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Applying Manufacturing Technology at the Edge, and in Between

Posted By Chris Chiappinelli, February 08, 2012 at 7:08 AM, in Category: Manufacturing Automation

Reading through several of the projects crowned winners of the 2012 Manufacturing Leadership 100 Awards, I'm struck by the ways in which the winning companies applied technology to improve business efficiency. Of course, the ML100 recognizes its share of rip-and-replace ERP projects, those mammoth undertakings that happen once every 10 or 15 years. But more commonly, you'll find stories of automation at the edges of the business, and in the cracks between systems.

There's the aerospace company that created an electronic system for receiving materials, a process that had existed in an unautomated grey space between the company's ERP system and the MES software. The company roped the two systems together and reduced cycle times by 18%. The investment paid for itself in 11 months.

Then there's the plastics maker with an assembly line manned by robots -- except that the robots didn't always pick the right components for each job. Turns out the plastics maker needed to tie its ERP system to the PLCs that control the robots, and put machine vision systems on guard against errors. Now the ERP feeds the PLCs a bill of materials, the robots pick the right parts, and the vision systems and scanning technology keep them honest. The windfall from reducing scrap and rework? Expected to exceed $1 million per year.

And what about the tiremaker that was gathering information from automation equipment on its production line, but wasn't delivering that data to the people who needed to know? The company added a data server to its IT arsenal and distributed real-time information to alarm stations throughout the plant, allowing workers to remediate live issues and investigate old ones. Quality issues declined by 16%. Production capacity improved by 19%.

These are the hidden opportunities that manufacturers can mine at the edges of their business, and in the fissures between big IT systems. They might not have the wow factor of an ERP implementation, but as our ML100 winners have shown, they're big on return.

I'm looking forward to the Manufacturing Leadership Summit (only a couple of months away), where we'll hear much more about the ML100 winners and the ways in which they've improved their businesses at the edges and in between. To sign up to attend, visit the Summit website.

Written by Chris Chiappinelli

Chris Chiappinelli is the online research manager for Manufacturing Leadership. He covers enterprise software, sustainability, economic trends, workforce issues, and emerging technologies.


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