FASTEC GmbH).

In most companies, a document, known as a production routing slip, is output from the ERP with all the important information for production and printed in paper form. This document is used on the store floor. Production is started on the basis of this document and further information arising during the production process is added manually. Once all orders have been completed, the additional information is entered into the ERP and the paper is filed. This process is time-consuming and error-prone. With the trends around digitalization and Industry 4.0, manufacturing companies have far-reaching opportunities to digitalize these processes and thus make them more efficient.

MES acts as a link between the ERP system and the store floor. Thanks to an interface, the data is imported from the ERP and forwarded directly to production. All data is available digitally in real-time on terminals on the lines and systems as well as on large screens.

Another interface is established between the MES and the systems and lines. As a live system, it requires feedback from the machine. This outputs the production cycle as a signal and reports it back to the MES. The data can be processed and reported there. To ensure a continuous flow of information, the data from the MES (such as quantities produced and the time required for this) is reported back to the ERP system. This feedback is referred to as production data acquisition. This is necessary in order to record both target and actual data from the store floor and to evaluate production orders commercially. In practice, the interfaces are usually not fully automated, but are subject to a visual check in which the sensitive quantities and time messages are checked again. 

A Look Inside the Factory

Every MES requires a “base module” in which basic functions such as interfaces or master data management are mapped. The software runs on servers provided for this purpose, where the binding to the ERP system also takes place.

The flow of goods extends from goods receipt through production to assembly and storage or goods issue. The entire process is coordinated with the support of an MES. The ERP system monitors incoming goods and orders new materials that are required for the production process. 

Tool 1: MDA for Reliable Detection of Weak Points in the Production Process

Machine Data Acquisition (MDA) provides added value for all levels – with real-time data (Graphic: FASTEC GmbH).

Machines and systems are mainly found in the metal and plastics production sectors. Interlinked production lines are more common in food and pharmaceutical production. In both forms of production, there are regular downtimes that affect the efficiency of the entire production process and drive up costs. If you know the reasons for downtimes, you can eliminate them in essence. 

With the MDA, cycles and quantities are read directly from the machine to avoid errors caused by manual recording. This provides an exact, error-free data basis for production data acquisition (PDA). In addition, the data enables extensive analyses regarding the productivity of a machine and optimization potential, which can be perfectly visualized with the monitoring function or the binding of a BI tool. Both can be easily connected to an MES via interfaces in order to access the data from the store floor in real-time.

Tool 2: PDA for Avoiding Long Downtimes by Reacting to Deviations in Real-Time

Precise data for meaningful post-calculations regarding quantities produced, times required and length of production orders are essential in manufacturing companies. The recorded operating data identifies process disruptions, such as the interruption of an operation in production, at an early stage and deviations between target and actual values are immediately recognizable. The PDA also assigns the associated production order to the data from the machines (MDA), which ensures comprehensive transparency in real-time.

Tool 3: Maintenance Without Loss of Time due to Optimized Scheduling in the Production Process

Planned maintenance schedules for machines are automatically displayed in the digital production environment, ensuring that they are carried out regularly. Properly maintained equipment is less prone to malfunctions or breakdowns, which increases production efficiency. By recording exact operating hours and cycles, the MES has significantly more opportunities to indicate preventive maintenance. Digital maintenance plans embedded in the MES can be taken into account in planning and thus further optimize production processes. Machine Data Acquisition with a large screen in the maintenance office can also help to improve response times in the event of an escalation.


Thomas Gerling, Head of Injection Molding at Sartorius Stedim Plastics reports:

The seamless integration of the maintenance tool with planning is of course particularly appealing to us as injection molders. You can see where the tools are at any time, what their status is and when they will be available for production again after a repair. 

Tool 4: Quality Assurance (QA) for Maximum Product Safety Through Transparency of Systems, Modifications and Release of Inspection Orders

Quality assurance in real-time using the example of a line (graphic: FASTEC GmbH).

Automated inspection order creation based on order data as well as digitization of in-process inspections of items and the complete embedding of these inspection processes in production are advantages of integrated QA in an MES. Products can be inspected flexibly, i.e. manually via the terminal or fully automatically via machine interfaces. The result is end-to-end transparency across all systems, modifications and releases of inspection orders. Sources of error that occur when transferring QA data to an external system are avoided and the time required is drastically reduced by eliminating paper and manual testing.

