Misunderstood Manufacturing

Misunderstood Manufacturing

Humans get strange ideas in their minds that cannot be shaken by facts and truth. Such as any new idea for improving efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability of manufacturing will cost people their jobs.

It is part of popular mythology that automation puts people out of work. This idea is so prevalent that even MIT economics professors run math to try to prove it. (See previous post.)

Then I interviewed Bob Argyle, co-founder and CCO of Leading2Lean, who mentioned “People say Lean cuts jobs, but it actually saves jobs.”

Leading2Lean is a Lean-based company that has developed an implementation software that engages plant floor workers and changes the way they approach their jobs by delivering real-time actionable IoT data and methods that reveal the root causes of production bottlenecks. This allows everyone to problem-solve and create a sustainable culture of continuous improvement.

I related to Argyle that when I put together the first issue of Automation World back in early 2003 I wanted to interview a Lean expert. The gentleman asked why I would interview him since automation was antithetical to Lean. I told him that I thought there was a place where each could use the other. Hence, the Leading2Lean software.

Argyle gave me the history of his Lean journey beginning at AutoLiv, a supplier of air bags to the auto industry. The customer sent a “sensei” to teach Lean methodology–also known as the Toyota Production System. Responding to my automation comment, Argyle said, “Sensei never said computers are bad, but he taught us to improve the process before adding computers. Use automation to reduce process waste.”

Just what I was taught in my first computer applications class in 1977. Know your process first, then improve the process, then add digitalization.

Use data to capture critical data, Argyle told me. And use automation appropriately for the right thing to do in the particular process. Use it to remove waste, and for safety, quality, and efficiency.

We had to cut the interview, but they offered some specific customer stories that detail the benefits of the integration of computers and Lean.

Dell Revamps Manufacturing on Agile ERP

Dell Revamps Manufacturing on Agile ERP

This manufacturing story was an odd press release. It came about the time of Dell Technologies’ annual user conference Dell Technologies World. But it has no relationship to that event. It deals with implementing Lean with an MES, but doesn’t really mention the supplier who sent the release.

Dell has sold and manufactured based on Configure to Order since its beginnings. But we all know that CTO while holding prices down contains a unique set of challenges. As a part of its high-volume, high- variability, configure-to-order manufacturing model, the company established its eight manufacturing facilities completely differently. Each factory relied on different processes to produce the same products.

By 2010, it was a new world of higher competition and lower prices and this disparity added considerable IT challenges to the business. Each factory, for instance, had a unique IT footprint, with as many as 600 physical servers per facility. And across facilities, operations relied on more than 70 highly customized applications to guide each unit on its path through the factory and out the door to the customer.

Around this time, the global PC market was shifting towards standard product configurations instead of the traditional CTO model. To maintain competitive in a challenging market, Dell needed to transform its manufacturing operations, simplify its infrastructure and re-engineer its manufacturing processes from end to end.

Matt Griffiths, Executive Director of Manufacturing IT for Dell, says, “While the CTO model still worked for our enterprise and large customers, consumers were looking for a simpler product portfolio. We had to ask ourselves how we would react to that shift and drive the efficiencies of a simpler product portfolio into our factories and supply chains, so we could realize the cost savings and benefits of doing that change.”

A New Vision for Manufacturing

The first step in Dell’s business transformation was manufacturing simplification. Dell re-engineered its manufacturing processes based on lean principles, including just-in-time delivery of components from hundreds of suppliers. The new manufacturing model also required Dell to rationalize its technology infrastructure and ultimately rearchitect nearly all systems based on the new, simplified processes.

To support this transformation, Dell implemented Microsoft Dynamics AX. Leadership understood that a Microsoft Dynamics solution would enable them to standardize business processes around industry best practices and a single, global business model. The solution would also enable Dell to maintain maximum flexibility within each facility, allowing the company to respond quickly to changing market conditions. To further ensure flexibility, the company adopted a hub-and-spoke model, setting up each factory as an individual manufacturing business, with financials rolling up to the financial systems in place at Dell’s headquarters.

