Don’t Ignore a Critical Safety Tool: Your Manufacturing Execution System

With increasing emphasis being placed on ESG, (Environmental, Social and Governance), combined with the increasingly tight labor market, manufacturers are realizing that workplace safety has become a critical success factor in business success.  When coupled with the production losses that accompany workplace accidents, preventing accidents has become a manufacturing imperative.  Multiple surveys have categorized workplace safety as one of the top three management issues for manufacturers in 2022. Why is management now focused on safety? There are a number of reasons:

  • When a skilled worker is injured and misses work finding replacements is increasingly difficult
  • Accidents result in lost productivity which directly impacts profitability in today’s economy
  • Accidents often beget accidents – once safety degrades it has a cascading effect as workplace conditions and worker attitudes decline

These are but a few of the effects of an unsafe workplace, which is why manufacturers are focusing on engaging the workforce to drive safety.  However, many are ignoring one of the most powerful tools they have to increase workplace safety.

Why  Manufacturing Accidents Happen

Accidents can occur for many reasons, equipment failures, process problems, human error or force majeure events.  When things are running smoothly, and the equipment is well maintained, accidents are few but if process upsets occur things quickly go wrong.  It is much like cruising down the freeway and all is well until an accident occurs up ahead which then leads to a chain reaction pile up.  Depending on the industry, as much as 80% of safety and quality related issues occur during non-steady-state operations.  Therefore, manufacturers are spending so much on safety software as they try to address safety concerns and implement corrective and preventive measures.

How Your MES Contributes to Safety

Instead of investing in new CAPA software, your manufacturing execution system contributes to safety in numerous ways:

  • It helps maintain a smooth process flow by automating tasks such as data collection that distract operators from actual manufacturing processes
  • It can help ensure proper tools, methods and materials are all utilized reducing production problems
  • It can assure that machinery has been properly inspected and serviced prior to use
  • When a process change is mandated, it ensures that subsequent activities adhere to the new process as operators follow work instructions in the MES
  • Digitalization enabled by the MES maintains engagement with a technically literate workforce and engagement has been shown to be the top contributor to a safe workplace.

So, while your MES may be what you use to drive manufacturing operations, the reality is that it is also one of the most powerful tools you have to create a safer plant.

Innovation Insight for the Connected Factory Worker

Digital Twins are powerful, and they’re not just for products

When we think about a Digital Twin, what usually comes to mind is a product twin – i.e., a digital model of a product at a given time. The product Digital Twin is a dynamic asset that represents the product as it changes throughout its lifetime.

Digital knowledge of a product is valuable for many reasons. For example, it can be shared with people and applications for use in predictive maintenance, product improvement, and change management, to name a few. According to recent research, the global Digital Twin marketing size is projected to reach over $110 billion by 2030, with a CAGR of around 39%.

The value of Digital Twin for products is obvious. But have you thought about a process-oriented Digital Twin?

Types of Digital Twins

There are actually several types of Digital Twins that can be used in manufacturing. Let’s look at each type before considering process twins in more detail.

  • Product Twin: Product models capture product definition and lifecycle activity, providing a digital source of as-designed, as-engineered data along with virtual representations of the product.
  • Process Twin: Process models represent manufacturing processes and production activities that are used to create products and services. This can extend to post-manufacture, where a twin is used to maintain service and maintenance processes.
  • Persons Twin: We all know about personal digital models—most of us have experienced online avatars, for example. Digital models of human resources help to automate the complex human side of manufacturing. It ensures that technicians are working with relevant skills, qualifications, activities, and experiences, and it can be leveraged for work assignments and compliance tracking.
  • Spatial Twin: Spatial modeling is the virtualization of locations. Think of the Google Maps Street view that we all are familiar with. This kind of spatial twin can also be used in manufacturing for a workspace, a production line, or an entire factory. Spatial twins enhance your abilities to evaluate and understand the physical space where the product or process is in real time.

All of these applications are possible if you have a modern Manufacturing Execution System such as iBase-t’s Solumina solution that can capture and refine all of the manufacturing data needed to produce a true and accurate digital twin.

The value of process twins

While each type of Digital Twin has value for a manufacturer, the most important type may be the process twin. What makes the process twin so important? Is it because the DoD will hold up to 10% of the payment without it? That’s a compelling reason for some manufacturers. But more generally, a process Digital Twin opens up new ways to see, understand, and optimize manufacturing processes.

