How can data integration pave the way towards Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 is here. More and more manufacturers around the globe are developing smart factories by leveraging smart sensors, big data, and artificial intelligence (AI).
Kerry Hope, business development manager, Magic Software South Africa.
Although South Africa still has some connectivity issues and overall lags behind the rest of the world regarding automation, it has an advantage over some developed markets because it is not weighed down by legacy infrastructures and can more easily embrace change.

As a result, South African manufacturers can adopt Industry 4.0 more quickly by developing advanced systems that leapfrog their global competitors.

Building the right infrastructure


According to a study carried out by Deloitte, “To get ready for the exponential speed of change that Industry 4.0 introduces, any old and disparate IT systems of South African manufacturers will need upgrading.”

In addition, if the separate systems that manage each phase of manufacturing are siloed, management needs to integrate ERP, MES, and PLM systems so that manufacturers can achieve important insights to maximize their productivity.

Each system holds data that is essential for maximizing manufacturing efficiency and quality. Enterprise resource management (ERP) manages the business of manufacturing products, manufacturing execution system (MES) controls the production process itself, and product lifecycle management (PLM) tracks the design of the products being built. When their data is combined there are new efficiencies that can be introduced both on the shop floor and in the back office.

Putting the pieces together


MES can share the exact amount of products that were manufactured, including reducing the amount of defective or rejected items returned to ERP systems in order to provide real-time inventory data when processing orders. ERP systems can then provide information about future orders so the shop floor can be geared up more quickly to meet demand.

To improve product quality and speed up ramp-up time for production, product design information can be fed directly from PLM to MES systems, including a full bill of materials (BOM), which can replace labour intensive and error-prone manual processes. The tight synchronisation between PLM and MES systems also allows for high level of customisation based on customer specifications or to accommodate the production capabilities of a specific plant or country.

Integration doesn’t need to be limited to the shop floor or the back office. By sharing information with suppliers, there can be more accurate demand forecasting and better inventory control for better materials management. In addition, more efficient logistics can reduce costs and speed up product delivery, which is not only good for the bottom line but also for customer satisfaction. The end result is a smaller gap between product design and delivery, which benefits everyone.

Building the information backbone


Initially, when integrating only one system with another, it is tempting to adopt a point-to-point system integration to keep costs down and to take advantage of internal resources who are familiar with both systems. But as the integration points multiply, development costs increase exponentially and the final system is more difficult to maintain and manage. An integration platform can also act as middleware by providing a common presentation layer for data from disparate systems while providing the added advantage that companies won’t need to replace legacy systems.

When ERP, MES, and PLM systems are integrated, they can accelerate production and improve quality by becoming a backbone for innovation that continuously improves manufacturing execution. Better data integration can facilitate new cooperation and interaction models with suppliers, business partners and customers, to provide South African manufacturers with a distinct competitive advantage.
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