While flexibility at the plant level was important to Dell, the company opted to use much of the Microsoft Dynamics AX functionality out-of-the-box to allow for a rapid deployment. Griffiths says, “We were able to roll out Microsoft Dynamics AX to seven of our eight facilities over the last three years and we are now completing the final rollout in Poland.”

Griffiths notes that while the initial deployment took six months to complete, subsequent implementations were faster; the following deployment took only four months, and the three most recent deployments were performed simultaneously.

System Overview

Microsoft Dynamics now acts as Dell’s core Manufacturing Execution System (MES), while allowing the company to streamline operations using lean principles and industry best practices.

The MES uses the Lean, Production, Inventory, Quality, and Trade modules built into Microsoft Dynamics to manage more than one million transactions each day and all of Dell’s factory operations.

“We use Microsoft Dynamics end-to-end. It handles everything from raw materials coming in the front door, to kitting and material handling, all the way to our burn process through to shipping out the back door to our customers”, Griffiths says.

Allowing for a seamless connection and alignment with the company’s outsourced manufacturing network, Microsoft Dynamics AX also connects to Dell’s other enterprise applications using open, flexible communication methods.


Implementing Microsoft Dynamics helped Dell dramatically simplify its IT infrastructure and realign its manufacturing processes based on lean principles—all while maintaining the flexibility the company needs to quickly retool its facilities to meet consumer demand for new or different products. With the new MES in place, Dell has realized considerable IT cost savings, while increasing efficiency and boosting agility.

40% Reduction of IT Costs of Goods Sold

Through the implementation of Microsoft Dynamics AX and adoption of lean manufacturing principles, Dell decreased manufacturing IT costs of goods sold by approximately 40%. This savings equates to about $50M, which is an estimated 6-month payback on its Dynamics investment—a timeframe in which the company was also able to fully recover its factory throughout efficiency.

75% Reduction of IT Footprint and Downtime

In conjunction with its Dynamics implementation, Dell retired almost 2,000 physical servers and 75 custom- developed applications for an overall reduction of its IT footprint by about 75%.

At the same time, this highly simplified environment has seen vast improvements in uptime. Griffiths says, “In 2008, we saw downtime of about 2% of man capacity. Now, our most mature factory is at about 0.5% in downtime. That’s a 75% reduction.”

Streamline Manufacturing to Remain Competitive

With an MES in place, Dell was able to standardize its manufacturing processes across its global manufacturing facilities. While enabling the company to implement lean principles, this change has also helped the company to remain a leader of customized products, manufactured just in time.

With all of these processes now happening on a single system, Dell can fulfill customer orders in a much timelier fashion, while maintaining complete visibility and control over its manufacturing operations.

More importantly, this new manufacturing environment has enabled Dell to adapt to a new way of doing business. Griffiths says, “As the manufacturing industry evolved and shifted away from each unit being completely different, we changed our business processes to take advantage of that. Microsoft Dynamics, with its Lean module, was fundamental in helping us to do that.”

Drive Agility

Griffiths goes on to say, “Now as new products or processes are being introduced into our facilities, we only have to develop them once and roll them out across all locations. Before Microsoft Dynamics, we had to literally develop our processes seven different times. Today, our development teams are significantly streamlined. We can reuse our testing across factories, and any defects we find we can fix once and apply across the whole business in one big swoop.”

This story was sent to me by a company called MCA Connect. I was intrigued by the story and wrote with a number of questions to follow up. I have not heard another word. But I like the idea of using software to supplement, not subvert, Lean.

Epicor Unveils AI-Based Virtual Agent

Epicor Unveils AI-Based Virtual Agent

There is so much hype around Artificial Intelligence (AI) that I sometimes want to discount it. However, here is yet another (see last week’s post) example of what AI can really accomplish. This industry-specific application of artificial intelligence technology simplifies interactions with ERP systems, automates tasks, and facilitates faster operations.