Here are just some examples of the power of the process Digital Twin.

  • Operational improvements: A process Digital Twin can help identify problems in operations that might be missed otherwise. This is especially valuable in complex discrete manufacturing, where there are so many tangential and interrelated operations that may impact the finished product.
  • Continuous improvement initiatives: A process twin should be part of any continuous improvement initiative. In fact, it is the critical missing piece for many manufacturers. By digitally modeling processes as well as products at all times, you gain a depth and breadth of insight that reaches all corners of an enterprise.
  • Maintenance and service: We tend to think of processes as a manufacturing issue, but processes are also important in maintenance and service operations. These activities can be included in a process Digital Twin if your digital transformation includes post-production applications such as iBase-t’s Solumina MRO (Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul).
  • Process mining: Process mining uses AI and digital data to discover problems or opportunities to improve processes with automation. But it only works as well as the data it is fed, and a process Digital Twin ensures up-to-date and accurate information.
  • Change management: How will a product change affect processes? How will those process changes impact the larger enterprise, including suppliers and customers? A process Digital Twin provides a powerful way to answer these questions, based on historical data and the ability to model changes before implementation.

Are you ready?

We’ve only scratched the surface of how a process-oriented Digital Twin can help manufacturers improve their products and operations. This shouldn’t be surprising, since processes are at the heart of manufacturing.

Creating Digital Twins for processes requires a fully digitalized factory with a modern MES that can leverage the IIoT to capture complete process data. You may also want post-production applications like MRO so that your Digital Twin extends throughout a product/process lifetime.

If your company is just starting its digital transformation journey, consider making the process Digital Twin one of your goals so that you can choose technology solutions and vendors accordingly. If you’ve already built a smart factory, then it may be time to include the process Digital Twin in your toolbox of solutions.

Learn more about Digital Twins, Digital Threads, and how iBase-t supports and enables them.

How the Digital Thread Supercharges Process Mining

Complex manufacturing processes involve hundreds or even thousands of steps to make a finished product. Along the way, there are a wealth of opportunities to use automation to save time and reduce errors.

But how do you find those opportunities? What processes should you digitalize first? Where are the biggest opportunities? Answering these questions is what “process mining” is all about. It’s the science of analyzing data patterns to discover opportunities for optimizing manufacturing processes.

Companies just starting out on the digital transformation journey have to rely on paper files and staff knowledge to inform process mining and guide where to automate. But once you have a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and other digital applications, process mining opens up a host of new capabilities. The value of process mining depends on the quality of data available, so the more you have digitalized your company, the more you can do with process mining.

When combined with a Digital Thread, process mining could be one of your most powerful business tools.

Better data means better mining

A Digital Thread is the ideal complement to a process mining project because it provides a single, complete source of product (and process) data in digital form. It’s a communication framework that integrates all data from design, production, inspection, testing, and maintenance to create a continuous thread of digital information across a product’s entire engineering and manufacturing lifecycle. It is both a snapshot of a product at any given moment and a moving picture of how that product was designed, produced, and maintained.

When Digital Threads are based on an extended digital platform, such as iBase-t’s Solumina MES, SQM, and MRO, they become a particularly rich source of data for process mining. Here are some of the ways that a Digital Thread can be used with process mining to create business value.

What-if modeling for the enterprise. The Digital Thread provides the ability to ask what-if questions for executives, and process mining with a Digital Thread lets you apply that tool to everything associated with your manufacturing processes. Process mining with data from a Digital Thread lets you apply a what-if modeling tool to everything associated with your manufacturing processes. You now have the data to explore alternatives, predict outcomes, and simulate different choices for your company—all without impacting day-to-day operations. For example, you can see which KPIs are met, and using what-if tools, simulate various processes to discover how they measure up against your goals. The data from your Digital Thread allows you to use process mining to fine-tune your decision-making and ensure that improvement projects are implemented successfully.

Smoother product launches. Product launches are a key event for manufacturers, critical to revenue, growth, and reputation. Remember, with new product launches, we are often not just talking about cost, but about the success of the company. Process mining with a Digital Thread uses historical and real-time data to optimize every detail of the process before launch day. Instead of issuing updates or recalls after launch, enterprises can anticipate problems before they happen and roll out products smoothly with a minimum of surprises or disruptions.

