My first salaried position in manufacturing after leaving university involved production/inventory control, with some industrial engineering and manufacturing engineering thrown in to keep me busy. Production scheduling efficiently involves juggling many balls in the air keeping people, machines, work-in-process, and inventory balanced and productive.
This was at a department that manufactured a variety of component parts fulfilling the orders of three assembly plants in the organization. This was before widespread use of computers. I managed with a number of hand-written spreadsheets.
Production schedulers for metal fabricators who balance orders from multiple customers processed across many different machines and processes have my sympathy. This is difficult work.
The easiest way is to batch according to order. The problem with this at a manufacturing level is that this may lead to downtime due to frequent changeovers to the equipment to set up for each batch.
A more efficient way to manage this would be to gather the day’s/week’s orders and sort by process type. Then all the pieces processed by Machine A wit a particular process could be processed regardless of whose order it is. The trick to all this is to track the WIP and get all the components sorted by order at the end.
Epicor Software Corp. contacted me about a successful application of its ERP to tackle just such a problem. Anchor Fabrication, a Texas-based one-stop metal fabrication shop. It has improved its productivity by up to 200% through the help of the Epicor ERP solution.
Anchor Fabrication caters to a wide variety of customers with a range of product needs – from plasma- and laser-cutting to machining, welding, and assembly work. Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, Anchor Fabrication has more than 1,000,000 square feet of manufacturing space across six facilities.
“We’ve built a reputation within the metal fabrication industry based on our efficiency and ability to quickly execute on a variety of services,” said Hector Robles, VP of manufacturing at Anchor Fabrication. “During site visits, customers often tell us they appreciate our ability to quickly look up almost any particular part’s manufacturing history along with the number of times we’ve built those specific parts.”
Epicor ERP allows Anchor Fabrication to combine all work order data into a single job without the need for manual human entry – ultimately reducing order planning costs by over $100,000 each year.
“Anchor likes to inform employees with the most concise data and the best information possible for every job that goes to the floor. Epicor really helps to keep all that information together in one spot,” said Jason Davis, VP of sales at Anchor Fabrication.
Anchor Fabrication’s rapid delivery of manufacturing orders is due in part to their ability to perform dynamic nesting, made possible by the Epicor ERP platform, which allows the metal shop team to take work orders and perform them concurrently through integration with Service Connect. The software system examines all orders that are assigned to a certain machine and notifies the Anchor Fabrication team if any orders are a fit for simultaneous execution.
“Many metal fabricators only perform a single service – welding, cutting, coating – but Anchor Fabrication saw an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition. They’ve strategically positioned themselves as an all-in-one metal fabrication service provider, and as a provider that can complete customer orders faster than single-service competitors,” said Terri Hiskey, VP of global product marketing at Epicor. “We’re very happy to see that our vertical industry specialization and product knowledge and capabilities have enabled Anchor Fabrication to work smarter, not harder – making a marked difference in the company’s business, productivity, and revenue.”
“Epicor can tailor software solutions to fit the needs of the customer,” said Steven Pybus, VP of engineering at Anchor Fabrication.
They didn’t tell me who the production scheduling team was, but they should all be the heroes of this story for finding and implementing the wise use of manufacturing IT software to meet many company objectives.
In brief: IIoT edge software allows industrial organizations to store and send data from remote assets to PI Server or OSIsoft Cloud Services for full edge-to-cloud connectivity.
The spring “conference season” has either been cancelled or gone virtual. The first virtual conference of the season for me was OSIsoft PI World. I’ve made the trip to San Francisco a couple of times to be there in person, but this year I sat in my office with headphones firmly affixed to my ears.
The “Edge” has been a hot topic for a few years now—mostly from the IT-oriented technology providers that I follow. OSIsoft’s PI is the ubiquitous “system of record” for a huge percentage of the industrial world. This historian database is often used in platforms for moving data from the plant to the enterprise. PI is the bridging step in most cases. The Edge, in our industrial case, often refers to a device serving as a data concentrator from physical devices in the plant or in the field and then as a gateway serving the data to the cloud or to the enterprise.
At the conference, OSIsoft announced general availability of Edge Data Store. With Edge Data Store, customers can remotely monitor critical assets to improve uptime, while minimizing the costs and safety risks associated with manual, in-person inspections.