Epicor Software, a global provider of industry-specific enterprise software, has announced the release of Epicor Virtual Agent (EVA), its new enterprise-wide digital agent designed to help users work smarter and accelerate pace of operations across the business more easily.

“EVA will enable customers of all sizes, regardless of their operating model, to increase productivity, work smarter, and grow their business in whatever direction they want in today’s Industry 4.0 ecosystem,” Scott Hays, Senior Vice President, Product Marketing, Epicor Software.

Developed to execute tasks and recommend, predict, and adjust actions within set parameters, EVA appears on-screen as a virtual

assistant that users can access via text or voice. Along with cognitive skills such as text and voice, EVA transforms data into visual information creating an intuitive experience to complete actions on native devices. Powered by Natural Language Processing (NLP), users can access EVA from their mobile devices and the agent will deliver targeted information to help them make better, faster decisions.

Beyond the request/response conversational experience, EVA also uses artificial intelligent (AI) capabilities to proactively deliver alerts and carry out targeted actions based on combinations of events, market statistics, and historical data. Designed to extend and support the workforce, EVA can contribute timely insights that improve accuracy, problem-spotting, and can even forecast and automatically adjust production or distribution levels in-line with customer demand.

“New forms of interacting with business software solutions are a key to accelerating the pace of operations and improving the exchange of data and information,” said Hays. “Having an intelligent agent at hand will help companies become more agile and responsive to unexpected events and rapidly changing customer demands.”

According to industry analyst firm Gartner more than 50 percent of all people collaborating in Industry 4.0 ecosystems will use virtual assistants or intelligent agents to interact more naturally with their surroundings and with people by 2022. IDC predicts that by the same year, task-level intelligent applications (apps) that augment human efforts will account for 30 percent of the enterprise apps market. According to IDC, by 2027 the advances in unsupervised and reinforcement machine learning will enable cognitive/AI systems that can detect and sense their environment, learn independently, and make decisions on their own or provide humans with constraint-optimized recommendations.

“With EVA, you interact naturally with your ERP system,” comments Hays. “It’s as easy as just talking or typing to a colleague. This makes the breadth and depth of the industry-specific functionality and information available inside the system directly accessible to a larger audience, boosting productivity and efficiency, and giving the company an improved return on their ERP investment.”

Developed using AI services from Microsoft Azure, EVA can be added to all sizes and types of Epicor ERP implementations—on-premise as well as in the cloud. This ensures customers of any size, including small and medium-sized companies, can take advantage of innovative technologies that will help them grow their businesses.

“As consumers we’re already familiar with conversational technology, EVA will be easy for users to start working with straight away. Furthermore, thanks to its machine learning component, the more you use EVA, the better it will work for you,” said Hays. “We are confident that using an artificial intelligence-based agent that has deep industry-specific applications will make their enterprise systems more predictive, adaptive, and proactive. EVA will enable customers of all sizes, regardless of their operating model, to increase productivity, work smarter, and grow their business in whatever direction they want in today’s Industry 4.0 ecosystem.”

One use case highlighted by Epicor was manufacturing. Using EVA to detect an anomaly early on in a production machine that, if left untouched, could lead to unplanned downtime and sub-standard product quality. Data from machines and IoT sensors, combined with Epicor ERP, provides a virtual nervous system that delivers AI-driven alerts from EVA to a mobile device. With just a few clicks on the device, the production manager can confirm suggestions from EVA to schedule preventive maintenance for a machine and shift production to other available machines.

Bringing Manufacturing Data to the Cloud

Bringing Manufacturing Data to the Cloud

This press release is more than a little puzzling. GE Digital announces its Predix Manufacturing Data Cloud—apparently its own cloud platform. I would swear that I heard 18 months ago about a change in direction where it would leave behind its “not invented here” syndrome and rather than building its own platform from scratch using one of the several available cloud services.

