Manufacturing is tough, says FactoryFour, a startup in the MES space. Managing it shouldn’t be, it follows up.
Param Shah, co-founder and CEO of FactoryFour, told me that he and his partner researched build-to-order and configure-to-order manufacturing in the orthopedic device market they discovered that manufacturing planning was done by a combination of paper and spreadsheets.
Further research showed that typical MES platforms required the manufacturer to configure its processes to conform to the workflows and parameters of the software. People really didn’t want to do that. They would simply ignore the cumbersome software and opt for something familiar and flexible.
FactoryFour’s simple value statement goes like this:
Today’s manufacturing software is manual and complicated. Manually managing the 100 little tasks that go into pushing products out the door causes unnecessary production errors and delays.
Managing it shouldn’t be complicated. Simple and automated. The freedom to focus on improving processes, eliminating bottlenecks, and growing revenue. Everything else is automated.
The manufacturing Shah studied was highly manual. In the orthopedic space where custom pieces are manufactured, order process errors are common. Employees find it hard to keep track of where products are in the manufacturing system.
FactoryFour uses native cloud technology. It customizes order intake, using it to inform the manufacturing system. In that system, engineers configure workflows, draw it up then put in software. Therefore the software conforms to the manufacturer’s workflow. The use barcode, RFID, etc., to track the process. FactoryFour connects to other software systems as required.
The Workflows allow rules and an “if this then that” process. It can, for example, integrate with shipping apps and APIs. If shipping stage goes active, it will call up software and generate shipping documents, find UPS tracking number, send to customer automatically. If error is called, it will notify and assign tasks.
Its API connects data to SAP, Epicor, Oracle, and the like. It tracks human labor through scans.
The company’s focus is on custom manufacturing and configure to order with high traceability needs. Channel includes consultants, SIs, and hardware companies.
I asked about usability. “Our first hire was UI UX person,” Shah told me. “We are extremely visual, using colors and designs effectively. Screens are intuitive, geared to technicians with only one or two buttons on a screen not 60.“
This is a young company that just completed its A round of financing looking to shake up the MES market.
Last week was where industrial automation and information technology met along with my vice–soccer.
Emerson Automation Solutions–Digital Transformation, IT/OT collaboration, corporate acquisitions (GE Intelligent Platforms, once known as GE Fanuc, joins the fold), WirelessHART applications expand, flow control data becomes an integral part of digital transformation.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE)–Refinery of the Future tour of the Texmark refinery that I’ve written about before and CenterPoint Energy where digital boosts the electrical utility industry.
Marketers may still talk of IT/OT convergence as something coming. In many forward thinking plants it is here. Texmark CEO Doug Smith talks freely about the kick in the pants delivered by his insurance carrier that propelled him and his team toward finding innovative solutions to operations challenges.
I sometimes joke that “I’m the point of convergence of IT and OT”, or at least my blog and writing are.
Don’t believe hype or nay-sayers. The collaboration is real–among suppliers, partner ecosystems, managers, engineers. And real benefits are accruing.
Have you joined the 21st Century?
Can only large companies with plenty of funds afford an MES? Are small and medium sized manufacturers destined to be stuck in the complexity of Microsoft Excel for ever?
MES can be quite an involved undertaking for a large company. Engineers and IT professionals must rationalize operations bringing intellectual coherence to them. Transactions must be defined and understood. Existing applications must be sorted through and organized. Even for a smaller company it takes a lot of work. Some companies seem to strive for complexity in applications.
New products, especially that follow some of the trends of affordability and ease-of-use, interest me.
I was recently approached by a technologist from Estonia who had heard my podcasts and figured I’d be interested in his company’s new product—Katana MRP. [Note: the term takes me back to my early years in IT software installing MRP II. I didn’t ask about the name. But translations into English sometimes get interesting.]
Katana MRP is a manufacturing and inventory management software for small and medium sized manufacturers. The software is cloud and subscription based. Affordable for even the smallest makers/manufacturers (Plans starting from $39/mo. The main value stands in the simplicity of use.
Among the benefits to the manufacturer include better stock level optimizations and manufacturing planning leading to less time spent on operations and more time to product development or selling/marketing.
My contact, Oliver Vesi, told me, “The feedback from over 500 users shows that a lot of the value stands in the easy-to-grasp interface that makes the state of your stock and manufacturing perfectly clear. The second best outlined value is integrations. Katana MRP integrates with the most used accounting and e-commerce platforms, so the sales data and stock needs run in and out automatically.”
Following is a list of main features.
Manufacturing grid. Track the status of each manufacturing order from material planning to production execution. Complete overview of your production pipeline.
Material availability. Have control over the availability of materials required for fulfilling each manufacturing order. Take necessary action by purchasing more materials or changing the priority of orders.
Production planning. Set priorities of orders and manage tasks for your shop floor personnel.
SALES & PURCHASING
Sales grid. Track the status of each sales order from order creation to delivery. Manage material availability for each order and conveniently create required manufacturing orders. Get a complete overview of your sales order fulfillment pipeline.
Manage sales and purchase orders. Each order can be edited to include information on customer or supplier, items, quantities, sales or purchase prices, tax levels etc. All your sales and purchase orders are accessible from one place.
Automatic inventory management. Your inventory levels update automatically based on your sales, purchasing and manufacturing activities. Calculate costs using moving-average-cost reflecting all purchase and manufacturing related expenses.
Real-time inventory control. Make inventory decisions based on the quantity of products and materials you have available for sales or manufacturing. Control in hand, committed, and expected stock amounts in real time.