Edge Data Store is Industrial IoT (IIoT) software that allows operators to collect, store, and access data from assets and sensors in remote environments. Remote edge data can now be easily collected and integrated with primary control network data to create a holistic view of industrial operations. OSIsoft’s customers and partners have deployed Edge Data Store in a variety of settings, including on hardened gateways to monitor personnel safety at sea, track performance of pumps in the field, and optimize the efficiency of large-scale battery solutions around the globe.
To improve the safety of personnel who must work in the dynamic, dangerous environment of the drill floor on offshore rigs, Edge Data Store pilot customer Rolloos turned its CCTV technology into a comprehensive detection system that could track personnel as they entered active zones. Through the Edge Data Store pilot, Rolloos ensured that all data was accessible by offshore operators for immediate decision support and could be streamed onshore for further retrospective analysis.
“We can actually track people from video and can combine that with the output from the equipment data to improve efficiency even more. Then, we can stream it back to shore using the Edge Data Store,” said Martijn Handels, director at Rolloos.
Easy, reliable access to edge data has enabled real-time monitoring of personnel and equipment to improve both employee safety and overall process performance.
“Our pervasive data collection strategy, with support for over 450 industrial protocols, has been utilized by thousands of customers, and we’re supplementing these capabilities with edge connectivity,” said Chris Felts, senior strategic product manager for OSIsoft. “Edge Data Store is a major step toward helping industrial customers capitalize on the promise of IoT and ubiquitous sensing. By supporting both edge to on-premises and edge to cloud data patterns, Edge Data Store provides an easy way for customers to improve operations with full end-to-end visibility.”
Because Edge Data Store shares the same data storage and API technologies as OSIsoft Cloud Services, custom applications developed for the cloud can be used at the edge and vice versa.
The Edge Data Challenge
Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 initiatives continue to transform critical operations with low-cost sensors and solutions. However, data from remote operations has remained isolated due to poor network connectivity, the difficulty of developing edge solutions that meet both the high standard of critical operations data management, and strict hardware requirements of rugged or remote devices. Valuable remote data is often stranded beyond the reach of automation systems, held up by unreliable network conditions. Edge Data Store overcomes these challenges; the software self-heals after hard reboots from power outages and runs on low-cost, rugged devices with Windows or Linux operating systems.
Edge Data Store provides no-code connectivity to common industrial protocols and can expose the data for use by field technicians or analytics applications. In addition to facing extended loss of connectivity, remote areas are often subject to limited connectivity, where data transfer costs are closely monitored.
For example, snow on a satellite dish could mean that a remote location is disconnected for days at a time, previously leading to data loss or requiring personnel to drive to the asset in harsh conditions. Edge Data Store delivers robust local storage and simple configuration options to optimize bandwidth and send edge data to PI Server or OSIsoft Cloud Services, allowing corporate users to augment existing data sets and drive further analysis.
“Edge technology simultaneously drives centralized knowledge and distributed decision making,” said OSIsoft President Michael Siemer. “For 40 years, OSIsoft has pushed the boundaries of real-time, high fidelity operations data. Edge technologies decentralize information access and empower essential employees to make local decisions for safer, smarter operations.”
How about some good news? Based on many conversations within the industry, I’ve longed pegged Inductive Automation as a growth company among a field perhaps not so active. Here is more evidence of solid growth for the company—and most likely also for this type of software.
Inductive Automation announced March 17 it has purchased land near its headquarters, with plans to construct two new buildings. The significant expansion comes 2 ½ years after its previous expansion, when the company purchased a building that allows it to grow to 285 employees. With the two new buildings, Inductive Automation will be able to triple its number of employees. The company will continue to use its current building, which is only 350 feet from the new site. Groundbreaking for the first new building is scheduled for September.
Inductive Automation makes industrial automation software that’s used in virtually every industry, in more than 100 countries. The company’s strong revenue growth is driving the need to expand. For the last 10 years, Inductive Automation’s revenues have grown, on average, 55 percent each year.
That phenomenal growth has been due to the popularity of the company’s key product, Ignition by Inductive Automation. Ignition is an industrial application platform with numerous tools for building solutions in human-machine interface (HMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Ignition software, along with its unlimited licensing model, is allowing organizations to build the systems they really want.
“We’re very excited to be expanding again,” said Don Pearson, chief strategy officer for Inductive Automation. “Most industrial organizations are trying to pull more data from the plant floor, so they can analyze it and make better business decisions. With Ignition, they can access data, analyze data, and control processes better than ever before. All this leads to a much stronger bottom line. Our customer base is expanding rapidly because we provide the tools that help people do all this in a very cost-efficient manner.”