Continuous process improvement. In complex, discrete manufacturing, processes are a web of activities that touch every operation in the company – even from your suppliers, directly or indirectly. There is always room for improvement. Even processes that are optimized at the start can drift as suppliers and other conditions change. Process mining with a Digital Thread provides a way to sift through all the complexities and discover better quality methods on a regular basis. It gives you the platform needed to make continuous improvement a key initiative for your company.

Better monitoring of quality. Quality is closely tied to processes, and process changes can carry unintended consequences. With Digital Thread data, you can directly model the impact of process changes on quality and avoid costly mistakes. Besides helping with project implementations, the Digital Thread provides comprehensive data to search for process improvements that could improve quality or reduce the cost of achieving required quality goals. For some manufacturers, especially those in critical and highly regulated industries, quality mining could be the most important benefit of a Digital Thread project.

One more reason to build the Digital Thread

There are many reasons why manufacturers are building Digital Thread capability, but process mining should be high on the list for every company. After all, processes are at the heart of manufacturing, and there’s no better way to optimize and continually improve than with process mining powered by the Digital Thread.

iBase-t solutions support Digital Thread capabilities including data from throughout manufacturing and even suppliers, partners, and customers. You can learn more about the Digital Thread here.

Gartner's Magic Quadrant Report

What is a Technology Architecture and Why Consider a Modular One

As more manufacturers have invested heavily in technology to cope with the challenges wrought by the COVID pandemic and the subsequent economic turmoil, many are struggling with where they should invest the most and how to get the most from their investments.  Small to mid-sized enterprises face two hurdles in making optimal investments; 1) generally limited access to capital making prioritization of highest return critical and 2) a small or limited IT staff, often with tactical skillsets and a focus on keeping the business running.  Unlike large enterprises which may have IT or enterprise architects, SMEs may not even know what technology architecture is or how it can help them maximize the return on their investments.  Just as in the construction business where architects interact with the engineers to design and erect a building, in the IT/OT world you need architects just as much as you need engineers and IT practitioners.  And as architects merge the aesthetics of a building with the structural, mechanical, and electrical details to create a holistic view of what the building will become, the same holds true for your technology architects.

Your Technology Architecture is More than Your Network Map

Manufacturers have invested heavily in technology over the years and realize that much of the benefit comes from being able to share information between applications and systems.  Networking multiple systems together has proven to be both a blessing and a curse.  Ensuring systems and applications can talk to each other sometimes has proven difficult.  Just documenting which devices and the applications that use the information from those devices often results in a network map showing what is connected to the network and may even document some information flow.

When you expand the description of your technology environment to include the following, you are defining your technology and information architecture:

  • what are the standards by which information is shared,
  • who uses the information,
  • how the information is used,
  • where it will be stored, and
  • how it will be shared externally

The Advantage of Modular Architecture

Just as modular building construction techniques have been around for decades, modular technology architecture is not really all that new either.  Modularity started making inroads into business applications in the 1990s with object-oriented design, then with service-oriented architecture and it has now evolved to what we call modular architecture.  Modular architecture reflects a design model that according to Wikipedia …is a design principle that subdivides a system into smaller parts called modules, which can be independently created, modified, replaced, or exchanged with other modules or between different systems. In the IT and OT applications realm, the way leading vendors deliver this capability is by using microservices.

The advantages of a modular architecture are many.  For many manufacturers today the biggest advantage is that it provides them the flexibility to implement functionality when and where needed.  COVID forced many manufacturers to radically alter their production lines, facilitate remote staff working with those on the factory floor, and adjust manufacturing processes on the fly as supply chains were disrupted.  If they were using monolithic software applications, the only way they could accommodate the change was to abandon their systems or wait for the supplier to roll out a new major upgrade.  Instead, by deciding to base their technology deployment on a modular architecture and use applications that conformed to those modularity requirements, those manufacturers:

  • were able to adapt much quicker and
  • suffered less disruption to their overall business

Another advantage of a modular architecture is that it is less costly.  Just as modular construction techniques lower the costs of building your next office or factory, modular technology architecture lowers the cost of deploying technology.  It does this by letting you pay for only what you need and will use instead of functionality that will never be used.  It also lowers costs by accelerating your go-live.  When you don’t have to train, test and debug features and functions you won’t be using you can start getting value much quicker.

With manufacturing operations management and process planning and execution being the number one priority for global manufacturers pursuing digital transformation, investing in a modular architecture, and then filling it out with systems that conform to your architectural guidelines you will be well positioned to accelerate your digital transformation.

Innovation Insight for the Connected Factory Worker