Realistically, IT meets OT in the cloud. Predix Manufacturing Data Cloud exists to fulfill that promise.

Used in concert with a traditional Manufacturing Execution System (MES), Predix MDC gives manufacturers operational analysis in the cloud and greater flexibility of deployment, helping reduce the size of on-premises systems and make them run more efficiently.

“Most companies are only just scratching the surface of realizing their data’s potential. In fact, today manufacturers are losing the value of 70 percent of collected manufacturing data,” said Matt Wells, Vice President of Product Management for GE Digital. “Predix MDC delivers the power of cloud computing to manufacturers, taking the burden of heavy compute loads out of the plant, enabling users to aggregate data from across the business and run analytics that can uncover new insights and unlock even greater efficiencies.”

According to the company, Predix MDC provides next generation cloud functionality to GE Digital’s manufacturing execution system offering, Plant Applications, used by organizations around the world to track and analyze production execution and workflow, as well as manage production data and quality control. Predix MDC provides manufacturers with a secure, reliable way to ingest and store data in the cloud, speeding process implementation by up to 50 percent and giving users rich views into information captured at individual sites as well as the ability to run analytics and comparisons across various locations and data types, including manufacturing, enterprise and asset data. Additionally, MDC can reduce on-premise storage and maintenance costs, freeing up computing systems to focus on core capabilities. Furthermore, moving and storing manufacturing data in the cloud provides an additional level of certainty around data retention regulation compliance and auditing purposes.

It is built to support manufacturing across industries from discrete to process, across sectors like food and beverage, packaging, pulp and paper, automotive, chemical, pharmaceutical and life sciences.

P&G, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of consumer packaged goods (CPG), has been a long-time customer of GE Digital’s Plant Applications Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and is leveraging Predix MDC capabilities by moving manufacturing data and running analytics in the cloud. P&G has already gained a detailed, data-supported view into its manufacturing processes. The new offering is helping the company meet data compliance regulations and significantly increase the speed of its on-premise MES.

Predix MDC is compatible with any third-party application that supports REST APIs for data sourcing, user interface, visualization, analytics and reporting. General availability is expected in Q2 2019.

New HMI SCADA IIoT Software

New HMI SCADA IIoT Software

There’s something new for venerable HMI SCADA IIoT software applications? While discussing HMI SCADA announcements at last February’s ARC Industry Forum, a friend observed, “I didn’t think it was possible for there to be something new.”

Ignition 8 from Inductive Automation saw its release April 8. We got a glimpse at the Ignition Customer Conference in September and again at the ARC Forum. Now it’s ready to go. My first training class on this type of software was probably around 1994. Looking at this release, I’d have to say that great advances have been made.

This is a major update to Inductive’s signature software platform that addresses industrial organizations’ needs for expanded architectures, enhanced security, and first-class mobile solutions. This version gives users a powerful new view of their industrial processes that is more mobile, customizable, scalable, and secure than ever before. Ignition 8 arrives along with the new Ignition Perspective Module. Ignition Perspective is a visualization system that brings new capabilities to mobile devices.

“We’re very excited to be sharing Ignition 8 with the world,” said Carl Gould, co-director of software engineering for Inductive Automation. “I can’t wait to see what people build with Ignition Perspective, which was built from the ground up to be a first-class, pure-web, fully mobile solution for industrial applications.”

Ignition Perspective provides full SCADA control from mobile phones, and drag-and-drop capabilities for designing mobile-responsive screens that are ideal for mobile devices. Applications built with the Ignition Perspective Module adapt to fit any size screen, from cellphone to desktop. It also enables users to leverage a phone’s GPS, camera, Bluetooth, orientation-sensing, and more. It runs in any web browser with HTML5, and requires no plug-ins. Perspective allows people to enhance their SCADA systems in new and creative ways.