HighByte, an industrial software company, announced that HighByte Intelligence Hub Version 1.0 is now available. HighByte Intelligence Hub is the first DataOps solution purpose-built for industrial environments. DataOps is a new approach to data integration and security that aims to improve data quality, reduce time spent preparing data for analysis, and encourage cross-functional collaboration within data-driven organizations.
When HighByte emerged from stealth mode last September, I wrote about it here.
I am partial toward these startups that are not trying to boil the ocean but are instead focused on solving a problem. Take, for example, ThingWorx which enhanced PTC’s business through acquisition and then in turn impacted Rockwell Automation’s business through adoption of ThingWorx technology rather than trying to re-invent it internally.
Or Hitachi Vantara, which is an integration of several smaller companies and which has a thriving DataOps group I wrote more about during my visit to its conference.
HighByte Intelligence Hub enables Operations to securely connect, model, and flow valuable industrial data to the users and systems that require this valuable information throughout the extended enterprise. The platform-agnostic software solution runs on-premises at the Edge, securely connects devices and applications via OPC UA and MQTT, is built for scale, and offers a codeless user interface. HighByte has positioned the software solution as the missing data infrastructure link to achieving the vision of Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0.
“As the number of applications that need to turn raw data into usable information increases, the customer is faced with having to recreate models in every application or develop their own solutions that integrate with the various APIs. Either choice slows down the initial deployment of Industrial 4.0 initiatives, inhibits the ability to scale, and places a huge maintainability problem on the customer,” said HighByte CEO Tony Paine. “With HighByte Intelligence Hub, customers can standardize and maintain their data models in a single location, securely streamline information flows, and accelerate time to value for their Industry 4.0 investments.”
Many analysts write as if data in manufacturing is a new thing. That is not true. What is new are tools to obtain better data and transmit it faster to ever more robust databases. We’re sort of doing the same thing that I was trying to do in 1978, only better, faster, cheaper. DataOps is acknowledged as part of the IT technology stack. HighByte is filling a gap in the OT stack.
This will result in such benefits as predicting machine failure and therefore improving uptime, improving product quality, providing better service to customers, strengthening the supply chain, all of which makes customers happier leading to a more robust and profitable company. Of course, this presumes that management figures out how to implement all this.
General availability of HighByte Intelligence Hub was preceded by a global beta program that launched in September 2019. HighByte leveraged the program to collect technical and business feedback from nearly forty (40) manufacturers, distributors, and system integrators representing fifteen (15) countries in preparation for the company’s first commercial launch.
HighByte Intelligence Hub is available as a site license with an annual subscription.
Next to acquisitions, partnerships are driving actions among major digital industrial supplier players. With today’s announcement, Aras, who labels itself “the only resilient platform provider for digital industrial applications,” announced a strategic partnership with ANSYS that includes the licensing of the Aras platform technology to enable the next generation of digital engineering practices.
When we last saw ANSYS on this blog, Rockwell Automation had announced a partnership to enhance its digital twin and simulation offering.
ANSYS will leverage the underlying Aras platform technologies such as configuration management, PDM/PLM interoperability, API integration, and add simulation specific capabilities to deliver highly scalable and configurable products that connect simulation and optimization to the business of engineering — creating new ways of exploring and improving product performance.
Organizations increasingly expect to leverage simulation throughout the product lifecycle to interoperate with their existing PLM, ALM, and ERP applications. Additionally, customers must address scale and complexity challenges with data and process management, traceability and availability of simulation results across the lifecycle.
ANSYS is leveraging Aras’ resilient platform services combined with its simulation domain expertise and technology for new product offerings to improve productivity and maximize business value from simulation investments. ANSYS will deliver commercial offerings for simulation process and data management, process integration, design optimization, and simulation-driven data science.
“With our open ecosystem approach, this unique collaboration combines the strengths of ANSYS’ industry-leading multiphysics portfolio and the resilient platform from Aras for digital connectivity to dramatically enhance customer value,” said Navin Budhiraja, vice president of cloud and platform business unit, ANSYS. “As simulation technologies impact every product decision, we see the ability of ANSYS solutions to interoperate and link with heterogeneous systems as an important step to accelerate the digital transformation for our customers.”