Tool 5: Work Preparation Including Production Planning for Avoiding Bottlenecks and Flexible Scheduling of Production Orders

Work preparation prepares all the work involved in production, including the provision of materials as well as production planning. Error-free multi-resource planning, taking into account dependencies and available capacities, increases your adherence to deadlines and helps to identify bottlenecks and capacity reserves at an early stage. The standardized, digital production planning resulting from the planning process ensures end-to-end transparency from the planning stage to the machine terminal. Planned production orders can be registered at the machine terminal at the touch of a button. Feedback from production planning to the ERP system ensures the correct distribution of the required materials from goods receipt to the production systems. Thanks to real-time feedback from production, work preparation can react flexibly to unplanned events. 

Tool 6: Traceability for Tracing Production Processes in the Event of an Emergency 

The flow of goods is monitored via scanners at the individual stations and can be traced at any time (forward/backward traceability) (graphic: FASTEC GmbH). 

In the event of faulty products that could endanger consumers or users, rapid identification of the affected goods is essential and safeguards your company’s reputation. Whether material or process traceability, the MES records all resources, goods and components used as well as the prevailing process parameters in production. Each product or batch is assigned a unique serial number, providing convenient search and evaluation options including transparent traceability with forward and backward tracking. Traceability takes place across the entire production process and must be applied to incoming goods as well as production and outgoing goods. In contrast to classic traceability in the ERP system, the MES can act intelligently on the store floor controlled by scanners and avoid the use of incorrect components, for example. 

 

Conclusion: Acting Strategically Instead of Reacting – Key Benefits for Corporate Success

An MES solution is a flexible system that benefits all areas of the company. It ensures greater transparency and regulated processes, and provides important KPIs, analyses and reports. The software can be adapted to any industry and specific production processes and is the ideal link between ERP and production level. The manual recording of operating data (quantities and times) required for post-calculation is replaced by a digital process. Manual data acquisition is no longer necessary. This makes processes more efficient and reduces the susceptibility to errors.

This is confirmed by Torsten Schlegel, CIP Coordinator at RITTER SPORT:

The fact that all production data and deviations are recorded automatically means that they are complete and error-free compared to manual records in the past. 

Terminals and monitors also ensure transparency at all levels. This gives all stakeholders a real-time overview of the status of production or individual systems and lines. Production management, which is responsible for monitoring key figures in production, coordinates all processes on the store floor and can intervene in the planning and control of production processes at any time via the MES in the event of deviations. This newly gained transparency also makes it possible to identify reasons for disruptions and implement optimization measures.

FASTEC 4 PRO helps us to decide whether faults are chronic or sporadic and thus to find a suitable solution. The elimination of chronic faults has top priority! 

– Employee of BODE Chemie GmbH.

Based on valid data, errors in line sections or on individual systems can be localized and assigned; the report of the data provides information on possible causes of errors and thus offers scope for optimization projects.

With an experienced partner, these tools can be implemented step by step and in line with requirements.

As your digitalization partner, we are at your side throughout the entire project. Let us advise you now without obligation.

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Author: Lars Knitter

Sales and Marketing Director
Consulting for interested parties and customers as well as support for national and international digitization projects with experience since 2013.

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FASTEC Goes Cloud

pvaPRO, smartOEE and FASTedge complement MES solution FASTEC 4 PRO

Cloud? We can do that! With our new products pvaPRO, smartOEE and FASTedge, companies receive turnkey systems and benefit from us as a solution partner throughout the entire project period and beyond.

Chapter

FASTedge SFT15

The 15-inch touch terminal is required for each machine. It has a universal RFID reader and two digital inputs for machine connection as standard.

FASTedge Box

Both the terminals and the machines are connected to the EdgeBox via LAN or WiFi. The cloud connection is made via your network or mobile communications. At least one EdgeBox is required. The system can later be moved to your own server.

User

Personal users are required to report the collected data. The number of employees involved in data acquisition in your production does not matter.

Systems

Each line and machine in your production is licensed individually.

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