Ignition 8 provides new capabilities for building enterprise-scale architectures. A faster tag system aids very large deployments, such as those with one million tags or more. Improved concurrent design allows projects to move faster. Project inheritance allows corporate standards to be used in addition to local modifications. Full compatibility with industry-standard source-control tools makes it easy to restore previous versions, resolve code conflicts, and track changes to codebases. And Ignition 8 was built with cybersecurity as a key pillar. It supports industry-leading encryption protocols, uses two-factor authentication, and also includes single sign-on.

“With all the new features in Ignition 8, along with the new Ignition Perspective Module, this is a big leap forward for users of Ignition,” said Don Pearson, chief strategy officer for Inductive Automation. “This software is really going to open up a lot of creative opportunities for people.”

  • Unlimited Licensing Mode–Add unlimited clients, screens, tags, connections & devices.
  • Server-Centric Web-Deployment–Easily deploy at one or more sites or in the cloud.
  • Modular Configurability–Use integrated modules to build the exact industrial application you need.
  • Cross-Platform Compatibility–Ignition works with any major operating system, even iOS and Android.
  • Run Web-Clients on Desktop or Mobile–Launch runtime clients in any web browser with no plugin required.
  • Based on Open Technology Standards–Built on HTML5, SQL, Python, MQTT & OPC UA.
  • Instant Installs and Updates–Install on a server in just 3 minutes, push updates to clients everywhere, instantly.
  • One Universal Platform–Build SCADA, MES, IIoT, alarming, reporting applications and more.
  • Mission-Critical–Add fault tolerance for mission-critical systems by adding redundant servers.

Mobile Industrial Analytics and Machine Learning Come to Android

Mobile Industrial Analytics and Machine Learning Come to Android

FogHorn comes up more and more often in my research on Internet of Things (IoT). And as we know, IoT is nothing without analytics and mobile. Today’s release touts FogHorn’s release of Lightning Mobile, an edge computing solution built specifically for industrial mobile devices.

According GSMA Intelligence, Industrial IoT connections will overtake consumer IoT connections in 2023, increasing more than five-fold to 13.8 billion in 2025. This is driven by a number of factors, including the emergence of LTE-M, NB-IoT and 5G, the benefits of leveraging battery powered, low cost devices, portability and re-configuration flexibility, growth in high-density deployments and the coverage and security benefits of mobile technologies.

Lightning Mobile empowers operational technology (OT) and field professionals with real-time analytics, machine learning (ML) and AI on mobile, battery-powered devices, without having to rely on connectivity to the cloud, speeding decision making and industrial workflow. This approach enables a new class of edge intelligence applications not possible with devices restricted to fixed locations, while making it easy to build and market off-the-shelf common solutions using FogHorn’s software. Additionally, support for edge-based deep learning model inferencing solves critical issues such as image recognition of bar codes and health and battery monitoring of high-volume deployments of mobile devices. The company has also launched a broad ecosystem initiative to expand the universe of applications that can run on Lightning Mobile.

“Over 85% of mobile operating systems worldwide are Android,” said Mike Guilfoyle, Director of Research at ARC Advisory Group. “For FogHorn’s customers, more of their operations technology staff can leverage edge intelligence for real-time analytics in the field, without the restriction of fixed-position devices. By enabling OT-staff access to edge computing on handheld Android devices, it will expand the pool of thinking about what is possible at the edge. This will inevitably lead to new use cases for industrial and commercial organizations.”

FogHorn’s Android App, in addition to providing the core analytics and ML capability on the live data, supports ingestion of all the Android event data coming from various sources. This provides an operator-friendly view of actionable insights right on the device, and a delivers highly efficient way to process digital, audio, video and image-based content.

“We are extremely excited to bring FogHorn’s next wave of edge computing innovation to market with Lightning Mobile, pushing real time analytics and AI to OT professionals through their mobile devices.” said Sastry Malladi, CTO at FogHorn. “This will unleash a wave of new industrial use cases including next-generation bar code scanners, portable factory environmental monitors, manufacturing using a high-density of devices such as smart screwdrivers, advanced fleet applications and more. We see a tremendous global opportunity for this technology.”

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