“We believe that simulation is essential to developing tomorrow’s next generation products, and that better data and process management of simulations is required to enable the digital processes of the future which will support these products,” said Peter Schroer, president and CEO, Aras. “We see the ANSYS and Aras partnership as a potential game changer in connecting simulation to engineering processes for traceability, access and reuse across the product lifecycle.”
Suppliers of manufacturing software, some from surprising places, are putting sizable investments into products that will help customers reap the rewards of digitalization. Today, I’m looking at both ABB and Emerson Automation Solutions. Previously I checked out GE Digital and Rockwell Automation. Each has taken a slightly different course toward the goal, but notice the common thread of enhancing software products to help customers prosper.
ABB enhances manufacturing management technology
The new version of ABB Ability Manufacturing Operations Management will offer new features including:
- Enhanced user experience based on new HTML 5 web client;
- A new smart interactive dashboard application that provides greater visibility and collaboration;
- A new statistical process control (SPC) application, to determine if each process is in a state of control;
- A new Batch Compare application – for advanced batch analysis.
“ABB Ability Manufacturing Operations Management is a comprehensive, scalable and modular software suite that optimizes visibility, knowledge and control throughout the operations domain,” said Narasimham Parimi, Head of Digital Products – Product Management, Process Control Platform. “This release provides a range of rich new functionality and a new enhanced user experience that enables operations to become more productive and responsive.”
ABB Ability Manufacturing Operations Management is designed to simplify production management by enabling performance monitoring, downtime management, and maintenance support, as well as providing statistical production analysis tools. It provides solutions and tools to facilitate the collection, consolidation and distribution of production, quality and energy information via the plant’s web-based reports, trends, and graphs.
A new, self-service dashboard application promotes increased collaboration, providing visibility from shop floor to top floor and spanning IT and OT environments. It increases data connectivity to all apps and modules within the MOM suite, combining historic and manufacturing data and providing the user with improved customization capabilities. Dashboards can be shared amongst users, further promoting collaboration between teams. Trends and events are displayed together, which enables customers to identify issues and opportunities enabling informed and timely decisions.
The new common services platform features an HTML 5 web platform that runs across all suites ensuring customers have a seamless user experience, so that applications can be viewed on different devices right down to a 10-inch tablet.
Statistical data process control (SPC) is used in manufacturing to determine if each process is in a state of control. The new SPC application works across all the different apps and modules and helps the user to improve quality and production related performance.
In addition to the existing Batch View and Batch Investigate features, a comparison option has been added to the platform’s batch analysis applications, allowing different types of comparison.
Cyber security remains one of the key issues in the advancement of Industry 4.0, and the new features in MOM include enhanced security.
Emerson Expands Analytics Platform
Plantweb Insight platform adds two new Pervasive Sensing applications that manage wireless networks more efficiently with a singular interface to the enterprise.
Emerson has added two new IIoT solutions to its Plantweb Insight data analytics platform that will enable industrial facilities to transform the way they manage their enterprise-level wireless network infrastructure.
As digitalization and wireless technology adoption continue to rapidly expand in industrial facilities throughout the world, the need for greater visibility of network infrastructure performance is key. These new Plantweb Insight applications provide a quick-to-implement, scalable IIoT solution that helps customers advance their digital transformation strategies and achieve greater operational efficiencies.
The new Plantweb Insight Network Management application provides continuous, centralized monitoring of WirelessHART networks. This first-of-its-kind application provides a singular, consolidated view of the status of all wireless networks in a facility, with embedded expertise and guidance for advanced network management.
A key feature of the Plantweb Insight Network Management application is a configurable mesh network diagram, providing visualization of network design and connections along with device-specific information. It also provides an exportable record of syslog alerts, network details outlining conformance to network best practices and more.
While the new network management application provides a holistic look at wireless networks, the Plantweb Insight Power Module Management application drills down to the device level, allowing facilities to keep their wireless devices appropriately powered so they can continuously transmit key monitoring data. By aggregating power module statuses, users can evolve traditional maintenance planning and implement more efficient and cost-effective practices.
“We were able to infuse a decade of experience with wireless technology into these new offerings,” said Brian Joe, wireless product manager with Emerson’s Automation Solutions business. “Our customers will now be able to manage and improve hundreds of networks through a singular interface, realizing significant efficiencies in individual network and wireless device management and maintenance.”
These new applications further enhance the Plantweb Insight platform, a set of pre-built analytics primarily focusing on monitoring key asset health. Other applications in the platform include pressure relief valve monitoring, heat exchanger monitoring and steam trap monitoring.