Part 17 – How Standards Drive Digital Transformation

In the 80s, ISO 9000 (and BS5750 in Britain) came to the fore to create standards for quality management. The standardisation process strove to introduce methods for continual improvement and ensure consistency and quality. As time moved on, throughout the 90s and 00s, standards have been applied to manufacturing settings more and more, beginning with S88, which governs batch control processes, followed by S95, which defines plant structure to support enterprise asset models. 

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Part 16 – How to Implement IT Compliant OT

As manufacturing operations adopt more intelligent systems, we’ve seen control systems, equipment, and networks rebranded as Operational Technology (OT). With this has come a change in approach from IT departments, who for decades wanted nothing to do with the weird and wonderful equipment that populated the OT space. While keeping the operational world at arm’s length was possible for IT in the past, they are now converging at such a pace and in a way that is impossible, or even perilous, to ignore.

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Part 15 – Understanding energy and utility usage

Following the advice from the Fit for the Future series so far will see your operation collecting rich operational data to drive continuous improvement. However, with rising prices and increasing costs placing a burden on every individual and industry, there is a quick and straightforward way to gain greater insight into your energy and utility usage.

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MES – The benefits of integration

Mix and match or all in one? Point solutions for individual functions to provide new capabilities in your manufacturing operation may seem a sensible way to start. However, the issues with this approach can become apparent all too soon.

Manufacturing execution systems (MES) are the conduit that enables information flow between business systems and control systems. Wherever designs call for flow, for digital systems or otherwise, there is a concerted effort to minimise the number of interfaces and interconnections to reduce the likelihood of incompatibilities or inefficiencies.
If you were to consider the MES like plumbing, if you were to have numerous plumbers from different companies arrive to distribute water and heating around your house, differences in approach would soon become apparent. Different pipe diameters, connectors and joining mechanisms would result in burst pipes and water everywhere.
Implementing a single platform that provides seamless connectivity, efficiency management, quality management and production management solutions in addition to a raft of other capabilities rather than numerous point solutions avoids the headache.

First amongst the issues that come with composite systems is security. While plumbing together these systems, how do you consider cybersecurity with due diligence? Should you experience a cybersecurity threat, a growing and tangible danger, which of the vendors would you call for support?

Vulnerabilities can reveal themselves when disparate solutions take diverging paths, at an incongruent pace, through their product roadmaps. The result is a constantly changing landscape in which your platform can continuously fall out of sync with its various component solutions, requiring constant attention and maintenance. That is not to mention the security risks of each system requiring different access routes in and out of information silos, which requires careful consideration as increased connections means more potential attack vectors.

How do you ensure consistency and implementation of standards across vendor organisations? Best practice becomes challenging to implement, with no single approach for your entire MES system. Learning each solution will require undertaking training courses for each, resulting in increased time to competency for your operators.

As technology moves forward, it is crucial to consider your solution’s location. Composite systems can end up in the unfortunate position of having some point solutions deployed on the cloud with others located on-site.

So, where do you begin if you choose to implement a complete and integrated MES solution from a single vendor? The good news is that independent analysts have done a lot of homework for you. Gartner has asked vendors the tough questions to independently verify that the product is thoroughly tested and to ensure confidence in connectivity, security, training, and the product’s roadmap.

Astec are the only Premier Solutions Partner for GE in the United Kingdom. With extensive experience and expertise in delivering and exceeding customers’ ambitions, Astec has helped many manufacturers achieve greater profitability and efficiency with GE Digital products.

So, what does Gartner have to say about GE Digital?

“GE Digital is a Leader in this Magic Quadrant.” Gartner’s Magic Quadrant considers the completeness of a vendor’s vision alongside their ability to execute on that vision to sort vendors between Leaders, Challengers, Niche Players and Visionaries.

Gartner has highlighted strengths such as innovation, product improvements and customer experience as factors in GE Digital serving as a leading platform in the MES space.

As systems trend towards more and more connectivity, owing to the significant value offered by data analysis for operational improvement, implementing unconnected or imperfectly deployed point solutions can put your operation on the back foot competitively. Additionally, a consistent naming structure and technical ontology are required to ensure systems can communicate flawlessly.

This is inherent in a complete MES solution, but your team must consider and continuously monitor a collection of point solutions to achieve compatibility.

Another downside to such an approach is paying multiple times for the same service. When deploying a point solution, each integration will require design, testing and implementation phases – each made more challenging by the need for each team to consider the work, compatibility, language and methodology of the other.

GE Digital’s Plant Apps covers the following functionality as a rounded MES platform:
• Dispatching – Distributing work orders based on transactional data and demand
• Execution – Managing the production process
• Data Management – Enabling the collection and management of data at regular intervals from all connected assets.
• Operational Data Store – Readily tailorable for purpose, MES can serve as a relational database for operational data or integrate with a data historian or IIoT platform.
• Quality Management – Regulated industries and products can benefit from standardisation and data capture to ensure compliance.
• Process – MES ensures all manufacturing steps are undertaken correctly, with the correct raw materials, temperatures, times, etc.
• Traceability – The ability to track the entire process from raw materials to intermediate and finished goods by lot, batch number, or other signifiers.
• Analytics and Reporting – Dashboard displays, advanced analytical tools and real-time KPIs provide data for accurate decision support.
• Integration – MES can bring together many disparate systems to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Tying together all production levels with enterprise systems down to
site planning, bill of materials and recipe planning.

With a single platform, the solution can be tailored for your individual needs and completed within a coherent integration process. With a project undertaken in an orderly way and to return to the analogy of tradespeople in the home, you can be sure your plasterers, painters, and plumbers aren’t tripping over each other.