Stock level optimization. Set an optimal reorder point for each product and material. Make procurement or manufacturing decisions based on optimal stock level calculations.
Product and material cards. Each product and material can be edited to include information on category, product code, variants, reorder point etc. All your portfolio items are accessible from one place.
Variants. Each product and material can include variants such as colour, size or material. Manage a wide portfolio effectively via variants.
Production recipe (bill-of-materials). Keep track of costs and quantities of all your materials required for assembling a product.
Production operations (routing). Specify the steps that are used to manufacture a product. Calculate costs related to production labour.
A podcast about connections. When I left magazine media, I thought about where the industry was heading. It’s all about connections, I thought. So, I found a domain name The Manufacturing Connection. Last week I was at the Industry of Things conference in San Diego. Organized from Berlin, Germany, they still attracted an outstanding speaker lineup and attendance at 2-3 times that of typical media conferences in the space.
They work hard at it, and they have cultivated lots of connections.
This podcast discusses the idea of connections from that conference. It also explores the idea of “sources go direct” where anyone can take a message to the public these days. You don’t need a gatekeeper. Maybe you connect with people like me to reach a broader audience. Individuals and marketers with energy and ability can build their own audiences and avoid getting misquoted by reporters or having a 60-minute interview boiled down to a sentence in an article.
“It is the next big thing [in the Industrial Internet of Things].”
I have been waiting for quite some time for the next Opto 22 move. It has always been the early, if not first, mover in adopting technologies that are IT friendly for OT. This next big thing according to Marketing VP Benson Hougland is a controller with a RESTful API.
Let’s look at a couple of big reasons. HMI/SCADA software is rapidly moving to being a cloud-based app with HTML5 clients. Getting to the cloud means getting through firewalls. REST helps. Then consider that recent graduates, and current students, are studying and playing with such technologies as REST and MQTT and others, rather than all the specific industrial technologies and protocols, on their Arduinos and Raspberry Pi’s. They will be right at home programming HMI or database applications with technologies such as REST.
Industrial automation manufacturer Opto 22 has announced immediate availability of version 9.5 of PAC Project, a Microsoft Windows-based integrated software development suite for industrial automation, process control, remote monitoring, and Internet of Things applications.
This new capability closes the IT/OT gap, allows for rapid Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) application development, provides for secure data exchange using open Internet standards, and reduces time to market in machine and system design.
The addition of a secure RESTful server and an open, documented API to a programmable automation controller (PAC) is a significant, ground-breaking industry innovation, because REST architecture and associated technology are intrinsic to the Internet of Things and paramount to web and mobile-based application development.
Opto 22’s implementation of REST directly into a commercially available, off-the-shelf industrial PAC is unique in the market and places the company as the first and only industrial automation and controls manufacturer to offer this industry-changing technology.
Other features found in this new version include new tools to develop modular control applications with nested subroutines, new debugging tools to reduce development time, support for a worldwide installed base of legacy Optomux I/O systems, and integration of third-party systems and protocols with the IIoT.
To provide enhanced security and auditing for HMI access, PAC Project now offers sophisticated user groups and data rights, as well as the ability to embed video directly into HMI windows.
PAC Project 9.5 provides updated firmware for Opto 22 SNAP PAC S-series and R-series controllers that enable a secure HTTPS server on PAC controllers. Combined with a RESTful open and documented API, this new version allows developers to write applications that access data on the PAC using the developer’s programming language of choice with the well-known and widely supported JSON data format. This new capability allows software and IoT application developers to decrease time to market, reduce the development learning curve, and eliminate layers of middleware for secure Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications.
Database support is also available for database tools that work with JSON, like MongoDB, MySQL, and Microsoft’s SQL Server.
With the release of PAC Project 9.5, developers are no longer tied to a specific manufacturer’s software development environment. They can use the development environment and language of their choosing to write new software, create web services, and build Internet of Things applications.
RESTful data from PACs is secured using TLS encryption over HTTPS connections authenticated using basic access authentication (Basic Auth). RESTful data access can be restricted to read-only use, or allow reading and writing to I/O and strategy variables. The HTTP/S server is disabled by default and must be configured and enabled to operate, preventing unwanted or unauthorized access to the controller over HTTP.
Also included in this release are two Node-RED nodes, used for communicating with SNAP PAC controllers through the RESTful API with Node-RED, a visual tool for wiring up the Internet of Things. Node-RED is an open-source, graphical, flow-based application development tool designed by the IBM Emerging Technology organization that makes wiring up APIs, represented as “nodes,” simple and easy to do. Node-RED is particularly useful for developing IoT applications that interact with cloud-based platforms and APIs, such as IBM Bluemix, IBM Watson, Amazon’s AWS IoT, AT&T MX2, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.
In contrast to OT, IT enterprise networks use the same open standards and protocols found on the Internet. The Internet was founded on open communication standards like TCP/IP. Application-specific protocols are layered on top: HTTP/S, SMTP, SNMP, MQTT, and so on.
- MQTT—to collect device data and communicate it to servers
- XMPP—to enable the near-real-time exchange of structured yet extensible data between two or more devices on the network
- DDS—a fast bus for integrating intelligent machines
- AMQP—a queuing system designed to connect servers to each other
- API–(Application Programming Interface)—A set of protocols, routines, and tools that web-based applications can use to communicate with other web-based applications.
- REST–(Representational State Transfer)—A set of architectural constraints used to develop web applications. Designed as a common development standard for applications used on the Internet, REST confines developers to a specific set of rules to follow.
- RESTful Architecture—When a web site or API is conforming to the constraints of the REST architecture, it is said to be a RESTful system.